The rise against the machines

June 9, 2014

A computer program named Eugene Goostman made AI history by becoming the first machine to pass the Turing Test, the 65-year-old benchmark for human-level artificial intelligence. At a competition at the Royal Society London, the program successfully convinced a third of the competition’s judges that it was a human — albeit a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy whose first language was not English.

“What Goostman’s victory really reveals, though, is not the advent of SkyNet or cyborg culture but rather the ease with which we can fool others”, says cognitive scientist Gary Marcus. The program doesn’t have actually have human-level intelligence, which is what the Turing Test is really meant to look for, but is simply very good at deflecting questions using human-like speech patterns. As a result, Adam Mann argues Eugene actually got an F on the Turing Test.

Still, the feat is a reminder of how far computers have come in the past half century. Economically speaking, the robots are coming for us. And humans are obsessed withwhat that means for our jobs. The share of middle-income, routine jobs has been declining since the 1970s, writes Cardiff Garcia, and the worrying part is that jobs once thought to be safe are increasingly falling prey to automatization:

Food service and retail jobs are being replaced by kiosks. Machine intelligence is already changing the legal industry. Robots will take over some pattern recognition duties and surgery from doctors. Driverless cars will replace long-distance truck drivers. There’s an algorithm on the board of a company.

“When I take the kinds of technological progress that I’ve seen recently and take them forward for two-plus generations, it honestly feels to me like we’ll be in a science-fiction economy at that point,” Andrew McAffee, who researches the interaction of business and tech at MIT, told Fast Company’s Thor Benson.

John Aziz points out that we already have nuclear cleanup robots, military drones, self-driving cars, and surgical robots. A future staffed by machines will lead to economic growth even as population growth levels off, he says, but also massive inequality. Aziz suggests our future may be, “a universal income program, where the government taxes the owners of the robots, and pays each citizen a guaranteed basic income”. That’s unlikely to happen, though, says Izabella Kaminska (in a 2012 post that never gets old), because the tech industry loves patents and monopolies. “As technology proceeds in a patent-obsessed world, the fruits of innovation flow to the owners of the capital and invention, forming a whole new rentier class”, she writes.

On a more positive note, Dean Baker says there’s an easy solution to the robots-take-all-the-jobs economy: just print money. “Inflation is a story of too much money chasing too few goods and services. But in the robots do everything story, the goods and services are quickly generated to meet the demand”. Meanwhile, the humans can just sit back and enjoy everyone’s favorite robot, the Netflix algorithm. — Shane Ferro

On to today’s links:

Billionaire Whimsy
Mark Spitznagel’s plan to revitalize Detroit through urban farming (goats!) has hit a snag – Alexandra Stevenson

Data Points
NYC has 21% of the country’s bank deposits – WSJ

Why does Google want to buy Twitch? – Ben Davis

Credit card debt is in again – Matt Phillips

Noncompete clauses are terrible – Alex Tabarrok

“When arguing about how many workers are ‘missing’, we need to take these long term trends into account” – Bill McBride

Things not looking so bright at the newly spun off Time, Inc. – NYT

A city in two states, where Medicaid is the dividing line – Annie Lowrey

Apropos of Nothing
The ECB’s actions are vaguely reminiscent of Waiting for Godot – Wolfgang Munchau

Climate Change
“The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago … And coal workers lost” – Paul Krugman

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