Artificial Intelligence Revolution

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You say you want a revolution? Ready or not, a revolution is coming. It’s coming for you and me. It’s coming soon. You might want to try to hold onto your job. And your dignity. But good luck with that.

“The real battles that lie ahead will lack the apocalyptic drama of Hollywood blockbusters, but they will disrupt the structure of our economic and political systems all the same. Looming before us in the coming decades is an AI-driven crisis of jobs, inequality and meaning. The new technology will wipe out a huge portion of work as we’ve known it, dramatically widening the wealth gap and posing a challenge to the human dignity of us all.”

AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. If you want to be cool and appear in the know, you can begin dropping the AI acronym into your conversation or writing whenever possible.

The above quote is from a long piece written by Kai-Fu Lee in the Sept. 15-16 weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. (I’m not in the habit of reading the WSJ, because I own no stocks and no bonds. But I sometimes pick it up if Publix is sold out of the NYT. Maybe I should read the WSJ more often? But I digress.) The article is entitled “The Human Promise Of The AI Revolution.” (See, I didn’t make up the “revolution” part.) Here’s another chilling quote from the WSJ article:

“This unprecedented disruption requires no new scientific breakthrough in AI, just the application of existing technology to new problems. It will hit many white-collar professionals just as hard as it hits blue-collar factory workers.”

Gosh, I’ve been focusing my worry on global warming, climate change, and the rising sea level. (And Donald Trump, of course. But I promise not to digress in that direction.) Now I have to worry about artificial intelligence as well? No problem. I have a nearly unlimited capacity for Worry, with a capital “W.”

Global Warming and Artificial Intelligence

After reading the aforementioned article, I can see similarities between Global Warming and Artificial Intelligence. Both sound like science fiction with hints of apocalypse.

Both promise unprecedented change with astonishing but uncertain consequences. Many people hope and believe that humans will be able to exert some degree of control over both global warming and artificial intelligence. (This is the “It might not be too late” school of optimism.)

Most folks have heard about global warming, but hope its most dangerous consequences are way off in the future. Many folks have not heard about artificial intelligence. Yet. But  if they have, they assume it is way off in the future.

Many people are aware that global warming has probably been happening for some time. Many acknowledge that we are already experiencing the first effects of global warming and climate change, manifesting as annoying shifts in weather patterns and apparent increase in the size and frequency of catastrophic storms.

However, it hasn’t dawned on many folks that artificial intelligence, like global warming, is already happening. Both global warming and artificial intelligence are HERE, NOW.

A Glacier And A Locomotive

I think I can get away with one more quote from the Kai-Fu Lee article in the WSJ. After all, I’m going to give him free publicity for his forthcoming book.

“The AI revolution will be of the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution — but probably larger and definitely faster. Where the steam engine only took over physical labor, AI can perform both intellectual and physical labor. And where the Industrial Revolution took centuries to spread beyond Europe and the U.S., AI applications are already being adopted simultaneously all across the world.”

Larger and faster than the Industrial Revolution!!!

Here’s my interpretation: Global warming is moving — not as slowly as a glacier, perhaps — but slowly, in terms of human years.

Global warming can make big changes in the lifetime of one human.

Artificial Intelligence, meanwhile, is moving more like a speeding locomotive — more like dog years than human years.

Artificial intelligence can make big changes in the lifetime of one dog.

And what about that Kai-Fu Lee book? It is “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order.” There’s a title to strike fear into the heart. The book is scheduled to be published next week, Sept. 25, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. So says the WSJ.

And who is this guy Kai-Fu Lee? Never heard of him. He appears to have serious credentials in the brave new world of AI. You could Google him.

— John Hayden

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Online Games (How Much Time?)

Quote

“In the United States, the average person under the age of twenty-one now spends almost as much time playing online games as they spend in classrooms from the sixth through twelfth grades. And it’s not just young people: the average online social games player is a woman in her mid-forties”

— Al Gore in his new book, “The Future”

Dark Age Ruminations (Hurricane Sandy Inspired)

Let’s think seriously about “apocalypse.” Stay with me. This will be brief. The dictionary definition is:

“noun, the complete final destruction of the world, esp. as described in the biblical book of Revelation; an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale: a stock market apocalypse / an era of ecological apocalypse.”

However, I’m not thinking of “apocalypse” in the biblical sense; or in the nuclear-annihilation sense.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy this past week provided us with a  vivid picture of how the apocalypse of modern civilization might go. The suffering of the people of New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York could be widespread in the not-too-distant future. (Any city or state with “New” in its name has reason to be frightened.)

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Typewriters, Stick Shifts, and Newspapers

Typewriters were as significant in the lives of my generation as computers and cell phones are today. For the beginning of the story about typewriters, see Me And The Blog.

Thanks to my cousin, Barbara, for her comment:

“Too funny! I guess we took our spanking new typewriters for granted. My father used his company discount to purchase them. They became a standard Christmas gift. Like you, though, I learned to type at school on an old standard model. Once that year was over, I swore I would never use one again!!! I did, however, learn to drive a standard shift car. I was always happy I did as I could drive any model car out there.”

Gear shift stick of my Mazda Protege SE 1999.

Stick shift on the floor of a 1999 Mazda Protege. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hurray! In some ways, my siblings and cousins are more versatile, more adaptable, than the smarty-pants younger generation. We can drive a stick shift!

How many 25-y-o computer geniuses can do that? Huh? I double dare computer geeks to get into a car with a manual transmission and  drive it around the block. (Please do not try this at home if small children live in the neighborhood.) I believe a 25-y-o could probably figure out how to use a rotary phone, if locked in a room with one for 24 hours.

Barbara’s comment prompted another memory about the IBM typewriter.  (Most of the words in bold type are no longer in common use in the English language. You’ll only need to know those words if you’re taking a class in Ancient History.)

IBM Selectric typeball

IBM Selectric typeball (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I went to work at Congressional Information Service, Inc., in 1977, we had excellent modern IBMs. Then we  upgraded to the ultimate, the IBM Selectric.

And then (drumroll please), the entire office computerized! They dragged me kicking and screaming away from my typewriter and FORCED me to type on a computer. We used a word processing program called Wordstar!  You can forget about Wordstar. It will not be on the test. You will never hear about Wordstar again!

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before long, I learned to live with word processing, but that was not the final act. Eventually, I was an unwilling but nonetheless culpable participant in the conversion ruination of two perfectly good newspapers to “pagination.”

(Backstory:  Before computers, reporters typed news stories on  strips of newsprint. copyboy  fetched the story, “take” by “take,” and delivered it to an editor, who scratched it up without mercy and added a headline. The editor rolled the “take” up and tossed it into a square duct, whence it fell by gravity — talk about primitive technology — to the composing room to be set in “hot type” by printers.  Now you know why the composing room was always at least one floor below the newsroom. Some newspapers also used “pneumatic tubes.”  Pneumatic tubes will not be on the test.

With the advent of word processing, stories were typed and edited on computer, but still sent to printers in the composing room to be set in “cold type” and “pasted up” to make a page.)

With pagination, the entire newspaper page was built in the newsroom by editors or page designers using a computer program such as Quark. I supervised conversion of the copy desk at one small newspaper to pagination using Quark; and was a bit player in conversion of a larger newspaper to pagination using Harris software.

Pagination eliminated the composing room, the printing trade, and many jobs. If you want to know what happened to the American middle class, here is a perfect example. A large part of the middle class was made up of union printers. Editors soon met the same fate. Most so-called newspapers don’t have editors any longer. They have “content managers.”

That about covers the history of the world from typewriters to pagination, and from manual transmission to hybrid cars.

In an emergency, my generation will always be able to drive a stick shift or dial a rotary phone. Of course, when the real emergency comes, I wonder how many of us will remember how to grow our own food? Or cook? Or make a fire? I will be among the first to starve or freeze.

Let’s not think about that anymore. Instead, I’m going to think about acquiring a standard typewriter and a Volkswagen Microbus, and driving off into the sunrise.

— John Hayden

Mac or Windows? Drawing the Line on Frugality.

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I can compromise on cola, for the sake of frugality, but you gotta take a stand on principle somewhere.

I think I’ll draw my line at computers and operating systems. Two years ago, I paid twice the price for my Mac iBook from Apple, compared to a generic Windows laptop. Never regretted it. Would do it again (not that I can afford a new computer right now).

The point is, I don’t NEED a new computer. Apple keeps sending me free software updates over the Net. If I had bought the Windows laptop two years ago, that balky version of Windows would be obsolete, and I’d be faced with buying the new Windows or a new computer.

My brand loyalty to Apple is stronger than ever. I’m determined to hold out for an iPhone, or at least an iPod, when I can afford it. Right now, Apple is still coming out with significant improvements to the iPhone on a regular basis, and reducing the price as well. So I’m content to wait another year or two until the iPhone is fully evolved, and the price is lower.

Waiting to make an important purchase is a good approach to frugality. Paying more for a product that won’t be obsolete in six months can be thrifty in the long run. Immediate gratification is over-rated.