Are Droids Taking Our Jobs?

I firmly believe that the next one hundred years are going to be rough on the human race.  I worry that more and more people are going to be displaced by technology and our society and institutions are not going to adapt quickly enough.  When I mention this to people, they tend to tell me, “Yeah yeah, we’ve heard all of that before.  Humans aren’t going to be displaced by technology.  We’ll move on to doing other things, as we always have.  Humans are indispensable.”   Unfortunately, that’s not what the data show.

As the speaker points out in this talk, our first wave of technology let us move beyond our own muscle power.  We developed steam engines, hydraulics, electricity, and other technologies which allowed us to harness the Earth’s muscle power to achieve our goals.  At this point in history the human population exploded as did our economic progress.  Everything else before this paled in comparison.

I’ve often mentioned that technology has been the greatest factor in human progress.  I came to the exact same conclusions as Andrew McAfee, the TED speaker above.   But we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  What we all need to brace ourselves for is the emulation of thought and reasoning in machines, which is advancing at an exponential pace.  Machines are getting more and more intelligent and are able to do work which only people could do just a few years ago.  McAfee points out that companies are spending record money on hardware, software, and the development of algorithms, but they’re needing less and less workers over time.  We’re moving quickly toward an age of automation.  I wouldn’t be surprised if human workers are largely displaced within my own lifetime, and definitely by the time our grandchildren are old (I’m 29 years old at this time).

I’m both optimistic and uneasy about these developments.  I’m happy that mankind can be free from drudgery and menial work, leaving us free to be creative, have fun, and study the secrets of the universe.   However, I’m worried that our culture isn’t aware of what’s happening and displaced workers are being written off as lazy and unwilling to work.  More and more people are going to fall into poverty and will be needing assistance to survive.  The idea that a person has to work to eat is going to have to leave us at some point, but exactly when is the thorny issue.

Right now, personal robots are a bit clunky, but they’re improving exponentially.

Video games are a perfect example of progress in technology.  Look at the games twenty-five years ago.  You had little pixelated 2D sprites on a screen, grainy and ugly.  Now we have 3D graphics that look almost indistinguishable from reality.  Right now, the robots are like those old 1980s NES games, clunky and slow.  Come back in thirty years and you’re going to see robots which are tens of thousands of times more powerful and intelligent.

The big change is the fact that these robots are building 3D models of the world in their “heads”.  Earlier generations of robots and AI never did this.  These new intelligent machines have camera eyes and touch sensors on their bodies, and they build up a 3D model of the world as they sense it.  They simulate their intentions in a virtual world within their mind, analyzing the consequences of their movements and actions, just like we do.  This is a BIG deal.  These aren’t mindless programmed scripts moving the robot’s arms in pre-programmed movements.  These robots are going into novel environments, building up intricate models of the world, slowly coming to understand how each object behaves, and are planning their actions, executing goals which they came up with themselves.  That’s why it takes so much computer power, and current desktop processors are not up to the task.  It requires too much memory and too many computations.

Computers today just aren’t fast enough to achieve what our brain can do.  The world’s fastest super-computer has the processing power of about two human brains.  These robots have far less computing resources than we humans do.  That’s why they’re so slow.  And because they have limited resources, the computer scientists are limited in which algorithms they can use.  But all of this will be changing.  It won’t be long before a desktop computer has more processing power than a human brain and these robots will be able to do everything we can, and in time, much more.

They will take our jobs and we need to start thinking about it all now.

The Real Mitt Romney

Recently a campaign donor smuggled a camera into a fundraiser and got footage of Mitt Romney speaking openly and candidly with those there.  I’ve posted the full, unedited video below.

After watching the videos in full, it’s interesting to watch Youtubers, primarily liberals, take short clips from this out of context.  For example, they’ll take a clip of him saying, “There’s a perception that all of you were born with a silver spoon. You know, you never had to earn anything and so forth.  Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon…” and then they cut him off.  If you let him finish, what he really says is, “Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have — which is to get born in America.”  Politics is a world full of lies and deception, on all sides.

You don’t have to mangle his words out of context to to make an argument against him.  I got a bit angry when he started talking about Chinese factories that he invested in, and acted as if they offered the poor some sort of great working opportunity.  He spoke of how much he admired the Chinese workers and their work ethic.  He was quite fond of the poor Chinese women who toiled to save up for their weddings.  Though he painted a rosy picture, I knew the truth of the matter.

If you were to travel there, you’d find dingy bunks where twelve or more of them are crammed together like sardines.  You’d see the workers lining up each morning like a military unit, doing drills, chanting, “Together everyone achieves more” as you listened to the Chinese national anthem play.  Next you’d hear, “Arise, arise, millions of hearts with one mind!” over the intercom.  This sort of propaganda would be blaring in your ears all day long, telling you  how many products you’d made, publicity for the sparkly new employee basketball court, and a barrage of other messages such as, “value efficiency every minute, every second.”  But you’d know that you never have time to go to play basketball.  You wake up, you work, then you go back to the dingy bunk and sleep.  You repeat this every day until you can’t take it any longer.  And those long lines of people wanting work, which Mitt was talking about?  Sadly, this is the best opportunity afforded to many in China.  So they put up with it.  They have to as there’s nothing else for them.  They put up with a lot.  They’re not allowed to talk to one another.  They’re not allowed to do much of anything, really.   Managers roam around the plant deducting points for anything and everything, including yawning, sitting, or eating.  If you lose enough points, they start docking pay.  You’d do this routine every day for fifteen hour shifts, pulling in a measly $32.50 a week.

Later Mitt’s talking about the military, and how we need to beef up our forces.  Apparently we’ve let our Navy and Airforce fall apart!  The world views President Obama as a weak president.  Romney attempted to persuade those attending that we need to be spending far more money on our military.  I thought, “So much for balancing the budget.”  He wants a lot more military spending and far less money spent on providing people housing, healthcare, and other entitlements.  He went on about that for a long time.  He claimed 47% of the American public pay no income taxes, and because Obama’s promising them free handouts, they’ll be voting for him no matter what.  Nearly half of Americans are freeloaders.

Unfortunately for Mitt, that’s not true at all.  Most of that 47% is comprised of the elderly, children, military personnel who are exempt from paying taxes due to serving in a combat zone, and the working poor.  Almost everybody pays into Social Security and Medicare as well as other state taxes, such as property taxes, not to mention sales taxes.  But this was a get together of rich donors and you have to play up this narrative that everyday people are worthless, hungry for entitlements which they’re too lazy to work for.  That’s how they justify it to themselves, you know, why they have so much and everyone else has so little.  Anybody can make it if they’d just work hard!  Tell that to the Chinese workers you’re exploiting in your factories.  You think hard work is going to get them anywhere?  No, but you guys will earn a fortune selling the iPhones and others appliances they produce for pennies.

I try to get into the minds of these people.  They’re at the home of a wealthy equity investor, spending $50,000 a plate, dining in splendor, chuckling to one another, “Isn’t that adorable?  Look at the poor Chinese woman saving up for her wedding.  How admirable!  She’s earning money for herself and isn’t asking for handouts.  Good for her!  The American public could learn from her.  Can you believe people feel they’re entitled to food and other basic necessities?”  *more chuckles* What disgusting human beings.

I also hate people’s hypocrisy.  At the Republican convention, it’s all about faith and family.  Jesus spent most of his time teaching to help the poor, the widows, and the less fortunate.  That it’s better to give than to receive.  That life doesn’t consist in the abundance of things you possess.  That his followers are to be pacifists and turn the other cheek.  That it’s easier for a camel to fit into the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see the kingdom of God.  Christ sent his disciples out to spread the message of the good news.  One of his disciples, I believe it was Peter, asked him, “Should we charge them money for this?”  And Jesus told them, “Don’t ask of them any more than you need to survive.  Teach them freely.”  Then I look at Romney and other conservatives and they don’t resemble that at all.  Let’s neglect the poor and invest in the military!  Hurrah!  As a general rule of thumb in America, the more religiously devout a person is, the less they resemble Jesus.  It’s not always the case, but it is most of the time.

There were a few points I agreed with him.  At one point he mentioned the debt and spending, and how we’re printing money just to keep our government going.  That’s a serious problem and Congress better get that fixed soon or we’re going to drive off an economic cliff.  I agree with him, it has to end.  Big lenders such as China, Russia, and Japan are no longer lending us money.  They know we’re a credit risk.  The Fed’s financing all of our government debt these days.  We’ve all seen Europe imploding and the same will happen to us if we don’t get our budgets in line.  I’m often worried things will get pretty rough here in the U.S.

Anyways, that’s a little rant on what I think of Mitt Romney.  All of this is such a mess.  Civil liberties are being flushed down the toilet.  Debt, wars, Wall Street.  That’s one thing Mitt Romney didn’t mention – reforming Wall Street.  At one point he did mention his good buddies at Goldman Sachs.  We certainly aren’t going to see the Glass-Steagall Act put back into place, I’ll tell you that.  It’s the same old same old.

Will Things Get Better?

The other day I wrote a post about my feelings toward pain and suffering, and how we suffer in this life because we’re stupid.  We have sickness and disease because we don’t know how to fix our bodies.  We have poverty and starvation because we don’t know how to control our environment or properly manage the flow and distribution of scarce resources.  We have wars and conflicts because we haven’t learned how to think critically, resolve disputes, and lack an understanding of our evolutionary baggage.

To fix these sorts of problems, we need brilliant scientists and engineers to solve our energy problems, create new medicines, and build new technology.  We need economists and political scientists to break down each and every one of our political and economic institutions, finding out what works and what doesn’t.  We need moral philosophers examining each and every aspect of the way we live, questioning every one of our values, helping us see our own faults and learn from our mistakes.  That’s what needs to happen, but what’s actually happening?

According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than 1 in 4 American high school students can write intelligibly.  These students were asked to compose simple essays to evaluate their abilities, and were even given laptop computers to help them with spell checking and grammar.  Even with these tools, they’re still unable to communicate basic ideas.  They can’t spell, their grammar is terrible, and their thoughts are barely coherent.

Even more worrisome is their grasp on scientific ideas.  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), less than two percent of students have a firm grasp on important scientific ideas.  They were asked questions about the Earth, life, and space.  They were asked about gravity, what birds eat, and the basics of a nuclear reaction.  They can barely answer any of the questions.  They don’t understand the sun’s motion in the sky or the reason for the seasons.  They don’t understand why plants grow or how their digestive system works.  They don’t understand how species evolve or how an ecosystem works.  These kids obviously aren’t studying, so what are they doing?

According to data from the Nielsen Company in 2010, the average young person spends 55 hours a week watching television, playing video games, listening to music, texting each other, instant messaging, and other things like that.  How much time do they spend reading, on average?  They’ll spend roughly twenty minutes a day reading their school books, about three minutes a day reading the news, and nine minutes flipping through magazines.  Sadly, adults aren’t doing any better.  They don’t read either.

America is falling apart from within.  You don’t have to look hard to see that our culture is in decline.  Nobody is bending their arms, making them watch reality TV shows.  With resources like Youtube, lectures on practically any conceivable subject are available online, but just search for them and look at their view counts.  You can download free textbooks on just about everything, but who’s reading them?  Universities are posting more and more content online, yet our kids still do worse.  Check out sites like Coursera, MIT Opencourseware, Khan Academy, Udemy, and others.  People have access to a world class education for free if they’ll only use it.  But they’re not using it.  It’s hard to understand how so much is available yet so little is being used.

Our schools are obviously a mess though.  When researching this material, I found some of the comments particularly insightful.

“I blame the lawyers. My wife taught high school, and had to plan out where the students would sit so that the gang banger didn’t sit next to the future valedictorian, and the emotionally disturbed student was someplace where his outbursts disrupted class less, etc. We need to establish tracking in the classrooms, so each student is taught according to their interest and aptitude. They get mixed together because the parents of children with mental disabilities sue the schools if their kids aren’t put in the same classes as the brightest students. The teachers get penalized based on failures, not based on whether students reach their potential, so they teach to the slowest/least interested students.”

“1-2% sounds about right to me. I teach high school math and science, and I’d agree that only 1 out of 50 kids or so actually has high aptitude+interest in science. More could probably do decent science, but most just aren’t interested. It’s interesting that kids in suburbs perform better. I’d like to see demographics on their parents’ careers. I don’t know many scientists who live or raise kids in the inner city. If you’ve never met a scientist, it’s probably not something you’d be interested in.”

“I’d put it down to plain and simple laziness , living the “good life” with minimum effort and a dying family support system.”

“In my opinion it is certainly the anti-science, anti-intellectual bent that is taught throughout our western society. If you were keeping track of bullying in highschool who would you see picked on more often, the winning quarterback or the science fair winner? Our society worships youth and ignorance. It has infected every aspect of western culture. It’s time to laud intellect and mental capability. No one should care how far you can throw if you’re unable to do basic math.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2011-01-kids-science-class.html#jCp

The other night my friend Greg was in town and as we were sitting in his car, I told him, “I don’t know how we can expect this world to get better with so many stupid people running around.”  I’m not sure what he thought of that, but if you objectively observe what’s going on, it’s undeniable.  Roughly 76% of Americans are functionally illiterate, and 98% of them lack an understanding of science.  In a world increasingly reliant on critical thought and scientific know how, this is a recipe for disaster.

Electromagnetic Simulations

I like to at least post something once a week, but I’ve been a bit occupied lately.  I suppose I could be sharing my latest philosophical thoughts, or ranting on about politics, but for the past few weeks I’ve mainly been studying numerical methods for simulating electromagnetic radiation and have been building some really neat 3D simulations.

Behold, a screenshot from my latest creation.  It’s a simulation of electromagnetic radiation, produced by shaking an electron within glass, releasing 700 nm waves.  If you were standing outside this piece of glass looking in, you’d see a small red flash of light.  This is actually a full simulation of Maxwell’s equations, with no simplifications.  The wave makes its way through the glass toward the edge, which is the border between it and an empty vacuum.  We see the light bends outward, being mostly transmitted, but partially reflected.  Notice how the wave speed changes between mediums.  As for the big red spike, that’s a sort of marker for the source.

I’ve mentioned before that to a physicist, equations on a page actually produce pictures in the mind.  At least they do in mine.  If I can’t picture what the equations look like, I oftentimes tell myself that I don’t understand them.  Then again, in some situations, the human mind can’t make a picture of what the equations mean.  But in the case of electromagnetic waves, there are many clever ways to visualize them.  I see pictures like the one above when I open up a book and see a page like this:

Those equations there are roughly what are being simulated, but in my simulator, there’s no need for the mediums to be linear.  I can simulate complex materials with all kinds of intricate behavior.  I’ve never done this, but it would be pretty neat to simulate an eyeball as literal flesh and fluid, watching makes its way toward the retina.  The computational electrodynamics textbook I’ve been reading shows how, but I haven’t done it yet.  A lot of research takes place seeing how radiation from cell phones affects the brain, chemotherapy, and so on.  It’s neat stuff.  Computers allow you to look at very complicated situations, and that’s what interests me.  As I sit here doing research on my own, I’m in a little paradise.  There’s so many everyday things around me I want to simulate.  There’s all these wonderful microscopic processes taking place all around me and it feels good to understand what’s going on.

I’ve mentioned that the equations make pictures in the mind.  When I think of say electromagnetic waves moving around, I see little cubes like this one:

We have all these tiny three dimensional cubes of electric and magnetic fields working on each other, propagating the wave through space.  My simulator solves all six differential equations to find each component of both the electric and magnetic fields.  When I look up at the night sky and see the stars, I see myself immersed in a giant grid of these little cubes “conducting” the light waves through millions, or even billions of light years of space.

When you learn what those weird looking math symbols mean, amazing pictures start unfurling in your mind.  The world around you becomes very complicated, and you see this vast machine in operation.

Right now I’m working on simulating waveguides.  I’ve been shooting electromagnetic waves in various directions, watching them bend around objects, and so forth.  It’s pretty cool to fire monochromatic light at a little sphere and watch the interference patterns unfold on their own.

I’m mostly interested in deeply understanding everyday things around me.  Like light bouncing off of things, fluid flow as I heat up a cup of coffee, or two atoms binding together using quantum chemistry.  I think if you probe deeply enough, you’ll find the secrets of the cosmos in the most mundane events around you.  That’s because nothing’s mundane if you get what’s going on.

I Hate Politics But I Love Clint Eastwood

It’s been a while since I’ve watched a Republican National Convention.  I get tired of hearing each politician tell us their life story, “My family grew up poor, and though they never amounted to much, they believed in me.  They taught me that nothing is more important than family and faith.  In America, anything can happen.  My granddaddy, I can’t remember everything he used to tell me, but I do remember him telling me this, ‘In this great nation of ours, you can do anything!’  They worked hard so that one day I could stand on this stage, a leader of this great nation.  We need to pass on that dream to the next generation!”  *crowd cheers*  They act as if getting elected somehow makes them some sort of success story.  But what are their real accomplishments?  Running our economy into the ground?  Stealing our civil liberties?  Putting women through all sorts of hell when they disagreed with their life decisions?  Career politicians are some of the most loathsome human beings in existence.

I do like the family values they pretend to espouse, and their stories, though they’re probably greatly fabricated, are a bit moving.  But I watched them for over an hour the other night and noticed that they never once praised intelligence as a virtue.  The general vibe was that though the world is complicated, we have God, family, and love, and that’ll get us through.  No real issues were ever brought up.  It was all feel good, inspirational stuff.  Well, to me, it’s not even inspirational, but that’s another story. I never heard anyone speak about future technologies, how we need to invest in them in order to compete, the potential our kids have if we give them the proper science education, and those sorts of things.  I never heard anything about reforming Wall Street, the wars overseas, or threats to our civil liberties.  There was no real substance.

Every speaker said something resembling, “My daddy was a bartender.”  “My granddaddy was a poor immigrant.”  “My mother was grocery clerk at K-Mart.”  Every one of their families was in the gutter and never got very far, but they believed in their children.  That’s all fine and good, but sometimes I think I’m a bit of an elitist.  I don’t find their stories about the trials of the everyday man very inspiring.

We need to instill a real dream in the next generation.  Technologies are on the horizon that can totally transform human life as we know it.  Fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and computer science are booming, as are all other forms of engineering and technology.  You need to inspire your kids to build space-shuttles and settle the first colonies on Mars.  You need to inspire them to make Siri into a global mind with all human knowledge, accessible to everyone with a phone or laptop computer.  You need to inspire them to finally rid to body of disease and pain through  improvements in medicine and other advances.  If we don’t get our act together and get on the cutting edge of these things, we’re going to be left behind.

There’s so much people can do today.  Look at people like Sal Khan, who is transforming education with just a laptop computer, a cheap headset, and a little Wacom tablet to write on.  I want kids to use all this new technology to produce new forms of art and special effects.  Have you seen all the neat stuff people do on Youtube these days?  A lot of  really talented comedians, artists, and movie producers are now able to earn a living and make their dreams a reality.  Look at the Angry Video Game Nerd.  He raised $250,000 from his subscribers in order to produce his own full length feature film, which will be coming out on DVD by the end of this year.  He used that money to fly down to Hollywood and hired out special effects experts to help him make certain scenes.  That would have never been possible just a decade ago.

I want to hear about business opportunities where people can change the lives of millions of people through new technology which is available today.  I want kids to learn how to think critically, not accept superstition in blind faith.  I don’t want to hear about the good ol’ boys, where the ideal man is someone who is putting down concrete.  And geez, did you hear those country bumpkins playing that cheesy song, “We Built It”?  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with laying concrete, but we’re capable of more.

It’s just hard to get into these political events.  I can’t stand the political machine in this country.  I wouldn’t have been watching any of this if it weren’t for Clint Eastwood.  I was just happy to see Clint up there.  I love that guy, though his speech seems to getting mixed reactions.  The pundits are having a heyday with this.  The “right” has nothing but wonderful things to say about it, whereas the “left” is calling him a bumbling old man who couldn’t make a single coherent statement.  Like all things, judge it for yourself.  Watch the video below, if you haven’t seen it already.

Before you let the political machine distort your views, what are his real political positions?

“Eastwood registered as a Republican to vote for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and endorsed Richard Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns. However, during the subsequent Watergate scandal, Eastwood criticized Nixon’s morality and later his handling of the Vietnam War, calling it “immoral”. He has disapproved of America’s wars in Korea (1950–1953), Vietnam (1964–1973), Afghanistan (2001–present), and Iraq (2003–2011), believing that the United States should not be overly militaristic or play the role of global policeman. He considers himself “too individualistic to be either right-wing or left-wing”, describing himself in 1974 as “a political nothing” and “a moderate” and in 1997 as a “libertarian”. “I don’t see myself as conservative,” Eastwood has stated, while noting in the same breath that he isn’t “ultra-leftist” either. At times, he has supported Democrats in California, including liberal Representative Sam Farr in 2002 and Governor Gray Davis, whom he voted for in 1998 and hosted pricey fundraisers for in 2002 and 2003. A self-professed “liberal on civil rights”, Eastwood has stated that he is pro-choice on abortion. He has endorsed same-sex marriage and contributed to groups supporting the Equal Rights Amendment for women, which failed to receive ratification in 1982. In 1992, Eastwood acknowledged to writer David Breskin that his political views represented a fusion of Milton Friedman and Noam Chomsky.”

– Wikipedia entry on Clint Eastwood

He seems to be fiscally conservative, a believer in small businesses, holds a strong faith in the power of the individual, and believes in leaving people alone.  Socially he’s liberal, and he doesn’t like war unless it’s truly defensive.  He doesn’t align with either party, and at times he’s supported candidates from both sides for various reasons.  I like him a lot.

And if you’ve never heard from Noam Chomsky, here’s a taste of how he views the American democratic system.