Overweening Generalist

Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Six Degrees of Separation and other High Weirdness

Nota bene: The OG doesn't "believe" any of the following, but thinks some of it is plausible, and swears he's not making any of it up...

1. Most of the readers of OG know about Kerry Thornley's tragic-baroque-Erisian life. He knew Oswald and was the only person to write a book that had Oswald in it before Oswald shot JFK - if he did shoot him, and I think he most probably did shoot at him - and then later, after much brain-change, Thornley became convinced he was unknowingly set-up as a Second Oswald. Two JFK assassination researchers had gotten the idea there were "two Oswalds" (see Prof. Popkin's The Second Oswald and Prof. Thompson's Six Seconds In Dallas.) And things just got weirder from there. (See Adam Gorightly's The Prankster and the Conspiracy)

                                           Kerry Wendell Thornley

2. Before Robert Anton Wilson met Kerry Thornley and helped flesh out the new religion of Discordianism, RAW had moved his family from New York to Yellow Springs, Ohio, which had a long tradition of anarchism and free-thought.

3. Arthur Young was a polymath and mystic who reminds me a bit as having a similar caste of mind as Buckminster Fuller. Young designed the Bell Helicopter. He was heavily influenced by Alfred North Whitehead, and was interested from a very early age in a Theory of Everything. "Process" reality and consciousness must be the best way of thinking about the the Big Q. Here's a snippet of his writing:

My first ambition was to have a philosophy of the universe. But once I recognized it should incorporate process and not merely structure, I had no place to go. I didn't have any idea what process should consist of. In fact, I felt sort of out-of-breath, as though I'd climbed up a high mountain and didn't have any of the things that nourish the body. So I decided to take up the problem of designing a workable helicopter, more or less as an exercise in getting practical answers. I allowed myself fifteen years, but it actually took eighteen before I had the thing in production. - p.263, The Roots of Consciousness Jeffrey Mishlove, 1975 edition.

He moved to Berkeley and started the Institute for the Study of Consciousness.

                                                Arthur Young

4. William Avery Hyde was an insurance expert who'd written a book on the subject. He raised three children in Columbus, Ohio, then sent them to Antioch College in Yellow Springs. His youngest child was named Ruth, and she converted to Quakerism there. She said that the mystical aspect of Quakerism, which believed in the possibility of a direct communication between humans the heavens, was very important to her. She was also a free-thinker. Ruth later married Michael Paine, part of the very rich Boston Forbes family, which includes Unistat's current Secretary of State, John Kerry. Michael and Ruth Paine settled in Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

5. Ruth's brother went on to become a doctor and was the family physician of Robert Anton Wilson and his wife and children. (p.31 Cosmic Trigger vol 1) This gives the novelist Wilson two odd connections to the JFK assassination. Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Dallas, Ruth, the peacenik, had been interested in the Russian language since 1957. She went to the home of a friend's and met a man named Lee Harvey Oswald, 23 years old, who had been to Russia and was enjoying being the center of attention in the kitchen as he told stories of Russia. He'd met his wife, Marina, in Russia too. On the day JFK was killed, Ruth Paine gave this sworn affidavit:

I have lived at the above address for about 4 years. My husband, Michael and I had been separated for about a year. In the early winter of 1963, I went to a party in Dallas because I heard that some people would be there who spoke Russian. I was interested in the language. At that party I met Lee Oswald and his Russian wife Marina. About a month later I went to visit them on Neely Street. In May I asked her [Marina] to stay with me because Lee went to New Orleans to look for work. About two weeks later I took Marina to New Orleans to join her husband. Around the end of September I stopped by to see them while I was on vacation. I brought Marina back with me to Irving. He came in 2 weeks, later, but did not stay with his wife and me. Marina's husband would come and spend most of the weekends with his wife. Through my neighbor, we heard there was an opening at the Texas School Book Depository. Lee applied and was accepted. Lee did not spend last weekend there. He came in about 5pm yesterday and spent the night, I was asleep this morning when he left for work. (found on unpaged vii of Mrs. Paine's Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy, by Thomas Mallon) Oswald stored his rifle in Ruth Paine's garage.

6. Ruth Paine's husband Michael's mother was Ruth Forbes Paine, the great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ruth Forbes Paine married the brilliant intellectual/mystic/helicopter designer Arthur Young.

                                                 Ron Rosenbaum

7. In a document declassified in 1977, there was a memo regarding a New Orleans assistant DA named Edward Gillin. On the very day Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby on national TV (November 24th, 1963), Gillin called the FBI and reported a strange encounter he'd had in the summer of 1963 with a man who called himself "Lee Harvey Oswald." Gillin said this skinny dude had come into his office asking about mind-expanding drugs. He'd read a book by Aldous Huxley. "He was looking for a drug that would open his vision, you know, mind expansion," Gillin recalled as per the declassified memo. It seems a mere coincidence that Aldous Huxley died, in Los Angeles, on the same day JFK did. Robert Ranftel, Martin Lee, and Jeff Cohen put forth the idea that Oswald may have done LSD while still in the Marines, before he defected to the Soviet Union, at the U-2 base in Atsugi, Japan, which was a known storage and testing facility for the CIA's Operation Artichoke, which later morphed into MK-ULTRA, the CIA's search for a foolproof truth serum that would make captured spies spill their secrets.  At the time it was common to dose unsuspecting personnel to see who could handle it. Apparently, while at Atsugi, Oswald had had a bummer of a trip on acid. Here's Ranftel, Cohen and Lee: "While Oswald was on guard duty, gunfire was heard. He was found sitting on the ground, more than a little dazed, babbling about seeing things in the bushes..."

But then why would Oswald be walking into the assistant DA's office in 1963 asking about mind-expanding drugs? Did he not know what had happened to him at Atsugi? Could it be that the assistant DA was actually talking to Kerry Thornley, who was using his old Marine pal Oswald's name as a goof? Thornley was known to have inhabited New Orleans around this same time.

Anyway, think of the psychedelic Oswald every time you see a picture of him and his odd smile. (See "Oswald's Ghost," pp.346-347, The Secret Parts of Fortune, by Ron Rosenbaum.)

8. Speaking of Ron Rosenbaum: he filed an article at 11:48PM EST on Nov 21, 49 years, 364 days and a few hours after the assassination, at Slate. He claims another researcher has come up with vital info on Oswald's curious "missing time" in Mexico City just before the assassination. And it involves info withheld from the Warren Commission, poet Octavio Paz's poet-wife, a triple-agent, and, quite possibly, Oswald's motive for shooting at (and maybe hitting) JFK. See HERE.

                                                       Mary Pinchot Meyer

9. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? Well...she was a beautiful, well-educated Washington DC socialite and painter who had been married to Cord Meyer. She was found murdered on a walking path in Georgetown, 11 months after JFK was killed. She had been turned on to LSD by the renegade Harvard professor Dr. Timothy Leary, and Mary (divorced from Cord) had had at least 30 trysts with JFK, and she turned on JFK to acid. They smoked pot, did acid, and screwed. Her ex-husband had worked for a one-world government after WWII, where he'd been injured as a Marine on Guam. After it looked like the World Federalist League had been infiltrated by communists, he quit. Then the ex-Yale man was asked by Allen Dulles (a major force on the Warren Commission) to join the C.I.A, and Cord did, working as a covert operator under Operation Mockingbird, which was about infiltrating foreign and domestic media with anti-Communist propaganda.

Mary's sister Tony married Ben Bradlee, who would later head up the Washington Post. In their circle of friends was James Jesus Angleton, in hindsight one of the most interestingly paranoid of all C.I.A men, ever. Mary had told her good friend Ann Truitt that, if anything ever happened to her (Mary), Ann should go into her painting studio and grab her diary. When Ann found out Mary had been murdered, Ann was living in Japan, so she phoned both Bradlee and Angleton, urging them to obtain the diary for her. Bradlee and Mary's sister Tony showed up the next day at Mary's locked house...but Angleton was already in, rummaging for Mary's diary. He tried to pick the lock on her studio. When Tony and Ben found her diary, they gave it to Angleton. Angleton said he'd burned the diary. In another version he said he gave the diary back to Tony, who burned it in front of Ann Truitt.

Leary says in his book Flashbacks that Mary told him in 1962 that the C.I.A wanted all non-C.I.A experimenters to cease publishing results of their experiments because they wanted LSD knowledge for themselves. Thereafter Leary was harassed and arrested many times, and eventually given 37 years for possession of half a joint. At the height of the Vietnam War, President Nixon called Leary "the most dangerous man in America." At the time the usual sentence was six months.

What was so important about Mary Pinchot Meyer's diary?

10. Angleton was paranoid, and an admirer and friend of Ezra Pound, who thought certain industrialists and bankers made money by starting wars. The act of deep reading of Pound seems isomorphic to me to the quality of mentation, the sort of floridly imaginative style one must bring to the paranoid world Angleton was in. They aren't the same: the deeply disturbing and damaging paranoia of Angleton is hardly of a piece with reading anyone's poetry, no matter how wild and intense. What I'd like to emphasize is the quality of mentation. They seem similar to me in that way.

By the way, D. David Heymann wrote a book on Ezra Pound, one on Jackie Kennedy, and a book called The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club. In this last he quotes Cord Meyer, six weeks from death in 2001, when asked, who do you think killed your ex-wife Mary?

"The same sons of bitches that killed John F. Kennedy."

11. Ever heard of Frigyes Karinthy? He was a Hungarian Jew who died in 1938 and probably invented the idea of Six Degrees of Separation...around 1929? (He may have been influenced by radio man Marconi.) In 1936 he had an operation for a brain tumor, and then wrote an autobiographical book Voyage Around My Skull, which came out a year after he died and was re-released in English in 2008 with an introduction by Oliver Sacks. Karinthy's still popular in Hungary, and his books are marked by science fiction ideas, comedy, play with Jonathan Swift's characters, pacifism, the themes of adolescence and the battle of the sexes. His humor is black and ironic. He espoused Esperanto. He also speculated about Artificial Intelligence long before it was invented.

12. Karinthy's 1929 essay deserves more notice but then again, so does Irish aeronautical engineer J.W. Dunne's An Experiment With Time, from two years earlier, 1927. In addition to the luminaries named HERE, Einstein thought Dunne's ideas were interesting, too. So have many physicists working after John S. Bell's 1964 experiments that suggest non-locality on the quantum level. Bell's experiments suggested that once particles had been involved with each other, they were inseparable, no matter how far the distance...which seemed to violate Einstein's bedrock physical idea that the speed of light was the speed limit in physics and the universe. Arthur Young was interested in Dunne, too:

What really got me involved was Dunne's book An Experiment With Time. Dunne found that sometimes he had dreams that would predict the future. He was an Oxford don; so he devised an experiment to prove this kind of thing. He took his class off into the country for three or four days into an environment that was unfamiliar to them. Then he had them keep a record, both of the incidents that occurred and of the dreams that they had. Finally he took the dreams and incidents and mixed them all up in a box and had someone match the resemblances, to see which dreams resembled which incident. They found that half of the dream resemblances were to future events! (Mishlove, op.cit, p.264)

13. I can understand Nelle Doyle's (prophetic?) concern over JFK's trip to Dallas. But I sometimes wonder about stuff like this: Gore Vidal had for a time lived in a mansion with Jacqueline Bouvier; they shared a step-father, Hugh D. Auchincloss. Jackie later married JFK, and Gore Vidal became friends with JFK. And dig this from a Playboy interview:

Playboy: In this kind of society - with that many guns - do you think that public men can be effectively protected from assassination?

Vidal: No. Anybody can murder a President. Once, sitting next to Jack Kennedy at a horse show, I remarked how easy it would be for someone to shoot him. "Only," I said, "they'd probably miss and hit me." "No great loss," he observed cheerfully and then, beaming at the crowd and trying to appear interested in the horses for Jackie's sake, he told me the plot of an Edgar Wallace thriller called Twenty-Four Hours, in which a British Prime Minister is informed that at midnight he will be assassinated. Scotland Yard takes every precaution: 10 Downing Street is ringed with guards; midnight comes and goes. Then, the telephone rings. Relieved, the Prime Minister picks up the receiver - and is electrocuted. The President chuckled. He often spoke of the risk of assassination, but I doubt if he thought it would ever happen to him. His virtue - and weakness - was his rationality. He had no sense of the irrational in human affairs.

Playboy: Do you?

Vidal: I think so. But then, the artist is always more concerned with the moon's dark side than the man of action is. However, I am not prone to mysticism or Yeatsian magic. Only once have I ever had a - what's the word for it? - presentiment. In 1961 I dreamed, in full color, that I was in the White House with Jackie. Dress soaked with blood, she was sobbing. "What will become of me now?" Yet I don't "believe in" dreams, and I certainly would not believe this dream if someone else told it to me.
-p.273, Views From A Window: Conversations With Gore Vidal


In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning.Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Monday, November 18, 2013

Assault on Poverty: Universal Basic Income

Sometime in the next few months, the Swiss will vote on whether to give every citizen around $2800 a month, with no conditions attached. They have an initiative system where if you get 100,000 people to sign a petition, it must come up for a vote. The Swiss government is pissed because they have to deal with this; they think their welfare state is good enough. But enough Swiss citizens are alarmed at growing income inequality, an outdated welfare system and unemployment and underemployment and the specter of accelerating technological unemployment. As one of the main shakers behind this movement, Daniel Straub, said, "It is time to partly disconnect human labor and income.  We are living in a time where machines do a lot of the manual labor - that is great - we should be celebrating." And who was another one of the prime movers behind this in Switzerland? An artist named Enno Schmidt. Of all the artists I've known in Unistat - quite a lot - this seems like something so bountifully good they might start sorta thinking about believing in god maybe. (<-----That last sentence is as I have deliberated over; let's let it stand, if only for its ornate badness, hmmmkay?) I hope they get it done in Switzerland, and I hope we get something like it in Unistat. (If it passes, in heaven - or wherever he is - Orson Welles might add the UBI to the five hundred years of brotherly love and the cuckoo-clock, for there are already good reasons to suspect the UBI will add to artistic and inventive derring-do.)

Here's an interesting interview about UBI and Switzerland with John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The neoliberal austerity idea was and is a smashing failure in Europe, and that's a big reason why many groups are becoming interested in the UBI. Do we want Greece in our streets? I don't think so. As for Unistat, Schmitt points out that fascists (my word, not his) shut down the government because we were going to make sure every citizen had health coverage, while in Europe, far-right groups are extremely angry because austerity economics has cut into their health services, and so there's an immigrant backlash. I guess I'd trade Europe's fascists over ours, but now I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren't I? Indeed, Schmitt talks about the history of "welfare" in Unistat and how much of it is coded racism, which I think is true, and I think this pending debate will be won or lost on the fields of metaphors...

                       If we got UBI in Unistat I'd spend a lot of time learning how to write!

Speaking of which: George Lakoff has long said that capturing the "freedom" metaphor is one of the major games in Unistat politics. And perhaps the major thinker in the world on UBI is Philippe Van Parijs, who started thinking about the idea in the 1980s in Belgium, when he witnessed high unemployment accompanied by fast productive growth in the economy. As a Green he began playing with the idea among other sociological colleagues, and after awhile they began to realize it wasn't such a crazy idea after all, and began systematic work on it. He's often asked in interviews about the reception of the idea: technical aspects, administrative topics, and how to fund the idea. But he answers that the main objection people have when they first hear about it are moral ones, and demand a good answer. And I find him seductive when he talks about the idea of freedom and the UBI, which is, for him, the main reason why it should be done.

Van Parijs says that "the main moral objection was that basic income would be giving people something for nothing, and that it amounted to systematic legitimation of free riding on the part of the idlers at the expense of the hard workers. And so that forced me to spell out why, fundamentally, I thought this was such a good and fair idea." He calls on the concepts of "formal freedom" and "real freedom." Formal freedom, basically, says you have the right to do as you might wish. Real freedom includes formal freedom as a subset, but addresses the means that are required for you to do what you wish to do. If you find yourself daydreaming often that you'd really like to do this rather than that, but you can't afford to...you're probably a wage slave. You have much more formal freedom than real freedom. Obviously, other life conditions mitigate the argument that, say, even though you were an orphan till age 14 then ran away to the circus and never learned to read, that you want to own your own casino in Las Vegas and so you should be given enough guaranteed to do that. We need to stay in "reality" here, folks. Think of some real freedom ideas that seem within the realm of possibility for you; this is what Philippe Van Parijs wants. And so do you.

But right now you might be mired in formal freedom and not real freedom.

And doesn't that sorta just piss you off, especially when you look at the careers of people like these CEOs?

If you'd like to be able to quit your job and take care of a sick relative but can't afford it because you'd fall into poverty...you'd be able to if there was a UBI. And not only caring for others (which is real work, if unpaid), but you could afford to gain better training or retraining for your job with a UBI (if your current bosses don't fund your education, which in Unistat they are less and less likely to do). You can become more socially and politically active with a UBI. Young people will be less likely to leave their families for a job elsewhere if they had UBI. It's a boon to artists, would-be entrepreneurs, and other creative types. It's a massive boon to the ever-increasing precariate class.

In Van Parijs's and most of the pro-UBI thinkers I've studied, the income is unconditional. Bill Gates would get a check every month. So would that guy sleeping behind a dumpster at the liquor store. The libertarian Unistatian thinker Charles Murray - who hates welfare - is for it. He's thought about it and wants to end poverty for Unistatians by giving $10,000 to every fellow Unistatian over 21 who is a citizen and not in prison.

Back to Philippe Van Parijs: besides real freedom he was moved to pursue his UBI lines of thought by "A grand reflection about the fate of mankind and the way mankind should be heading." He also saw it in the spirit of socialism, but not by doing that whole takeover of the means of production stuff. In this, he saw UBI as an "attractive alternative to socialism."

Here are two videos by major world thinkers in UBI, the first an interview with Guy Standing. It's about 8 minutes long. He mentions the term "social dividend" which reminded me of some thinkers that influenced Ezra Pound and Robert Anton Wilson, particularly the engineer and economic thinker C.H. Douglas. We should receive a UBI, says Standing, due to the "social dividend from all the investments that previous generations have made." Standing also mentions Thomas Paine, who had this idea in the 18th century. Standing also talks about experiments and successes with UBI in selected areas of India, Africa, and Latin America, and mentions Lula's Brazil and the Bolsa Familia: 60 million on a version of UBI and a smashing success: increased work and productivity!:

And here's Philippe Van Parijs from what looks like earlier this year. It's 6 and a half minutes, and my favorite part takes off at 4:00, when he gets the question about "parasites" that would sit around and live off other people's work. Basically, 1.) you might not have a job but be doing useful work, like housekeeping or taking care of children, etc; 2.) some paid work is not useful, as for example making weapons; 3.) many highly paid jobs are being done by "free riders"! Wha? Yep: it's incorporated in their jobs: they've received massive gifts "from nature," they benefit from rapid technological advances that they themselves are not responsible for achieving, and they benefit from a highly organized society. This last reason reminds me of the spirit of the "social dividend." Van Parijs has spoken at length about this in other interviews.

We create reality by talking about it.

March 1997 interview with Philippe Van Parijs

July 2002 interview with Philippe Van Parijs

I'd previously spewed blog on the Universal Basic Income HERE and HERE.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Robots and Technological Unemployment: Further Considerations

In my last blogspew I wrote a bit about all the ideas and rhetoric I encountered as a kid in the 1970s, reading books and magazines from earlier in the century, when said rhetoric was about the End of Toil. And this seems possible, but we are stuck in a dumb-game about being unfathomably rich, or living in a constant state of biosurvival anxiety due to lack of money and the fear of poverty, homelessness, hunger, penury.

Maybe the ballsiest rhetoric about "all that" came out in 1930 - just as the Great Depression was setting in - by Lord John Maynard Keynes. In a short yet profound essay, "The Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren," Keynes - a polymath - wrote that the end of the economic game was in sight, and that many wouldn't know what to do with themselves, that working three hours a day is quite enough for most people, and that a few will know how to live a life of leisure - the goal of a true liberal arts education - while others will have a rough go of it.

"I feel sure that with a little more experience we shall use the new-found bounty of nature quite differently from the way in which the rich use it today, and will map out for ourselves a plan of life quite otherwise than theirs." - Keynes

Read this essay if you haven't before. (If it seems "tl/dr" skip to the II section.) He says that within 100 years this end of toil would be possible. As we write: 16 years and change from now. Which reminds me of a couple of studies that came out in the last 18 months.

We must know something about where we've been in order to understand where we are, and where we might be going. 

Profs. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
A 98 page book appeared around January 23rd of 2012 titled Race Against The Machine. In a stunning move by an increasingly lame TV institution, 60 Minutes actually did a segment about technological unemployment that Brynjolfsson and McAfee had warned about, and allowed them on as talking heads. The segment featured much footage of robots in factories doing the work that humans previously did. Famous AI/roboticist Rodney Brooks is shown with one of his robots that can learn, pick up an object from the floor, works cheaper than a Chinese factory worker, can be programmed to do a new task by a human in a matter of minutes, etc. 

Everyone should have been talking and writing about Tech Unemployment after this, but few did. I think most of the population is clueless and in reactionary mode, while the Owner Class would rather the population not know what's going to happen to them. It was right there on your beloved teevee, people!

Here's the 14 minute segment, in case you missed it. That's Brynjolfsson in the pic.

In a blog post after the 60 Minutes piece ran, McAfee complained that other experts had misunderstood what they were saying. Near the end of the post he writes:

Previous waves of automation, like the mechanization of agriculture and the advent of electric power to factories, have not resulted in large-scale unemployment or impoverishment of the average worker. But the historical pattern isn’t giving me a lot of comfort these days, simply because we’ve never before seen automation encroach so broadly and deeply, while also improving so quickly at the same time.

Now: These guys are not my heroes. I've read their stuff. I object to their avoidance of talking about the human questions of suffering under continuing austerity and the defunct neoliberal economic model. In the 60 Minutes piece McAfee is asked about the human fallout, and he acts befuddled, saying only that "science fiction" is his best guide. Maybe he'd get too much crap from colleagues if he brought up Universal Basic Income? If you look at McAfee's blog there's nothing there about what to do about human suffering (that I could see), and in his book with Bryndolfsson they stress more "education" and "entrepreneurship," which I find tin-eared, or just plain stupid. Look at the education system NOW, look at the debt...and where are these new jobs that people would be "educated" to do going to come from? Servicing robots? What a joke. You just spent a dense 90 pages writing about the inexorableness of machines in the workforce. Fer crissakes! Read the Keynes essay from 1930! (Maybe if you rise so far in academia that you teach at M.I.T. [Bryndolfsson], or Harvard Business [McAfee] you aren't required to address ideas of human suffering?)

Interestingly, if you read the comments to McAfee's blog post I linked to above, the UBI is mentioned. 

Matthew Yglesias of Slate is pro-UBI, but thinks the idea of permanent technological unemployment is a myth...because in the past when new tech revolutionized production, it created new jobs. Here's McAfee's rebuttal. I find McAfee persuasive here. Do you?

Worse than McAfee, to my eyes, is Bryndolfsson's TED talk . How wonderful! The solution to technological unemployment? Work alongside a robot with advanced Watson-ability solutions! Because...it worked in chess. 

This is just pathetic. I applaud these two geeks for pointing out the obvious rapid influx of technological unemployment. They are just silly asses when it comes to what to do about the human fallout, in my opinion.

                                    a still from Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis

Profs Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne
Both of Oxford. On 17 September, 2013 they produced a paper, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?" They were motivated by a 1933 paper by Keynes, about the possibility that machines will put most people out of work. They also cite Bryndolfsson and McAfee. They say 47% of all jobs in Unistat are at high risk of evaporating under computers/automation/robots/better AI systems...within the next 20 years. Round it out to 16 years and change, just to make it interesting?

Which jobs are susceptible to loss?
-data crunchers
-production labor
-office support/administrative support
-machine operators

Let's not even talk about booksellers, journalists, musicians, travel agents and a bunch more - who still exist! - but...you know what I mean?

Some things that could slow or speed up the loss of these jobs: regulation of technologies as they come online, and access to cheaper labor. In a paper by Frank Levy of M.I.T. and Richard Murnane of Harvard they address the types of jobs that will be lost to robots: "Each of these occupations contained significant amounts of routine work that could be expressed in deductive or inductive rules and so were candidates for computer substitution and/or offshoring." 

A.I. has gotten better and better at pattern recognition/machine learning and crunching Big Data, so a lot of clerical and administrative jobs are on the way out. 

Computerization will hit a bottleneck or technological plateau, then A.I. will be so good that it will replace most of the jobs in management, science, engineering, and even (this one really gets me) the arts. 

Look at the jobs not susceptible to automation. They mostly suck; the post-war boom and middle class labor movement seem a thousand years ago. The jobs that are hard to replace with a robot are low-wage: buildings and grounds maintenance, housecleaning, food preparation (although I've seen robots on video...nevermind), personal services like doing manicures and haircuts, personal care of the elderly (although I've seen videos of robots doing this work...nevermind), or any job involving abstract, unstructured cognitive work that's hard to write code for. And even with these jobs, software like Network Manager is often used.

Frey and Osborne advise more education to do the sorts of jobs robots can't do: "Acquire creative and social skills," they say. Is it me or is this just fucking ridiculous? It's almost worse than Brynjolfsson's "work side by side with the robots!" Just acquire social skills! Just learn to be more creative! 

Do these academics ever leave the Ivory Tower and talk to strangers in the streets? Message to Frey and Osborne: you were spurred to write your paper by a 1933 paper by Keynes. Please re-read his 1930 essay on "The Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren," and get real: work was, for the most part, something we as a species should try to cure. It's a malady. We have in our sights the cure. It's all about sharing the wealth enough so we can not be burdened with biosurvival anxiety and drudgery. And you'd be surprised how many of us know how to handle leisure. We will still "work" although we may not consider it that. Work may "be" play, but it will be productive. And how many boons have come to humanity when people saw some little problem that needed to be overcome, had the time to tinker, to "screw around" and made a contribution to humankind? Answer: almost all boons...

According to Frey and Osborne, only those occupations that require a high degree of creativity or "social intelligence" or other advanced skills can resist the rise of AI. I saw one paper - my notes are scattered so I can't say where - but two jobs that will last for awhile were (I'm not kidding and if any of you challenge me on this I will find the source to prove it): CEO and poet. 

This is where we're headed. And sooner rather than later, friends. It's time to think about what Life is for. Is it to compete in the rat race so you don't have to live under a freeway overpass? Or is money different than wealth?

(this is more than 14 months old, so it's "worse" [or better?] than this):

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rise of the Robots and Technological Unemployment

When I was in grammar school and high school I'd often ditch class and go to the library. One of the things I'd learned was good for laffs and the imagination: look at microfilm of old Life magazines, or if the library had bound versions of the entire year for old magazines I'd love to read those. The ads in magazines like Colliers that showed a doctor saying he prefers these cigarettes over all others because of their fine, smooth taste. His stethoscope around his neck, smiling. Wow! How things had changed since...1952!

Always wondrous were ads for gadgets that would eliminate drudgery and free up the woman of the house (it was always a woman) to live a life of leisure. The rhetoric of machines that would eliminate soul-numbing work captured my attention at a very early age because all you had to do was extrapolate...wouldn't it be cool if dad didn't have to go to work and he and mom would be there when I got home from school...doing...whatever it was they wanted to do? What would my world be like when I was an old man of 30?

As I began to study the history of the Industrial Revolution up to present days, I found this rhetoric of labor and machines a constant: at some point in the future - possibly my own future - we would enter another Epoch: robots and computers (same thing) would do all the horrible work, leaving humans to create, socialize, dream. How would the bills get paid? I didn't know, never having paid bills. I figured the money went to others...who worked. But: their work would have gone away too, right?

Everyone would be playing games, painting, writing poetry or learned papers and books, learning new languages or music, or joyously goofing off.

         "Because everything in her house in waterproof, the housewife of 2000..." Wow!

It doesn't look like it's going to happen like They Promised, does it? Why?

Well, the simple answer: instead of the populace understanding that any machine that puts people out of work was invented not only by a genius and his team, but the genius and his team built upon millions of hours of previous work by previous toilers and tinkerers and basic scientific research funded by everyone - all of who were supported by farmers and mothers - we instead allowed the idea that whoever could buy the biggest and fastest machines, owned All Of That.

There seem to be a few hundred choice entry points to tell this story to myself and y'all, but for now I'll cut to December of 2012.

Paul Krugman
In one of his shorter posts for the NYT, Krugman published "Rise of the Robots" on December 8, 2012. He notes that the "college premium" had been stagnant for a few years. In other words, the payoff for getting a degree was not showing its previous earning power in the marketplace. When he first started writing about income inequality twenty years earlier, it was about the gap between laborers and CEOs and other assholes, like hedge fund managers. Now it seems to be between workers and capital...and OMG Marxism! The dreaded Karl Marx, hibernating for a hundred years, suddenly stirs. Production rises, income of labor stays the same and then begins to lose. Why? Automation. Read the article. "If this is the wave of the future, it makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality." Education won't help when what we really have are a few people who own machines. The biggest and fastest machines. Those with the biggest and fastest machines are reaping all the rewards; everyone else gets the shaft. You buy the biggest machines, you pay 100-1000 of the brightest PhDs to collect data, write algorithms, maintain the data servers...you win! Everyone else is fucked.

Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier, computer whiz/prodigy/generalist/genius says he was there (and he was, as numerous books on the history of Silicon Valley attest to) when this really got going and he and his famous friends thought it was going to be this incredible "information is free" thing that would make everyone's lives better. Now he says they were horribly wrong. Because it turns out that the NSA, Wal-Mart, Facebook, Goldman Sachs...all bought the biggest, fastest computers and hired an army of gifted geeks. He has ideas about how to save us, and I think they're good to begin our thinking with.

I've followed Lanier's career for a long time. I think he's one of the best and most interesting thinkers in the world, but rather than talk about his ideas, I'd rather you took the time to watch what he's saying about the existential situation we're in now:

Here's 4 minutes on "Why Facebook isn't free."

Here he is interviewed by Andrew Keen, about Lanier's book Who Owns The Future? It's about 10 minutes and 40 seconds:

Finally, for 27 minutes or so - I think you'll find it well worthwhile - he's interviewed about his books and his changed thinking and what we might do to remedy this "jobless recovery" situation. NB around 5:20 to 6:00, in talking about the structural changes from Kodak to Instagram: "We pretend that the people who do the work don't exist." Another notable moment: from around 8:00 on: "honesty in accounting" could solve the mess the middle class is in. Also a fascinating point: around 11:30: "levies" and their history:

I have a bee in my bonnet and I'm afraid you're going to be hearing more from the OG on income inequality, American fascism, mob mentality, robots/automation/computers, Real Wealth vs. Money, the college loan bubble, Missing Public Discussions, and social fallout of Winner-Take-All Hypercapitalism and Privateeing, and ideas about how we might extricate ourselves from rising misery.