The work of 10

I’ve gone from curious and impressed to enraged on the turn of just a few words. I’m watching a Super Computing plenary session that I posted earlier. An enthusiastic researcher at Intel was talking breathlessly about all the incredible advances in simulation and automation and taking on so much mental drudgery…

“that will free up so much human time to pursue higher endeavors”.

I think it’s clear that this is *not*ever*going*to*happen unless we completely rethink what is the value of work, what is the value of labor. What is the value of being human?

It the most immediate level, automation just gives most of us time to simply take on more tasks. Perform the work of 10 with greater accuracy and lower cost. Sure it is stressful and painful, but your healthcare will offset the damage done to your body and mind.

When scaling it out just a *little* we can see that 9 people are now out of work. Even with skills, who is going to pay them to do the task of 1? They will ask them to do the tasks of 10, of course.

We have a limited number of things even with *artificial* wants and needs like iPhones and 52 inch screens and massage chairs. Basic needs like housing and food are out of reach for the people that didn’t or couldn’t take on the job of 10. There are only so many soda machines to refill and hallways to mop.

And then with only a few people doing all the work and nobody to *buy* iPhones and TVs and cans of soda… everything contracts. There are no more markets or the markets that are left are supporting a shrinking population of automaton tenders.

Where *is* this leisure time that we’re all going to have? Where *is* the higher endeavor that we are setting our now freed mind to?

Where is it?


Probably a good time to take stock. I had my yearly evaluation today at work and I did not do as well this year as last year. But I can do better next year with an expanded team so I can excel in my talents.

But what are those talents? What do I want to be when I grow up? I’m a big fish in a small pond for being a sysadmin, and yet there are scientists all around me, some with advanced CS degrees so there is really no end of adventure. I don’t want to be promoted up or even moved into other positions. I’m in the right place doing the right things and my position is probably just going to expand so I get to… grow in place. I’ve gone from 4 computers to 400 to 4000 in just over a decade so the future is bright indeed.

But are those my dreams? If I was at SAS I could move across a little but it would mostly be the same. I like what I do and I am best at what I do so I’m just going to do it. I have interesting hobbies and interests. I am never bored, though I am frequently stressed.

I still see research into AI and robotics as my ultimate dream. But the risks and costs keep me from pursuing them. Mr. Rogers saw being a Broadway Musical writer as his ultimate dream, and though he did not pursue that, he was more successful than he could have imagined. But I would *love* to throw my curious and inventive self into simulation of thought and motive action. We’re probably at least 80 years from having enough computing power to be really interesting but it would be fun to have a go at it. There are really only a few places to do that sort of thing and I love Raleigh too much to leave it. I’m getting older and I need to build a retirement nest over the next couple of decades and grad school is super expensive especially where cutting edge AI research is done.

Settling and wondering what might have been may be a satisfactory path. Basking in ennui is kind of my thing too

Dreaming of IT/IS

I had a dream this morning that I had an urgent need to visit Duke OIT for an operational issue. In the dreams, the hallowed halls really did look hallowed with high ceilings and wood grain somehow completely unlike an old Tobacco warehouse or concrete building. I arrived with my team to a below-floor lobby and the directory did not include “Server Room” or any label associated with computing offices, though I knew I was in the right place. I finally asked someone and I was pointed down the hall which looked a little more drab institutional and was informed that a business-recovery class/test was in progress.

I looked down from the gallery to see students walking ankle deep in clean water, and below them was a 40 foot Monopoly game board with silver game pieces representing servers, services, network and physical and abstract objects. They were recovering items in the right order, but the backup tapes were already soaked. The backup server itself was not under water so that was retrieved next.

I awoke to rain beating softly on my roof, with the realization that I had left my truck windows open overnight.

The battery in my Civic was dead.

Flying Cars

There is an utterly charming scene in The 5th Element where Dallas is vended Ramen outside his 93rd story efficiency by a flying boat.  Everyone had flying cars in NYC but in the future that will never happen.  Well, if it did happen it would by necessity be by autonomous robots programmed to not run into each other.  Humans are not up to the task.  We have 6,000,000 accidents every year in the US and that number would not double given the third dimension of movement.  It would be a geometric multiplier to 36,000,000,000,000.  The freedom would not be worth the risk.

It doesn’t matter.  People will stop driving for the most part except to see other people which I hope will become a popular pastime. But I do wonder.  Most of the time we drive to get to work or to run errands.  We will never run errands anymore since if you can afford goods and services they will come to you.  Instead of going out to get eggs, a pod will show up (probably at the street) with eggs, not because you ordered them but because the AI has harvested your data in real time and has crossed a threshold where it predicts you will need eggs.  You don’t even have to wait for your refrigerator to order them for you.  This is kind of awesome but it will be routine.

Because we won’t have grocery stores or big box stores or manufacturing or manually manufactured fast food or sustainable food, very few will have jobs.  Just a few robot minders and some very wealthy individuals that are confused about why their wealth is dwindling with nobody left to prop it up.

The robots have made us very productive but they also usher in dwindling employment and almost no employment for people without higher education and marketable minds.  I didn’t say intelligent or creative… these are potentials for everyone.  Marketable is something that has emerged forcefully in our culture and it is not going away.

Until we tame it.  We need to look at the value of being human, the value of labor and the value of dignity and the value of survival.  We refuse the conversation since we imagine this utopia where robots give us leisure time and an entertaining survivable chaos of ramen delivered to our tiny     apartment romantically eking out a living driving a flying taxi chanting “just work hard and you can make a go of it”.

It’s not going to happen unless we make it happen.