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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Retirement, Depression, And Blogging

Hello friends. I’ve been in a funk. Haven’t published a blog post since April 30. Probably my longest hiatus since I started blogging in 2007, or since I began this blog in 2009. I’ve continued to read bloggers I follow (but irregularly) and to post comments (rarely).

I’ve been trying to adjust to retirement. Not as easy as I thought. Also, I’ve been all over the place in the past year regarding the purpose and audience of this blog. I began my first blog in 2007 with a focus on Maryland. That blog became more local when I moved to Ocean City.

I started this blog in 2009 to write about “life after sixty,” but I soon wandered into politics and economics. After retiring in 2013, I returned to my hometown, Montgomery County, and focused on local stuff for a while. I started several experimental blogs, but none of them clicked. The experimental blogs have been abandoned. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about politics, and I tend to get the most hits in the runup to elections. After the 2014 election, I was a blogger wandering in the desert.

Unable to find my bearings in retirement, I tried part-time work. Lifestyle and financial issues came to the fore. I made a conscious effort to cut back on blogging. Even though I wasn’t a very productive blogger, it seemed to consume a disproportionate amount of my time. Instead of blogging, I researched affordable places to live. Took a two-week fact-finding trip to Florida. At this point, I’m confused and undecided.

The truth is, my lifelong struggle with depression has worsened since retirement.

The cover story in this month’s Atlantic magazine, “A World Without Work,” helps explain my retirement funk. The story, by Derek Thompson, is not about retirement. It warns about the continuing loss of jobs due to computerization and robotization.

“For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?”

I’ve found that retirement has a lot in common with unemployment. Thompson points out that although leisure time offers wide opportunities, many unemployed men tend to spend most of their hours sleeping or watching TV.

I can go days without turning on the television, but I spend way too much time sleeping. Some days, I can hardly pull myself out of bed. That’s a sure sign of depression.

Any thoughts, fellow bloggers and/or retirees?

— John Hayden

The Old, The Young And The Machines In The 21st Century

From our perspective here in the early 21st century, the world is full of contradictory trends, projections and predictions. You can’t help but be confounded by the tidal wave of information. At least I can’t.

Here’s a counterintuitive situation: We have graying populations in major countries, and at the same time, widespread unemployment among young workers? How can that be? Continue reading

Mitt Romney’s Economic Divide, Part 2. Lash Yourself to An Oar.

We used to have the upper class, middle class, lower class, working class. Most of us in America pretended that class wasn’t an issue.

Retired folks living on Social Security and pensions were in a separate category. As elders and retired, they were deemed “entitled” (gasp) to the Social Security and pensions they received. They had, after all, worked long and hard to earn those Social Security and pension checks.   Continue reading

Mitt Romney Clarifies the Economic Divide in America

Mitt Romney is to be commended for finally bringing into focus the economic divide emerging in America.

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Winner’s Camp are people who own and control the wealth. It starts with the very richest, a tiny sliver at the top, less than one percent.  This camp also includes the affluent classes, the bankers, accountants, lawyers, executives, innovators and politicians who preside over the modern economy. They provide the brainpower to monitor, preserve, and increase the wealth.

You also find in the Winner’s Camp a large number of people who are crucial for the operation of the economy.

Continue reading

Raise the Social Security Retirement Age? Huh?

English: Demonstration in Barcelona on January...

Demonstration in Barcelona on January 22 against raising the retirement age (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People are living longer, therefore the U.S. needs to raise the Social Security retirement age.

The above statement fills me with despair. It can be spoken with a straight face only by a young person or a rich person who doesn’t understand:  a) What it feels like to be sixty-something in the 21st century, and b) The place of the American worker in the market for human labor,  given the new-normal, flat-world economy.

Full disclosure: I come at this retirement age question from a Baby Boomer point of view. I celebrated (?) a 64th birthday in June. For which I’m grateful. It means I’m one of the survivors. I am now enjoying my 65th summer on the planet Earth, which is one of my favorite planets.

Continue reading

American and European Workers in the New Economy

It’s possible that we’re on the brink of historic collapse. Maybe not the Dark Age that Jane Jacobs suggests in her final book. Maybe the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is not an apt comparison. Maybe it will be more like the decline and fall of the British Empire. Or the breakup of the Soviet Union. Maybe only partial collapse, failure of some systems, here and there.

Is the era of labor-intensive capitalism over in the U.S. and Europe?

You can trace the demise of the factory to decisions made in the 1950s. The actual dismantling of American industry began in the 1970s. By 1982, the process was so advanced that we spoke of the industrial heartland as the “rust belt.”

The remaining labor-intensive parts of American industry were taken apart and exported during the globalization of the 1980s and 1990s. After the manufacturing base was hollowed out to a shell, the next labor-intensive sector to collapse was the construction industry.

Capitalism remains strong. But for the first time, capitalism doesn’t need many workers, at least not in America and Europe. What about the knowledge industry? Won’t that provide jobs? Google is big, but its workforce, not so much. Yes, there will be jobs for the lucky, the talented, the highly educated. But ask a recent college grad how easy it is to find a job.

We have what’s left of retailing. Count the vacant stores at your local mall. Walmart thrives. We have fast food. Many jobs, minimum wage.

The new capitalism is technology-intensive and finance-intensive. And coming soon, computers that “think,” to compete with slow, old-fashioned humans.

As manufacturing jobs slipped away, the financial sector created an illusion of growth and wealth.

The workings of the financial sector are a mystery to me. But the events of the past few years have caused me to view banking and finance with fear and loathing. Based on what little I know, the world financial system — many currencies and fluctuating values, with competing central banks and regulators — is dysfunctional and completely irrational. Finance is a crazy system, more likely to create chaos than order. It’s FUBAR (go ahead, look it up).

The institutions of finance have no soul or conscience to oppose corruption. American banks, corporations and wealthy individuals are awash in money, while average Americans, especially underwater “homeowners,” are awash in debt. For whatever reasons, the wizards of finance refuse to spend or invest.

If high-tech, high-finance, American and European capitalism can profit without much labor input, what happens to the surplus workers?

Economic, political and social systems will have to adapt rapidly, or risk collapse. The European Union looks kind of unstable. In the U.S., some states are financial basket cases. Maybe collapse is happening now.

— John Hayden

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The Big JOBS Plan: What is Possible? What is the Goal?

Cover of

Cover of End of Work

The mob is clamoring for a big, definitive “plan” to “create” JOBS.

The problem is, we are all yearning for a return to the prosperity and good jobs of the 1950s. A return to Middle-class America. That model of American prosperity lasted for a half-century, even as it was eroding away. That model lasted through the inflating 1970s, the greedy 1980s and the bubbling 1990s.

The middle-class model of America, with good-paying jobs all around — it’s over. We aren’t going back to the 1950s. It’s impossible. That’s where President Barack Obama’s JOBS plan has got to start.   Continue reading

Unemployment and $3 Gasoline in the U.S., Austerity and Street Protests in the Capitals of Europe

BOOK SHIELDS IN ROME. One of many photos circulating in European newspapers and blogs, of protests against government austerity plans. This one shows students in Rome using book-like shields. Tomorrow, you'll likely see similar street theater in London. But only if you have access to European sources.

The beautiful people on CNBC, the Wall Street propaganda channel, chat happily about how high stocks might fly, and the price of gold and oil.  It’s surreal.

Even as they talk, the economy of the Western world is teetering on the edge of chaos. Students protest daily in the capitals of Europe against draconian austerity plans designed to screw the middle class and working class, and especially the younger generations. European governments seem intent on staving off default by cutting deeply into funding for education, arts and humanities. As you can see, ConsterNation is an international state of mind.

You need direct European sources to keep up with events over there. For instance, news and photos of the book protests in Rome can be found at this Italian blog by Italian novelists. If you can read Italian, you could look at their main blog.

Baroque in Hackney reports that students in London will mount a similar protest on Thursday. Ms. B even provides the address where you can go on Tuesday to help make life-sized books for the demonstration, if you happen to be in London. If not, there’s plenty of time to get there by Thursday. It’s a small world, so they tell me.

“With Arts and Humanities a particular target for UK cuts this is a literal display of literary resistance.”  — Ms. B

For more inside information (and videos) from the U.K., you could look at Coalition of Resistance.

Until recently, the U.S. cable channels had been reporting on the debt crises in Greece and Ireland. But as the contagion threatens to spread throughout the southern half of Europe, coverage in the U.S. has all but disappeared. You’ll not likely see film or photos of protests in Europe on CNBC, or any other news channel.

Could the U.S. news blackout on European protests be a conspiracy to keep Americans from knowing the extent of economic turmoil, at least until after the Christmas shopping season? When did I become so cynical? Maybe the news blackout is to prevent protest fever from jumping the Atlantic and infecting U.S. students. Maybe it’s to prevent panic.

Let’s go to the NUMBERS.

Even as the beautiful TV people talk, unemployment in the U.S. is 9.8 percent, officially, and possibly twice that much, in reality. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for their service they will receive a 1.4 percent pay increase, the lowest in many years. The price of gasoline is $2.97 a gallon, where I live, and more than $3, in urban areas. The snow is knee-deep, or higher, in Buffalo, N.Y.; and the temperature is going down to 30 degrees tonight in Orlando, Florida.

LILY HAS AWESOME POWERS OF CONCENTRATION WHEN A DOG BISCUIT IS BALANCED ON HER NOSE.

And Lily, the golden retriever, has about a one-in-three chance of balancing a dog biscuit on her nose, tossing it in the air, and catching it in her mouth. I had to add the true story about Lily and the dog biscuit for a little comic relief.

No one can predict the future. But let me make a few guesses. The temperature will go up later this week in Florida, and the snow will melt in Buffalo, by late spring.

But across America, it is entirely possible that unemployment will remain above 10 per cent and gasoline will remain above $3. For how long? Forever.

And what will the austerity plan agreed to by the U.S. government and the Wall Street tycoons look like? I will not hazard even a guess.

— John Hayden

Suck Up To The Rich, But Kick The Poor When They’re Down

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," a...

Image via Wikipedia

It has been said: “Nothing succeeds like success.”

And:  “Nobody loves you when you’re down and out.”

That about sums up the unforgiving political climate in this raw election year.

One statehouse candidate in my corner of America says she wants to make our state “Millionaire-friendly.” Wait a minute. Today’s big news is the fast foreclosure scandal, and this candidate is worried that millionaires don’t have enough friends?

I don’t know whether to laugh . . . or cry.

Meanwhile, several candidates here are keen to make seasonal workers ineligible for unemployment compensation, in the midst of the worst depression since . . . The Depression.

Around here, we have plentiful work in summer, nothing in winter. Unemployment compensation for seasonal workers has been part of the business and economic equation — the social contract, if you will — for decades. Not anymore.

In this new, winner-take-all system, some local leaders ridicule the unemployed. The poor are “gaming the system,” they say.

Supermarket clerks laugh at folks who have to pay with food stamps. Folks lucky enough to be working scapegoat the unemployed. Don’t touch their food stamps; they might be contagious.

Cozy up to the rich.  Give the poor a kick in the teeth.

Politicians know how to choose their friends. But do voters know how to choose their politicians? Is this a great country, or what?

— John Hayden