7/3/14

Malthus All Over Again


  The elephant in the room is serious overpopulation. It is a global overpopulation problem because we are essentially a global economy, and resources are drawn from all around the world. Energy, food, water and critical raw materials are shrinking away. Pollution is increasing.
  The North American countries, major Asian countries, and Europe are beginning to get involved with this problem in an unplanned and unexpected way. They are employing AI and robots for any application as soon as automation is technically and economically feasible. This could create massive unemployment, and for various reasons, population, already declining in many cases, could decline at an ever-faster rate. The beginning of declining populations in all major countries is described and documented by Michael S.Teitelbaum and Jay M. Winter in “Bye-Bye, Baby,” New York Times, March 6, 2014. Click here.
  A widely quoted figure is that robots will eliminate 25% to 50% of the jobs in the United States over the next twenty years. Of course, humans will work with some of those robots, and some humans will start new companies based on the applications of robots. So let’s use the low end of that range and project that in 2035 there will be 25% unemployment in the United States and most other developed countries. The situation probably will be complicated by untold numbers of immigrants pouring in, especially from the southern hemisphere, to escape the devastation of global warming and economic collapse in their less developed countries. Many of these immigrants will take some of the remaining bottom rung jobs.
  It may well be a discouraging time to start a family. The well-off families will be very uneasy and probably live in guarded gated communities. Higher education will be very expensive, and the upcoming generation will be unsure about what to study, what to do, and where to go. Social endowment programs like Social Security and Medicare may be cut to almost nothing due to lack of funding. Resources will be seriously dwindling and climate change will be causing major damage. The United States could find itself with an authoritarian government like today’s China or Russia in order to keep the peace and enforce controversial programs.
  Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), an English demographer and economist, studied and wrote about these issues two centuries ago. He kept looking for the links between population, economy, and the environment. In 1798, he published his defining work, An Essay on the Principle of Population. He thought that population growth would block progress towards a utopian society. Malthus is most noted for his view that population multiples geometrically and food increases arithmetically, so that eventually mass starvation will set in.
  There has been a debate about Malthusian ideas ever since, and Malthus has risen and fallen in acceptability by both the public and academics. His major theory generally has not had an opportunity to be empirically tested because, despite the world’s startling population growth since that time, food production has kept pace through the adoption of scientific and mechanized agriculture. This enabled, in part, the Green Revolution that fed millions, especially in the Third World. In addition, Malthus did not foresee that greatly increased goods and services productivity due to technology and industrialization.
  Malthus argued that population increases are limited by the means of subsistence, and that when the means of subsistence increase, population will also increase. The population increase will be limited by misery and vice. This line of thought lead to the “Malthusian Trap,” named after him, stating that technological advances only result in more people and not in improved standards of living.
  Today, with productivity increasing again due to automation, AI and robots, ever larger numbers of relatively unskilled people are forced to accept subsistence jobs or unemployment. A difference now, compared to Malthus’s time, is the advent of planned families. Enabled by changing societal mores and contraceptives, and women finding careers their life focus a satisfactory alternative to staying at home and raising a family, can lead to dramatically lower birth rates. Contrary to the past trend and popular belief, declining population in both wealthy and poor countries is becoming the norm.

This is part of my forthcoming book, Winter of the Genomes, found here.

5/7/14

The Problem in the Age of Robots is Us


Suppose you lived a distant time from now, and you overheard the following exchange between a woman and a robot:
She: “I am the smartest. I went to the university. I am connected. I am the key to success around here.”
Robot: “Yes, but you and your kind need to eat and drink, to consume things like clothes, and to occupy large air conditioned spaces. You are too demanding and too expensive to continue living here.”

It will be a long time before robots will be able to make a value judgment like this, but this comparison is increasingly going to happen. Robots do not feel better if something or someone is doing their work for them. They just exist for the moment with no memory of the past or vision of the future. Since robots work much more cheaply and efficiently than humans, we will hardly resist assigning them to more and more of our daily tasks from vacuuming the floors to walking the dog.
The whole thing crystallized in my mind when I was in a remote village in Myanmar, or Burma, of all places. Through an interpreter, I asked a schoolteacher what she thought of robots (I never miss an opportunity to do book research!). She said, according to my notes, “The machines will take over a few things, then more things, until all you have to do is watch television. After many years, people will lose arms and legs for lack of use. You will turn into potatoes.” That’s the wisdom of a simple, village woman. It’s worth thinking about.

From the new book I'm writing, Winter of the Genomes, click here.

3/27/14

Reducing Climate Change Through Automation


AI and robots in most cases are significantly cheaper than the human labor they replace. Therefore, after a decade or so of phase-in, they should be making serious inroads in employment. While this is a major social disruption, it also has a beneficial side.
     If the human population continues to decrease, and probably at an accelerating rate, the consumption of energy will fall correspondingly. The important consequences of this are that climate change will be slowed down or even halted, and environmental disaster may be averted or significantly postponed.
     How big could the “population effect” be? The best place to start would be with the unemployment predicted by a new Oxford University study http://bit.ly/IDpApG. The authors concluded that 47 percent of U.S. jobs might be lost to automation over the next decade or two. That would be 66 million jobs based on the approximately 140 million currently employed in 2014. But we know from mechanical automation of the late 1800s and early 1900s, notably the development of farm machinery, that new jobs are created due to the new machinery and other jobs are created due to advancing technology in general. Many of the displaced farm workers went to work in the cities.
     We have to start somewhere, so I will assume that half of the projected 47% of the workforce displaced from jobs is the net unemployment number. This 23 ½% or 33 million lost jobs. The other 33 million jobholders are accounted for by slower adoption of the automation than the Oxford study forecasted, some of the newly unemployed are retrained for other occupations, and there are new jobs created because of the automation: technicians, engineers, salespeople and others. The unemployment created by home robots, that I calculated to be less than a million, is very small by comparison.
     The U.S. annual energy consumption for those people permanently unemployed due to automation is about 231 million TOEs. A TOE is metric ton of oil equivalent and probably is the most common international energy unit. (The metric ton is 10% heavier than the U.S. ton.) This is how much energy would be saved if the population eventually declined by 33 million people. It is about equal to the energy consumption of Brazil. Assuming the other major industrialized countries adopted automation with an eventual similar reduction in population, the energy saved could be over 800 TOEs or about half the energy consumption of today’s European Union. The effect would spread itself out over twenty to fifty years, depending on the fertility rate.
     I can’t be more precise in my projection of possible energy saved due to automation because I do not know of a model that relates decline in energy consumption or decline in population to climate change. We can be sure, however, that job reduction through automation, over the long run, will be helpful in reducing the severity of climate change.

From my new book I'm writing, Winter of the Genomes, http://bit.ly/1o7fICM.


3/7/14

The next great socioeconomic revolution.

Could robots be the fourth great socioeconomic revolution in modern American Life? First, automobiles replaced horses, enabling suburbia. Then along came television which brought the world into our living room. What sneaked up later was television's child, the video camera, which became the all-seeing eye, following us everywhere. Then there were smartphones which serve as our portal to the Web and to our friends.
     If we combine the mechanical genius of the automobile with the sentience of television and the connectedness provided by the smartphone, we find ourselves among the robots. They can be alive enough so we can love them, and they can revolutionize our economy.
     Like cars, television and smartphones, mass adoption of robots will depend on mass production to reduce their cost, and people-oriented packaging so that they can be be as attractive and simple to operate as smartphones.

See more in my forthcoming book, Winter of the Genomes.Click here. 

1/19/14

My new novel, Saving Juno, has been launched!


NSA’s major computer center is being taken over by an international plot to control the world. Juno, the AI supercomputer guiding the free world is endangered, and Dr. Tom Renwick, Juno's developer, is kidnapped. Civilization as we know it is threatened. What to do?
      In this fast-paced thriller, Tom’s super brain computer scientist son, Primo, is thrown into the fray. With mysterious agent, Wildflower, and trustworthy officials in Washington, Primo strikes back. Their trail to Tom is through a hall of mirrors and continuous plot twists. It ends in an orbiting computer satellite.

Saving Juno presents an action-packed adventure and new ways to look at national security. This is the third volume in the Juno Trilogy.The earlier volumes are Love Byte and A Viral Affair: Surviving the Pandemic.

1/4/14

Making Robots Common and Smart


     Once we see that the application of robots to single tasks that are well-defined is becoming routine, the next step is to see how robots can be made more intelligent. Think of the process like the evolution of species.
     First we have to make the most popular models in the millions in order to reduce costs and include exotic materials and subsystems. For example specialized circuit chips like the IBM neuronal chip that I have discussed earlier can only be justified by high volume production. This is no different than the process Apple started to make cell phones and tablets. The larger robots would eventually be manufactured in similar scale to appliances and cars. The designs of these mass produced robots, however, have to be perfected through iterative cycles of design or redesign, manufacturing, customer response, and redesign. This is evolution at work.
     Then the brains of these mechanical creatures must be improved with new knowledge and needs. Again the analogy with cell phones and tablets applies. New applications and software improvements can be digested into the robots by downloading these software packages just like apps and updates are downloaded into phones and computers. As is done in those devices, a lot of the device’s software could be stored in the clouds to be retrieved only as required. It’s not inconceivable that what started out as a relatively simple robot could evolve through software upgrades from a worm to a mouse to who knows? maybe a human in intelligence. 

10/28/13

AI Meets Genomes


An era has ended and a new one is beginning. It’s about looking at the ecosystem as the interconnectedness of animals, plants and resources living as dynamic systems. Computers will be part of that interconnected as a new species, hopefully in a positive symbiotic relationship with mankind.

Lots of books have been written about technology. Lots of books have been written about ecology. My forthcoming book, Winter of the Genomes, seeks to look at both as a whole. The changing environment threatens all of mankind. Computers can help save us, but they will have to be part of society and the ecosystem as a new and involved species. They will depend on a symbiotic relationship with humans that hopefully will benefit everyone. The designs of AI devices are effectively genomes like our genomes and the genomes of all the species.

The advent of artificial intelligence and robots is like climate change in that we're told it's coming but we shrug it off. And then, one day, there it is, an intrusion in our lives.

We will increasingly be just nodes in a world-wide information network linked to the all-knowing Knowosphere. Smartphones are our hands, feet, eyes and ears. We confide in and trust the Knowosphere more than with almost all people we know or don’t know.

The coding of all of nature’s species, all humans, and all engineered design including AI programs, is in genomes. The genomes of ants and the engineering drawings, parts lists, and programs are the genomes of everything mechanical including, notably, robots. We can look at changes in civilization and the ecosphere through the Darwinian pressures on continually improving the genomes of all beings, natural or man-made.

What forces us to face up to the facts and opportunities of the emerging Brave New World is human over-population and the consequences for dwindling critical resources. The human population will reduce itself to a new equilibrium level and many functions now done by people will be done by AI devices. See more about the book at  http://bit.ly/1o7fICM.

8/1/13

Information and Life

Sit in a clearing in the woods. Do you see all the different kinds of trees hosting different species of birds? What about all the little creatures wiggling through the grass? Maybe there are some big creatures, yet unseen, peering into the clearing.
Now let’s look at this as a pattern of DNA molecules floating in space where their parent organisms are. The pine trees are DNA molecules with coding 1. The crows are DNA molecules with coding 2. The grasses are DNA molecules with coding 3, and so on. There would be thousands of DNA molecules floating in space all looking alike to you and me. The invisible coding in each DNA molecule gave its parent some unique chemistries, structure and advantages to give it a reasonable change of surviving in the clearing in the woods. The sand and the rocks had no such dynamic advantages, and so they sat there maybe just the way they were millions of years ago.
What has happened from some inspired time eons ago is that information came to the fore as the building block of growth systems. Biochemistry in the form of proteins and genetic encoding was added to the landscape of inorganic wastelands. Energy and mass were no longer the only basic variables of physical systems. Increasing information, gathered and stored in many places become the new variable, and formed the core conceptual element of life and computers.
The information sought by life organisms and computers can be sorted into three types:
1 – Inherent in the organism (or computer): the coding of its structure and operation
2 – Of use to the living organism: knowledge about its immediate surroundings
3 – Of use to everyone: general knowledge such as survival and communications
What makes a painting interesting to me and not to you? This is information of relational value based on similar reference information already gathered by that organism. All through our life we gather information that relates to our past experiences, curiosities and tastes. A painting of a sailboat in a little harbor may remind us of a little harbor we knew and loved as a child. The development of self by adding information to a core base is a fundamental attribute of humans.
Information of intrinsic value on the other hand is information of interest to everybody for generations and centuries. This could be the knowledge of how to raise children, why the sky is blue or how to defeat a disease.
Information is what structures the existence of living things. The explorer seeks information about what is over the next hill. The mouse seeks information about lurking threats such as a nearby cat. DNA represents information about the structure of its carrier being. Information tends to improve over time both in quantity and quality.
Reacting intelligently to new information is proof of consciousness and self-awareness. This is done by creatures including humans, animals and birds.
Little islands of information attach to each other through common reference points. These agglomerations of networked information form data bases ranging from the wisdom of the ancient one to searchable data bases of Google. There is real information such as the laws of physics and virtual information that is the basis of an imaginary world that looks something like the real world.

7/21/13

The Projected Mind: Your Key to Creativity


“For three weeks, the Huygens probe had coasted, dormant, after detaching from the Cassini spacecraft and being sent on its way to Titan. Those of us watching anxiously felt a deep personal connection with the probe. Not only had we worked on the mission for a large part of our careers, but we had developed its systems and instrumentation by putting our minds in its place, to think through how it would function on an alien and largely unknown world.” So wrote Ralph Lorenz and Christophe Sotin in the Scientific American about their great space adventure.
These space scientists nailed it: to make new theories, new inventions, and other great creations, we have to do better than adjusting existing theories and designs. We must forcefully move our mind beyond the existing thinking about the subject. We must move out of our conscious world and focus our mind in a new place occupied only by the new creation.

Abstract Thinking and Refocusing the Mind
Reduced to its simplest elements, what you are required to do is solve a problem or construct a work of art without a complete set of instructions or without comprehensive data. In a creative process you are using your imagination to make an appealing or useful whole from a set of components that would not appear to be sufficient or adequate for the job. To do this you need to see beyond mere recollection or simple association. You are projecting the mind’s eye to another point in space or time. You are putting your conscious being in an entirely different surrounding environment. One way of looking at this process is that you will be creating a new mind out of your regular mind.

7/7/13

The Battle of the Genomes


I thought you might like this passage from the book I’m writing, The Dravidian Plot.
     The scientist said, “There is an evolutionary theory called the ‘Red Queen hypothesis’ after the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. Was that on your reading list? Probably not. Well, anyway, she said that her country is a place where ‘it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’ In the kingdom of plants and animals this means they face constant change. They must continually adapt and evolve new species merely to survive. Now I would add that the same applies to the human species and their inventions of all kinds.”
     I think I must have looked puzzled.
    He picked up on that and continued, “As to the species of things, for example, your smartphone design is effectively a genome and other models of smartphones have similar genomes but with variations in their design DNA. The mechanical genome carrier we all must learn to live with is the robot.”
     I am starting a nonfiction book about this whole thing to be called Winter of the Genomes.

6/18/13

The Government and DNA

What if the government added everyone's DNA profile to their database? In 5-10 years this could be possible through a national medical data bank and low-cost DNA testing. Following that, with ever-increasing population pressures, the people who the government considers less desirables could be discouraged from having children.

5/19/13

My new novel, A Viral Affair: Surviving the Pandemic, has been launched!

My new novel, A Viral Affair: Surviving the Pandemic, has just been launched!

When American Intelligence discovers that a mad dictator is planning a viral pandemic attack, they persuade the top U.S. computer scientist, Dr. Tom Renwick, to work with the lady AI supercomputer, Juno, to develop smart, human-like robots to combat the contagion. A mysterious stranger and a romance provide an unexpected twist.

It should be great summer reading! I look forward to your comments.

It is now available at Amazon http://amzn.to/10apOHq