There has been similarly fast progress in other problems at the hard end of Moravec’s Paradox”€”natural language processing, face recognition. As with TurboTax, once the code is written, you can stamp out a million copies for essentially zero cost per copy; and also as with TurboTax, each new application will wipe out thousands of jobs, decoupling work done from the human workers once needed to do it.

What will a thoroughly decoupled society look like? Perhaps something like this:

Overclass. There will be an overclass of great wealth, made up of working and non-working subclasses. Among the workers will be sports and media celebrities, together with senior administrative and political types”€”Supreme Court judges and such. The non-workers will be those who made their fortunes, then withdrew to enjoy the fruits of success”€”retired Zuckerbergs and their children.

Craftsmen. The overclass won’t need much in the way of servants; robotics should take care of that. They will, though, likely choose to indulge themselves with handmade furniture, hand-tended gardens, and so on, if only for purposes of status display.

Residuals. For social and political reasons, some human workers will be retained: nurses, soldiers, politicians, and professors.

Useless Mouths. The authors quote Voltaire: “Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.” With no work for the great mass of people to do, boredom will be kept at bay by an endless stream of entertainment (we are already there, I think), and a universal dole will vanquish need. Vice will always be with us but will probably only be a problem for some minority of people. Most of us simply aren’t vicious.

Those are my guesses. Brynjolfsson and McAfee are Pollyannas about the future. Their prescriptions are all blather: “rethinking education,” for example, as if education can make dumb people smart.

Either from fear or (more likely) sheer ignorance, they show no awareness of human biodiversity. They quote the USA’s unimpressive overall scores on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, apparently unaware that if the scores are disaggregated by race, our whites do better than most other countries’ whites, our Asians better than Asia’s Asians, our Hispanics as well as Latin America’s, and our blacks better than Trinidad’s (the only black nation listed).

Their prescriptions for immigration are even stupider”€”the full prompt sheet of Wall Street Journal and wacko-libertarian talking points. Why, with middle-class jobs melting away, would we need more people? And guys, if you”€™re going to write about immigration, at least try to get the jargon right. There is no such thing as an “€œH1-B visa.”€

That’s the book that people are reading now. My advice would be to pass on it; or, if you have fifty minutes to spare, watch the authors talk about it on YouTube.

 



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