Some point by point replies to Théoden (and Anarch, later on).
Theoden wrote:Glaucon, I think what you say will be relevant in 50 to 60 years time in Western countries, but you are being very bold to suggest it might happen in 10 years.
I think I was saying 20 years. That is the number usually tossed out by economists and reporters talking about this potential issue, lately.
It's 2014. Think back to 2004. Did things change all that much? Some things yes. Smart phones, some digitization of business practices and finance, internet usage. But not catastrophically, as you paint it, an entire digital revolution.
Think back to 1994. Did things change by a lot, since then? Well, yes. The internet happened, pretty much (it did already exist before that, but it became a big thing right about then).
What happened in offices is something I'd say happened between roughly 1985 till 2005: All or nearly all primary work-related information got to be stored and accessed into computer programs. Of course, paper files were usually still kept. But these paper files (in so far as they still used) are now usually a 'double' for stuff already in a computer system.
The problem with most of that information in those computer programs that, very often, it exists in separate systems that cannot really talk to each other. So, you still need humans to make these systems (within organizations and between organizations) talk to each other: either through simple means (people printing out information and entering it manually into a new system) or in a 'smart way' (people using software - like excel or other programs) to import and export mass data in and from different systems, or more expert people ensuring that systems can talk to each other directly. But now that nearly every commercial organization is fully linked to the internet, with more and more companies being tempted to store their data 'in the cloud', it is possible for people to start adopting universally usable data for many things.
For example: Nearly every company makes invoices for stuff they sell, and receives invoices for stuff they buy. Typically, they send out invoices on paper and receive them on paper. Tax authorities often want companies to have these things in a paper format, still. But what if this sort of information was send and received through a universally accepted code (possibly supplied by a third party, like a conglomerate of banks)? Then an invoice could just be automatically read into a system, automatically send through an internal approval process. Payment of that invoice could be confirmed automatically. Invoice payment chasing could be done automatically at first. So, instead of the accounting dep. of that middle-sized company having a few people making invoices and sending them out, and entering received invoices and readying payment for them, you'd just need one guy to keep an eye on it, to deal with the odd things and to worry about the 'higher end' sort of accounting stuff (like keeping an eye on individual and overall spending, cash management, and so forth). The 'lower-level' office work would be drastically reduced for that department, with just the higher level work remaining.
The same would be true for many 'office departments'. Because, let's face it, a large part of what the people working in big offices do is paper-pushing. I know what you might be thinking: wasn't this supposed to have happened before? Like the 'paperless office'? Yes. Things take time. But Ten years ago, a lot of companies weren't fully connected to the internet yet. Now they are, and now these kind of changes are quite possible. Maybe it will still take some time before really innovative software starts connecting the dots (most of the stuff a lot of companies are working with looks like it is still made with MS-DOS with a bit of windows window-dressing on top of it), but that can't last long, I think. At some point, there will be a 'facebook' of business administration.
People are slow to adapt. These technologies require a lot of money to invest in.
Do they? In the past (still, perhaps), companies tended to try and have their 'own' system. Custom made programming, modular stuff customized for that company, and so forth. That is usually why many companies have a zillion different applications running that aren't designed to work with one another. But companies also use standard software. Like Microsoft Office. Whatever you think of it, that stuff does work. Often, they communicate THROUGH office program files (word documents, excel files, outlook mails and so forth). Sharing isn't just a thing of consumers, it is important to businesses as well. I expect that companies will increasingly stop trying to have their own individual customized software for this and that, and will increasingly start using 'ready made' solutions, because, over-time, customized systems tend to lead to inefficiency.
Time for people to learn these technologies as well. Many companies and institutions just don't have the capital to plunge into these things. Maybe some, but not all.
Ready-made solutions sold to many companies and people would be relatively cheap (again, like Office) and they would have another important advantage. People don't stay with companies for as long as they used to, in the past. It is very costly to have to teach new people how to use custom-made or company specific software. With more job mobility, people would know standard software, usually. Also, if you think in terms of 20 years, that is nearly a generational shift. Sure, people do resist change, but new people aren't used to the old ways of doing things (though they can get used to it, of course). And management can be slow to adapt. But the management of a company shying away from change for twenty years? That usually spells a bad future for such a company. And in twenty years, that is usually enough to make that company disappear (bankruptcy or, more likely, that company being sold to a bigger one that does better).
A lot of the time, when new technology comes out, people just sit and wait until other people have tried it and proven it's profit maximization and cost/benefit projection. This takes time. The entire economy won't become this AI world in the next decade.
Like I said... 20 years was what I had in mind. That is not a short time. 20 years ago, there were still ashtrays on the desks in offices. And a lot of people were still getting their first monitor (perhaps still one of those with green text only).
If you think competition will force people to invest in new technologies, then you underestimate the barriers to entry of companies into markets.
Right. Twenty years ago, no one had heard of Google, and Apple was struggling. IBM was still the IT giant. Sony was still the crème de la crème of consumer technology. And what could ever happen to General Motors and Chrysler?
There are a lot of companies that have a monopoly or have few competitors, just because other competitor's aren't big enough or have enough reach in their area.
Sure. British Petrol will probably still be British Petrol, even if they aren't very innovative. But companies like that DO have internal competition. If one branch in one country can reduce costs by using particular methods, the overall management will be interested and probably want other branches to do the same thing. This won't always work. But 20 years is a long time, including changes in management, usually.
Even now, smaller businesses and medium businesses exist in areas simply because the customer is too lazy to economically maximize utility-cost, even though they are selling inferior products at higher prices. People will go to small and medium businesses just because it's close by. Maybe some big companies just don't deliver into that area. And I highly doubt Amazon's 'Delivery by Drone' thing is going to work... it's too easy to shoot things down and steal shit. Maybe even jamming electrical control systems of the drones for 'funsies' as the Iranians did with our CIA drone a few years back. It's not that difficult, and installing countermeasures is costly. That's an example of technology vs working men. UPS will win out, Amazon with their drones won't. At least until they come out drone trucks with ground drone delivery robots.
I don't know about Amazon's 'drones'. But I do know that many local bookshops are struggling, many going under. I usually by my books online, these days, too. Because the selection is much larger, and because the books are cheaper. Record shops? Hah! Sure, people still like going shopping. But competition from online shops is really hurting a lot of retail business. Even for stuff that people generally seem to want to check out in real life. People go to the shoe store and look at what they have, maybe try it on. And then they go online and order it there, because it is 20 dollars cheaper, or because they wanted it in a color that the shoe shop didn't have.
My point: Competition as a driving force into investing into the latest technologies as soon as they come up, is overemphasized. Some big corporations, yes, some startups (most startups fail) but not all will plunge into AI technology. Not the entire economy.
The 'entire economy' is rather big. But I think you are wrong. In theory, companies can still operate without using a single computer (for the most part, at least). And yet, nearly every company that is bigger than just one or two people these days does use computers. About 30 years after they became available and affordable for large-scale commercial use. I think that says something about the speed of innovation. Like I said, 20 years is not a short time. I do not buy into the often-told story about how innovation is constantly 'speeding up', necessarily. But I don't think implementation of innovative methods and technologies is slowing down either.
Safety is another thing. Anything digital that is connected to the internet can be hacked. It just takes time and resources. But there is not a single encryption that can't be broken with enough time and resources. If you were to connect all public transport to a computer mainframe with automatic systems, with a click of a button you can just have all the buses go and drive off a cliff?
And has that ever stopped anyone? Credit cards are really unsafe (for the banks, anyway) but were and are widely used. Any code can be broken, and yet nearly all of us (as well as companies) are happy to handle something very important (their money through their bank accounts) online, through systems we know aren't completely safe.
And can we really trust an automated bus driver? Well, we KNOW that human bus drivers sometimes drive off cliffs. What if the statistics show that the automated bus drivers get into far fewer accidents? Airplane pilots usually let the autopilot handle most of the flying, and that seems to lead to fewer accidents. An automated system won't get distracted by something, will have a very short reaction-time and (I'll assume) won't drive drunk or fall asleep behind the wheel. I think that this 'fear' of handing over control to a machine is something of a myth when it comes to practical stuff. People seem perfectly alright handling control over to machines when it is convenient.
At least, if you want to do that in todays world, you would have to infiltrate real humans into becoming suicidal bus drivers. But in this new digital world you paint, any shadowy terrorist organization with enough computer resources anywhere in the world can cause mass havoc and mayhem. Digital defense requires a constantly vigilant staff of security experts to monitor the situation. This is expensive. So what happens when the entire economy is linked to technology, an 'Internet of Things', and there's only a few security experts coalesced in a few areas of society, like defense, power plants, a few major city's mass transit systems.... what about the rest? What about smaller cities and their infrastructure?
Eh? Most of what you mention is the case, already. Which is why all these gov. security bigwigs wanting more budget are always going on about cyber terrorism.
When you recite this digital world, all I can think of is dystopia.
Hmmm, yes, that imagine does come up (see the other thread).
A vastly in-equal society as such we've never seen, of financial and IT overlords becoming the 1%, and 50% of the country becoming the new poverty. Superrich and Proletariat. Except they wouldn't really be proletariat, because for them to be proletariat, they would have to be working men, wouldn't they? But no, the robots are there in the factories.
Robots and automated systems becoming the police, control by drones by someone behind a computer screen somewhere... Have you seen the movie Elysium? That is what I picture, when you paint the above mentioned picture. Massive societal inequalities, with the ruling class with the keys controlling technologies to oppress the masses.
Seen the beginning, yes. Not my prediction of what the future will be like.
So much power, able to be controlled by so few. The loss of privacy. The constant surveillance. It would only take one catastrophe to happen, with a group rising, promising security at the cost of freedom, and then we would all be living under tyranny and be enslaved by a quick digital takeover.
Hmmm... well... not so sure about the 'take-over'.
And then, only the second amendment would save us all. And that's assuming judges haven't gotten rid of it yet by creative 'interpreting' of the constitution.
Right. *Cough* Rand Paul for President!
Can't say I really agree with your analysis. One way or another, in 10 years, in 20 years, in 50 years, a hundred, part of this stuff will come true. Resisting it with a gun left over from the civil war hidden under your grandmother's bed won't stop that. You Americans (yes, I am generalizing) seem to have this romantic fantasy of the future of a dystopia in which you all fall back on pioneer-like individualist 1776-resistance-mode and in which the small community 'fights the power' (and wins). But realistically, in such a struggle, Mat Damon and Neo and all those other resisting types would actually lose, however heroic their fight. If this image of the future has any validity, it will be because people will embrace it willingly. Everyone will want to take the blue pill, instead of the red, to use Hawt's terminology. And those insisting on the red will be labeled crazies and terrorists. And who is to say that the truth of those taking the red pill is the real truth?
Anarch wrote:Predictions are pointless, sometimes they hit, sometimes they miss.
Reminds me of the financial experts of the US government estimating that Facebook was never going to be worth more than a few thousand dollars.
But at least one person did figure that Facebook was going to pretty big: Mark Zuckerberg. I guess that, for him, that prediction wasn't entirely useless.
There seems to be quite a bit of technological slowdown going on though. There's several predictions, or rather well-informed estimates, I remember from around the year 2000. The estimate of many in the research field that Fusion Reactors (Tokamak etc.) would be providing residential electricity by the year 2010, yet still nowhere in sight in the year 2014.
Or the more related one... that an AI robot soccer team would be able to defeat the best human team in a game consistently by the year 2012. This one disappoints me the most in not yet having achieved that goal...
It all depends on what you expect. When you look back at predictions about progress from the past, you see that many do not come true. Some do. Some things come true that were predicted by few. So you should not just look at those past predictions in judging progress in general.
But I do agree that, in some areas, progress is slower than I would have expected, when I was a younger man. Some things turn out to be quite difficult. Like tennis-playing artificially intelligent robots and nuclear fussion. And I certainly do not buy into the claims of the prophets of progress that say that everything is going to change more quickly all the time.
Regardless, whether it goes more quickly or more slowly, technology is constantly evolving and changing our world. I don't see that changing any time soon.