As I’ve been warning for some time, automation of everything is coming.
Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work are also becoming increasingly competent.
One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017.
Emphasis is mine.
We think of many white collar, knowledge tasks as being the kinds of tasks that computers aren’t good at. Historically that’s been true. That understanding is rapidly becoming obsolete. Computers are becoming very good at these kinds of tasks after all.
We’ve long since relegated blue collar, factory work to robots. The most menial of office tasks have already been delegated to computing hardware. Who has a real personal assistant anymore? Only the richest of the rich. Everyone else uses a electronic device to handle all of the work the human would have once done.
Even the term “computer” itself tells us of a white-collar job replaced by the machine. The word once described a human employee who crunched numbers all day – often for accountants or engineers who oversaw them and told them what math to do. The machines have long since destroyed those jobs in the name of productivity.
Your job isn’t safe, either. It’s only a matter of time. The software keep getting better and better. But the key point is how fast it’s getting better. In the next few years we’re going to see software replace humans in more and more jobs. Some are obvious. Fast food workers are going the way of the dodo – especially in an era of $15 an hour minimum wages. Truck drivers are going away, soon to be replaced by automated vehicles.
This will come much faster than critics like Megan McArdle predict. To be clear, she’s absolutely right about the hurdles the technology faces. What she misses is just how far along the tech already is – and how rapidly it’s advancing. There is one simple factor that will drive rapid adoption of self driving vehicles: deaths. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year on our roads. It’s the fourth highest killer in modern America. Self driving vehicles will virtually eliminate those deaths. The public will clamor for them, with torches and pitchforks if they have to.
But I digress. We all know self driving cars are coming because Google, Apple, Tesla and BMW want to be sure that we know. Don’t think that your job is safe because you happen to do intellectual work. It’s not. Software programming other software? It’s coming. Computers teaching your kids? It’s coming. Programs writing books and scripting movies? They’re already here. The time is rapidly approaching when we can even eliminate the actors.
First of all, we have to acknowledge the obvious. If you lack the barest necessities in life, money can buy a large increase in happiness. In other words, if you don’t have a roof over your head, clothing to protect you from the elements, clean water to drink, or enough food to eat, then money will definitely make you happier. Of course, in modern terms you don’t need all that much money to buy these things. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the modern western world essentially never have this issue. Even the very poorest of our poor manage to meet these basic needs.
But what happens after that point? Happiness research shows us that increases in absolute wealth (a raise, a bonus, a nice sized gift) make us happier… for a brief time. After that, we return very quickly to our baseline levels of happiness. Even very large increases in absolute wealth – such as winning the lottery – only increase happiness temporarily.
But research and psychology also reveal a darker truth about humanity. Changes in relative wealth bring about lasting effects on happiness – even if absolute wealth remains unchanged. The ugly reality is that money isn’t the driver – status is. When we are richer than our peers, we are held in higher status by the group. And human beings like status. Higher status, as a rule, makes us happier. Lower status makes us less happy. This rule is especially true for women. Call me sexist all you want, the science backs that. But it’s true for men, too.
People feel good when they feel like they’re doing better than their peers. Status succeeds where money fails – it can buy happiness.
So what can you do about it? Making more money gives you higher status, right? Not necessarily. If you get a raise but so do all of your peers, your happiness level is unlikely to change. If you win the lottery, your social status isn’t actually likely to go up very much. It might even go down. People tend to look down on those who didn’t earn their wealth.
The socialist paradise of equal income for all is impossible. But even if it were possible, it would be a social disaster. We’d have more depression and unhappiness than any other system we can imagine would provide. People are not rational, and they are not perfectly altruistic. If all are equal, all will be unhappy. This ironclad law is hardwired into our base psychology.
But part of its impossibility returns to that same psychology. The more equal people are in income, the more they will elevate the stupidest shit to the level of status symbol. I’ve watched retail workers decide they’re “too good” to hang out with other retail workers now… just because their shop moved to a “higher class” shopping center. Same employees at both shops, nobody’s salary changed. They’re both still working menial jobs that aren’t really enough to live on. But now one person considers herself better than the other. If we take away money as the driver, people will find other ways to compete for status.
Human beings aren’t pretty. Don’t expect it of them. This isn’t a pleasant truth. But it is truth.
A generation change is underway in American politics, and it has been for some time. The media has subjected us to arguments of the GOP crack up for years – and they are correct. What they have failed to note is the strong evidence that the Democratic party is also fracturing. The simple fact of the matter is that both major parties are facing realignment of the sort that we generally only see once per generation.
The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 ushered in the era of the Baby Boomers in American politics. The defeat of his wife almost – almost – neatly bookends this. Although Trump himself, at 70, is a Baby Boomer, his election is the beginning of the end for that demographic’s political power. Vice President Pence, 57, is technically a Boomer himself, but barely.
The political power of Generation X is rising – and over the next decade it will eclipse the Boomers. The GOP felt the brunt earlier. The Democratic party’s hold on the White House has insulated it from the turmoil. The 2016 election has stripped away this insulation. The next four years will reveal a Democratic party in terrible shape.
Other pundits have already noted the party’s shallow bench. This is clearly true. Only eighteen of fifty governors are Democrats. The Senate and the House are both majority Republican. Republicans control thirty state legislatures and seven more are split.
But it’s only part of the story, and not even the most important part. The bigger issue is demographics – yes, the same demographics that partisans have assured us would usher in a permanent Democratic majority. Those partisans are wrong. There are no permanent majorities in American politics.
Let me repeat that: there are no permanent majorities in American politics.
The fault lines in the Democratic party have been there for all to see since 2008. This year’s primaries made them blindingly obvious. In short, the Democratic party serves four major constituencies that make up it’s coalition. They are:
The media rarely breaks it down like this. They love to talk about the “gender gap,” conveniently ignoring that the gap disappears (and often even flips) among married women. They love to lump the last two categories together into “minorities.” This is deliberate rhetoric designed to keep everyone on the same page.
But the reality is that each of these four groups has different interests. For the past few decades, those interests have overlapped enough to form a solid coalition. But those interests are now diverging. The 2008 and 2016 primaries tell the story well. In both years, the primary vote split very nearly down the middle. In 2008, groups 1 and 2 voted for Hillary Clinton while groups 3 and 4 voted for Barack Obama. In 2016, groups 2, 3, and 4 voted for Clinton while group 1 voted for Sanders.
The simple fact of the matter is that the interests of these groups are diverging. Group 3 is eyeing group 4 carefully. Indeed, that’s why Trump pulled in double the African American vote that Mitt Romney received. The reasons are crystal clear to anyone willing to look with an objective eye. Large amounts of low-skilled, low paid immigrants from group 4 are hurting group 3 more than anyone by competing for their jobs. Trumps message on immigration connected with a portion of the African American voters. Over time, it will connect with more. This is a real issue that the Democratic party has papered over for years now. In their loss, expect it to rise to the top.
But group 4 also conflicts with group 2. You may believe that the US is a cesspool of sexism. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re not. But if you want to pretend that many of the countries we’re importing immigrants from at the moment aren’t considerably worse on this score, then you’re living in a land of delusion. I have this bridge…
An influx of Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrants does not help the feminist cause. The political alliances between these groups have just about lasted as long as they possibly can. The split is coming.
Again, this isn’t a forecast of the inevitable demise of the Democratic party. The Republican party’s coalition is changing, too. Had Hillary won, it would have postponed the realignment. It never had a prayer of preventing it. Our two parties aren’t going away, and they won’t lose their lock on American politics. It’s also unlikely that we’re moving away from a polarized, fifty-fifty nation. But by the time my children are old enough to vote, we won’t recognize either party anymore. And a lot of people who would currently never even dream of voting for one party or the other will be solid converts.
Last Saturday the members of the World Science Fiction Convetion voted on the annual Hugo Awards. As I noted some time ago, there is a certain clique within science fiction that has a real problem. The perverted SJWs who make up the majority of the convention are covering for sexual predators, molestation, and child rape. There are some who still seem to think there is something redeemable about this collection of perverts.
Not one but two child rape exposes received Hugo Award nominations this year. “Safe Space as Rape Room” by Jeffro and “The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland. Lest you feel this somehow excuses them, please note that these two exposes only made the ballots due to extraordinary efforts of outside forces. This is conclusively demonstrated by the sad news out of WorldCon this weekend. Not only did neither of these tales win the award – that would be OK, if disappointing. More to the point, both of them were voted well underneath “No Award.” For those unfamiliar with Hugo Award voting, that means that the majority (in this case the vast majority) of the perverts who attend WorldCon believed that exposing this very serious issue not only wasn’t the best “related work” this year, but that these articles weren’t even worthy of the nomination in the first place.
In other words, these sickos believe that exposing actual, documented child rape is an unworthy cause.
Why? There is only one plausible explanation. This kind of sick perversion continues to this day and these people are covering for it.
In the computer science profession there’s a bit of a truism. For four years your college indoctrinates you never to copy anybody else’s code. Do your own work! Then you hit the real world and the first thing you do is… copy everyone else’s code.
Working code is the gold standard in the software industry. And while there are signatures of code that you can often use to detect the author, the reality is that there are only so many ways to translate the same basic algorithm into working code. The truism above is a bit overblown. But it also recognizes a simple reality in our profession: working code proliferates.
Quite a lot of code is written using example code, a segment of a co-worker’s code, an online tutorial, or some other similar snippet as a working model. When we want to do something in our software, quite often one of the first things we do is seek out some example of actual working code… and then use it as a base. Is that plagiarism? Your college would say yes, and an undergraduate could find himself failing a course (or worse) for such an offense. Out in the real world it’s basically expected. Headaches often ensue if the example code has bugs in it. But often it’s the fastest way to get to something that works.
Don’t get me wrong – out and out plagiarism of source code is a copyright violation. It’s straight up illegal, and very few developers actually do that. What I’m describing is a substantially lesser “sin.”
But is it even a sin?
Consider two scenarios: in scenario (A) I use example code from a hypothetical source to get my own code working. In scenario (B) I fight through the (often poor) documentation to get to working code on my own. Given my coding idiosyncrasies, would anybody be able to tell the difference between code I wrote in scenario (A) and the code I wrote in scenario (B)? Sometimes yes. But far more often the answer is no.
Frankly, most technical fields operate this way. Finding the right answer is what matters, and in many cases there is only one correct answer. Engineering often works this way. Ditto architecture and drafting. If getting the answer right is the primary concern you can basically expect this kind of pattern.
The simple reality is this: outside of a few specialized fields, nobody actually much cares about plagiarism. Authors, musicians, filmmakers, and photographers care, of course. In creative fields, plagiarism is a life and death matter. Journalists care. Academics care. Notice anything that links these fields together? In every case it’s important for the original author to receive credit.
The Melania Trump case is a boring one. Journalists, academics, and creative types care. Evidently they care a lot, if my social media feeds are any indication. Nobody else cares much at all – and frankly, they shouldn’t. Our politicians should be plagiarizing people. I don’t care one bit how original the ideas of any of my elected leaders are. I care that they have good ideas. I want them to plagiarize – for the same reason that I want software engineers to look at working code. I want ideas that work. Original ideas seldom do.
At this point somebody is going to bring up the obligatory example of Joe Biden. Biden, for those not yet up to speed, withdrew from the 1988 presidential campaign over plagiarism. Fair point. Let’s discuss it. I have three responses.
Does this hurt the Trump campaign? Definitely. But only among those who mostly weren’t voting for him anyway. Nobody else cares.
Last week I mentioned a saying that my sensei used to drill into us at the dojo. “Violence always escalates,” he said. Once violence begins, it doesn’t stop on its own. Violence only ends for three reasons.
That’s it. Violence never ends for any other reason. Even one party achieving its objectives can’t end the violence on its own. If the other party still has the will and ability to fight, conflict will continue. Worse, as my sensei noted, it will escalate.
Retaliation is never equal. It is always greater. In the immortal words of Sean Connery, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”
If it seems like 2016 is going off the rails, that’s because it is. There are many ongoing conflicts in the world today: Palestinians vs Israelis,ISIS vs the west, Black Lives Matters vs Blue Lives Matter, Russia vs Europe, the US vs… well, everyone it seems like. All of these conflicts are escalating. At times we’ve had leaders willing to make a conscious effort to deescalate. At times we’ve had leaders on the other sides amenable to deescalation. We’ve never quite managed to have both at once. Given that, escalation is inevitable.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing special about the modern age. We like to believe that we have evolved, but we have not left conflict behind us. There is no right side of history. History is riddled with pockets of peace as long as the one we’ve recently enjoyed. Some have been even longer. They inevitably end and conflict returns, as it is now. And when it comes, it always comes faster than people believe possible.
All of the conflicts I’ve listed are going to get worse before they get better – because violence always escalates.
For years and years as I was training in the martial arts, my sensei drilled many sayings into us. One of them is particularly appropriate at the moment: Violence always escalates. Over the years I’ve learned to put some caveats and limits on that saying – but the core of it remains true. Violence always escalates.
Today I’d like to add a corollary to that: Conflict is Nonlinear. What the heck does that mean?
Linear phenomena are simple. If you make a small change, get small and predictable result. Make a big change and you get a large, also predictable, result. Think about your water faucet. You turn the knob a little bit and you get a trickle of water. You turn it a lot and you get a deluge. Turn it the other way and it turns off. The direction that you turn it always produces the same effect: one way gives you more water, the other way gives you less. And the amount that you turn it adjusts the magnitude of the effect in a smooth manner.
Nonlinear phenomena are completely different. Imagine that your faucet worked completely differently. Pretend for a moment that turning the knob a little bit in one direction gave you a trickle of water. But turning it more in that direction turned it off. Give it another turn – a large one – and… you get a trickle. Give it another tiny turn, still in the same direction, and it gives you a flood. Try turning it in the opposite direction and you get similar effects.
True nonlinear systems follow complex mathematics. In one sense, they’re not quite as completely unpredictable as what I just described. You can predict patterns of behavior that can give you some ideas of how the systems work. On the other hand, they can be even more unpredictable than what I just described. Predicting exact, precise results for nonlinear systems is pretty much impossible. This is why the weathermen still can’t predict the weather more than a day or three in advance, and they’ll probably never be able to.
The human brain handles linear systems very well. We encounter them every day and they match with our natural intuition. But we don’t handle nonlinear systems well at all. They respond in completely non-intuitive ways.
Conflict is nonlinear. Once it starts, it doesn’t respond predictably at all. Tiny events can escalate it out of all proportion. Meanwhile drastic events can have imperceptible effects, barely effecting anything. Or maybe the tiny events have tiny effects and big events have big effects. The reality is that both can and do happen once the conflict starts.
Racial tensions in this country have been growing for at least the last year – I’d actually argue for far longer. Last night, the conflict kicked off in earnest. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. Once bullets are in the air, they don’t care which side you’re on.
My book review of SJWs Always Lie combined with yesterday’s post about originality in my mind to remind me that many of my readers may not actually know what an SJW is.
SJW stands for “Social Justice Warrior.” Although the phenomenon has been around for at least a few decades now, the term itself is relatively new. There’s some debate about the origins. Some say the Social Justice Warriors named themselves. Some irate SJWs claim that others coined it as a pejorative term. I’m more inclined to accept the former story for reasons that will soon become clear. But I have to admit straight up that I don’t actually know.
SJWs are a particular, radical subgroup of the political left. In particular, they embody an especially radical form of that distinct liberal ideology known as “progressivism.” They can be readily identified by the following features:
They move in a herd. They are often also referred to as “rabbit people.” That’s kind of an in joke – a reference to a particular evolutionary psychology theory that some use to explain their behavior. There’s strong debate about the validity of that theory, but the name stuck because it fits. SJWs are finely attuned to the thought of the group and always move with it. They are incapable of forming their own opinions.
They often possess very slightly above average intelligence (say, an IQ in the 105 to 115 range). They are convinced that this means they are actual geniuses. They have not spent enough time around actual geniuses to know better. Many have been told all their lives that they are actual geniuses. Yes, if you’re wondering, Millennials make up the largest portion of SJWs. Baby Boomers are next.
They will always find a way to make everything about them. And it will always be about how they are victimized, because they are always victims. They simply don’t know how to operate in any other way.
They exhibit a phenomenon very similar to the famous “two minutes hate” of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984. The herd will select a target based on their “heresy” to some particular part of the SJW Narrative. You never know who this person will be or why they will be picked, because the Narrative is always changing. Yes, that’s another similarity with Mr. Orwell’s classic. Most of the time they choose their targets from the political right, but not always. Those on the left who are not SJWs are not-infrequent targets. Sometimes they will even turn on their own, in a process that seems more akin to something out of Lord of the Flies than anything else. Nobody is safe.
I am very definitively on the rightward side of the political spectrum, yet this is not an attack on all of those on the left. I have known many on that side that I can at least sit down and have a rational discussion with. We may not change each others’ minds, but we can at least talk. You can’t have a rational discussion with an SJW – even if you’re on the left, too. It’s simply not possible to do.
This sounds extreme. Many reading this will think that this can’t possibly be right. Yet I can assure you that these people exist. I have met them. I have had run ins with them. I have watched them literally destroy the lives of their targets. I even briefly had one try to turn the two-minute-hate on me.
I’ve planned to read SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police for quite some time. With one thing or another, I’ve always found a reason to push it off. As a regular and longtime reader of the author’s blog, I had also witnessed firsthand as many of the principles in this book were developed. I already had a basic grasp on the concepts, so the book itself could wait.
A couple of weeks ago, however, something happened that finally forced it to the top of my list. In short, I knew that I needed to read it. The good news is that the book is quite short. I made it through the entire thing in only a few hours. The better news is that I really did have a good handle on the concepts. I handled the situation correctly, and following the principles in this book did indeed shut it down. The bad news is that this book proved decisively that I was indeed dealing with an SJW, a fact that I had previously been uncertain of.
Due to a gentleman’s agreement that I made with the “professional in the room” who helped me successfully deal with this issue, I can’t go into any detail about the exact situation. All I will say is this: the issue began with a baseless legal threat. When I quickly shut that down, it just as rapidly escalated into the beginnings of an internet lynch mob. Using the advice in this book, I shut that down very quickly as well.
The SJW phenomenon is absolutely real, and it’s one of the worst developments in American culture in my lifetime. These people do not believe in politics by discourse – they believe in absolutely destroying the individuals they oppose.
SJWs Always Lie is an uncomfortable book. Many on the left side of the political spectrum will find this book uncomfortable. It is not fun to believe that those whom you might agree with are acting in this way. Moderates – those who actively seek compromise – will find it difficult to acknowledge that some people simply aren’t interested in it. Conservatives will find it difficult to accept the tactics that are necessary to fight back. Those with a libertarian inclination, like myself, will resist the necessity of leaving behind our “live and let live” principles.
Yet necessary it is. This book illustrates the tactics that actually work against these people – the tactics that will prevent them from destroying your life. And I can now say from personal experience that they do work.
This is not a happy book. It’s not a fun book. It’s not a book that you’ll enjoy reading. Yet if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of an SJWs two-minutes-hate, you’ll be glad you’ve read it. In short, this is a necessary book. Sadly, the future looks to make this book more necessary, not less.
And for what it is, it’s done perfectly. It is short. It is concise. It is clear and easy to understand. It lays out the principles you’ll need: how to recognize an SJW, and how to fight back. It doesn’t belabor the point, but it also doesn’t leave anything out. For that, I give SJWs Always Lie five stars out of five. Highly recommended – not because you’ll enjoy it, but because someday you’ll probably need it.
I sparked off an interesting Twitter conversation yesterday when I made a wisecrack about Apple withdrawing from the Republican National Convention. Specifically, one of my friends wondered why Apple was involved in the first place. I found the question itself to be shocking.
Why was Apple involved in a political party’s convention? For the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: Washington is where the money is.
Another friend of mine jumped into the fray defending Apple, with the following factoid:
@rnewquist Apple operating income $53B FY2015 – spent 0.008% on direct lobbying. Google by comparison spent 0.07% of operating income.
— Michael Beatty (@protomech) June 27, 2016
To which I can only respond… so what?
For the record, I have not bothered to fact check these numbers. I know Michael well in real life, and I strongly suspect that he has a good source. Even so, the reality is that this is irrelevant.
First of all, that still means Apple spent over $4 million dollars on direct lobbying. That’s not a trivial sum. Even a company the size of Apple doesn’t throw that kind of money around without expecting a return.
Second, the fact that Apple is spending less than Google could mean that it’s getting a better return on the dollars it is spending. Or it could mean that it’s found that it’s not getting a great return, so it spends in other areas.
Third, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison (forgive the unintentional pun). Google has several products that it sells directly to government customers and/or government contractors: Google Maps Servers (recently discontinued, but I know firsthand that government was one of their big users), GMail and related apps (Google went to a lot of effort and expense to get GMail approved for use by government contractors) and more. They’ve also been the target of real and threatened anti-trust lawsuits. Apple, on the other hand, sells boutique products – high end devices at premium prices. That’s the exact opposite of the government’s typical spending patterns. In short, Google has more reason for direct lobbying than Apple does.
Fourth, never forget that direct lobbying is only part of the story. All of the major tech companies have been playing roles in the conventions of both political parties for the last several cycles, and those roles have been getting larger. Why? Because we live in the digital age, and conventions need tech to operate. Providing wi-fi for thousands of people is a logistical nightmare. Streaming video of all of the important speeches is a big deal. Getting an app together for convention goers is expected these days. And that’s just the big stuff. Some of those services are donated and classified as political contributions. Some of those services are paid contracting services. This is, after all, part of what these tech companies do. Providing these services as a paid contractor is influential all by itself, even if you haven’t offered any discounts.
Fifth, Apple is a highly unusual company. But it’s a highly unusual company that’s in the process of becoming a rather typical big company. The Apple of today is already not the same company that it was under Steve Jobs. Expect that change to become more pronounced over the next decade. That’s exactly what happened to Microsoft after Bill Gates stepped down, and I don’t know anybody who would argue that Jobs was less directly influential on his company than Gates was.
This last comparison is even more apt than it at first seems. Microsoft spent very little money on lobbying – very little… until the late 1990s. What changed? In 1998 Microsoft was hit with a massive anti-trust lawsuit. But it didn’t come out of the blue. Everybody had known it was coming for a few years before that. Bill Gates later expressed regret that he resisted spending money on lobbying in the early days of Microsoft’s history.
The simple fact of the matter is that Washington controls a tremendous amount of money. Government in the US collects 26% of GDP in tax revenue. Granted, that includes state and local governments. But the federal government’s $4 trillion budget is the lion’s share of it. That’s a hell of a lot of money. If you’re a major corporation like Microsoft, Google, or Apple, and you’re not making the effort to get at least some piece of that pie, you’re missing out. But that’s only part of the story. Government regulation plays a huge role in the economics of major companies: trade rules, tariffs, taxes, labor laws, environmental regulations, intellectual property rules, finance law – all of these things and more effect the bottom line of big companies. A small regulation change in any of these areas can literally cost – or save – a company like Apple millions of dollars. You’d better believe that they have their fingers in that pie.
This isn’t a diatribe against Apple. They’re not doing anything differently than any other huge corporation. But it is a simple reality: big government and big corporations feed and nourish each other by necessity. You cannot have one without the other.
But to finish with the thought that kicked off the whole discussion: don’t let yourself think for a minute that Apple gives a damn about gay rights or any other rights. If it did, then it would stop doing business with countries like Saudi Arabia that kill gay people – not just states that say you don’t have to bake them a wedding cake. Why does Apple do business with Saudi Arabia? Because it’s profitable. Why did it pull out of the RNC and stop doing business with South Carolina? Because that’s good PR for its core customer base: upper middle class coastal elites.
Like all big corporations, Apple doesn’t give a damn about your values or mine. It only cares about one value: the almighty dollar.