3/24/13

Can Technology End Poverty? See:http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/03/can_technology_end_poverty.html?referral=00563 Short term answer: No. “Poverty” will not end with current level of technology. Long term answer: Absolutely. My projection is for robot technology to advance to the point that even the production of robots will be automated. And even the construction of factories to produce robots will be largely automated. Projection about the future is always iffy, but here are my thoughts. I take what exists today and project where it will go in the future. Today we have robot driven cars. There is no reason that this technology can’t be extended to trucks, boats, planes. The post office, UPS, Fed Ex, will not need delivery personnel. Robots are in factories and do a large part in manufacturing of cars and electronics. There is no reason that this technology can’t be extended to all manufacturing. Machines plant and harvest on farms. There is no reason why this can’t be further automated. Mining could be done with robots. And so on. Any task that can be described in physical terms can be programmed and done with robots of some form. The entire production cycle can be done with robots. So there is no reason that factories to manufacture robots can’t be built by robots. It follows that this process can be mostly automated. Doing the math, it would appear that the cost of any robot would be drastically reduced to almost nothing. Of course, the robots would need to be directed and programmed. The design process would still require people. Architects and programmers. But that would be five or ten people to direct armies of robots. With the cost of robots reduced to almost nothing, the cost of any product would also be next to nothing. Robots would farm, harvest, drive delivery vehicles and run restaurants. Any mass manufactured goods would also cost next to nothing, because the goods would be manufactured by robots. The limiting factors would be only raw materials and energy. To that, we realize that silicon and aluminum are very abundant. And energy could be obtained from the sun, with advanced solar cell panels. There are plans to convert every roof top to solar. And every street and highway could be laid with high impact solar cells. And this task would be done with robots, of course. And large areas of desert could be used to array solar panels. Fossil fuels, nuclear, and wind are really not necessary. The world would be a vastly different place with the advance of robotic automation. Any product would cost nothing. All menial work would be automated and done by robots. And poverty, as we know it, would be eliminated. (But knowing the human spirit, some may choose poverty, anyway.) So the question about poverty is answered in the abstract. Let me explore the question in the concrete. How would people react to this situation where no one need work for substance? My intuition leads me to think that people would not have as many children, if all physical needs would be provided without labor. World population would drop. Which leads to the question of ownership of the army of robots. Who would own them? Would one very rich person control everything? Or can the propagation of automation be communalized or publicly owned? What I would like to see is the robot army to be owned by the people, communally, and not privately. What will probably happen is the opposite. That is why I am proposing that a new law be enacted now, before the need arises. I would enact a rule that robots that are created by robots, and robot factories that are created by robots, be communal property and owned by the people, and not owned or controlled by private interests. In order for my vision of utopia to happen, the product of a product must be communal, not private. This is the original “means of production” vision of Marx, with a twist. The means of production may be private, but the fruits of the means of production should be shared and publicly owned. You might ask then, why would any investor want to invest in this? Well, today we have groups that create software and other endeavors in the public interest, such as the Software Commons, Public Broadcasting, and so on. There is no reason why this couldn’t be extended to create the first robot factory to produce robot factories, all in the public interest. The only limit would be raw materials and energy, and the human will to make it happen. All this projecting to the future is simply extending today’s technology to the fullest. There is nothing in this projection that is impossible or depends on some new discovery. It depends only on incremental improvements to current technology. So I am confident that these improvements will happen. It is in the interest of the people, especially people in “poverty” for this to happen. Oh, and there will not be a “singularity” where machines become “conscious” and self-aware. That would require a new discovery. This would not be an extension of current technology. Even the IBM Watson is just a pattern matching machine. It doesn’t “think” and is not self-aware by any measure. Ray Kurzeil’s vision of the singularity is based on his calculation of the improvements to computer processors and computer memory, extending Moore’s law to the time when machines will have the processing power equivalent to a human brain. Unfortunately, he fails to understand that neuron count does not equal self-awareness. He does not provide any solution to the problem of how thinking would start. He basically is saying the process would be something like “…better machine…better machine…better machine…magic happens…the machine thinks.” I don’t believe in magic.

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