Has everyone been noticing that the news and commentaries have suddenly become inundated with stories of robots, new golden ages of man and machine, dystopias in which humans are redundant, and things bespeaking generally of the Singularity? Also there is a new slate of AI cum robot movies about to be released that examine alternative futures (more here). In my ongoing correspondences – yes, there is life beyond RR – a couple of these threads have been alive on-and-off for months. They generally relate to the related harbingers of change and social disparity much discussed here, and recently expounded well in Tyler Cowen's Average is Over (2013), George Gilder's Knowledge and Power (2013), and Charles Murray's Coming Apart (2012), As I opined to my correspondents, ‘My strong belief is that if you cannot follow the arguments in those three essays, then you literally have no clue about what has been going on in America, and less where the country is going.’
(BTW, should you want to evaluate the import of any such works, just make note of their predictive power, both achieved and how they enable you to successfully anticipate what comes next. This is also an especially quick way to judge ideologically based public policies that are always launched with strong predictions about their future benefits. Back to robots.)
A correspondent pointed to the review of The Robots are Coming, the new book by John Lanchester reviewed in the London Review of Books. In perusing Lanchester’s utopian vision of the coming society of man and machines, I was more than a bit miffed at how short-sighted (ignorant?) most of these writings are. In my contribution to the exchange I launched into what for me is now becoming a familiar rant (edited for inclusion here) –
The problem with these technology-lite writers (besides being collectivists) is that they conceive of such smart AIs as coming to create a stable human/robot society. Nothing could be further from the truth. When machines reach near-human intelligence and can walk the streets with us, it will be but a short skip and a jump from the Singularity, after which all the rules will change to what we know not. Lanchester’s contemplated reign of Pax Homo et Machina is a naïve wet dream, and doubly so as it also envisions a world with some centrally planned society having “alternative forms of ownership” that prescribe humans living in a la-la land of contemplative and creative bliss while robots clean our toilets and go to work as our proxies. Light thinking on steroids.