Politics

The ‘Right to Know’ is an Imposition

Over at the Genetic Literacy Project, there was a delightful article recently written by Jane Palmer on the GMO labelling campaign. As many know, it was recently defeated in Colorado 55% to 45%. In this article, Jane writes what may be the most lucid, at least to my eyes, sentences that aptly sums up the implications of the Right to Know movement. For context, Jane was once for labeling, and over the course of the article, she shares how she started to doubt the proposition, and eventually change her mind. Here it is:

“I realize that my ‘right to know’ might affect someone else’s ‘right to choose’, or even worse their ‘right to eat.’”

That is a wonderful distillation of the potential consequences of what might occur if a Right to Know campaign actually wins. There are precedents too: in Europe, when legislation required GM food to be labelled, Europeans subsequently disavowed their purchase. Consequence: food companies simply swapped their GM ingredients for more-expensive non-GM ingredients. Those who cheer such a change are invariably of the 1% of the food movement for, as usual, those who bore the brunt were the poor. Suzy do-gooder could afford the increase in foodstuffs (if she wasn’t already shopping organic to begin with), the average Jane on the street suddenly has less money for her children’s daycare, transport, insurance etc.. This is a serious concern those higher up the social ladder are often oblivious too.

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War and Food

I recently finished reading Robert Greene’s marvellous book, The 33 Strategies of War. The book is essentially a 33 stage journey in destroying your enemies on the battlefield, politics, the office, and other scenarios as explicated in the book and explained via fascinating historical example. As I was reading this delightful compendium of strategy, history, bloodshed, and intrigue I couldn’t help but think that a lot of the strategies seemed strangely familiar. “That’s funny,” I thought to myself, “last time I checked I wasn’t a warmonger.” Yet, with this strange sense of deja vu, and due to the absorbing nature of the material, I continued reading…until, at last, it hit me. About halfway through the book I realised that “I didn’t know these strategies, I had seen these strategies…” From where is a very good question? From the anti-GMO brigade.

War is not some separate realm divorced from the rest of society.” ~ Robert Greene

At first, that struck me as an odd realisation. Yet the similarities in tactics and strategy were just too uncanny…the pieces just…fit, and continued to fit as I progressed. And I remembered that, often times, the antis proclaim themselves as waging a war so it’s not much of a leap, then, to using the strategies of war. It is interesting to note that a recent study published in the Environmental and Development Economic Journal of Cambridge early in 2014 calculated the lost life years due to opposition to genetically modified golden rice (Wesseler et al, 2014). All in all, it estimated that 1.4 million human life years have been lost as a direct result of anti-GMO opposition. Collateral damage?

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Why The Precautionary Principle is Misguided…

It was some two-thousand years ago Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, also known as Pliny the Elder, in book 35 of his 37-volume encyclopedia, Earth, told of an aspiring young goldsmith who presented a shiny new metal to the Roman emperor Tiberius. The metal? Aluminum. The emperor, an extremely wealthy man with vast holdings of precious metals such as gold and silver, inquired if he had shared this discovery with anyone. The Goldsmith’s answer was no. Tiberius had him instantly killed.

The Emperor’s reasoning went something like this: If a rarer—therefore more valuable—metal than gold and silver had been allowed to spread, the Emperor’s holdings would depreciate. (Why he did not just force the potter to work solely for him befuddles me, but emperoral thought is an enigma unto itself—and I may just have made up a word.) The Emperor’s use of the Precautionary Principle (PP) successfully delayed the re-discovery of aluminium by almost 1700 years, where again it became the most valuable metal on Earth. (That is, until 1886 when the method of electrolysis was adapted for aluminium.) Now it is so cheap that we wrap it around our food only to throw it away when we’re done.

This post concerns itself with similar use-cases of the PP in the modern world to nefarious ends. However, before continuing with my extrapolation of the PP in the present day, some definitions are in order. The Precautionary Principle, at least defined by modern standards, was formulated in the early 1990s by the UN as below:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

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Google Glass

Why Google Glass Shouldn’t Lose the Camera

Over at Cult of Android, Mike Elgan has made the case that Google Glass should lose the camera due to the some of the public’s discomfort with its big brotherly implications. (Read his post here.) It is obvious from the title of this post that I disagree with him, but let me first summarize his position, starting with what he and I both agree on, followed by what we disagree on, and finally, my conclusion on how to fix it.

We both love Glass. We both love the camera that comes with it. I’ve done things on Glass that, while possible on a mobile phone, make it so simple, so effortless, and so much more fun, both for myself and those around me. Elgan makes the point that all the fuss over the camera is distracting from what Glass really is: “The problem is that the existence of Glass’s camera is distracting everyone, and causing the public to completely miss what this technology is all about.” Yep!

He also correctly points out that glasses with camera functionality have been around for yonks; devices in which mostly the camera is practically invisible—unlike with Glass. Still, Mike’s point is correct: the fact that Glass has a camera coupled with the fact that a person not familiar with Glass will not know when it is recording makes people nervous. But, it is not the camera itself; it is rather that the camera is pointing where ever the wearer is looking, and in almost every case, in that direction will be a person—potentially—unaware.

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The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science eBook

I’d like to announce that my project at which I’ve been working on since April has finally sprouted its wings and made its way into the digital ether. The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science features chapters from the likes of plant geneticists, plant pathologists, molecular biologists, farmers, professors, journalists, renowned authors, a couple of bloggers and even a historian. The subject matter tackles fear-mongering, gene commonality between species, knowledge discrimination, how GMOs reduce farming inputs, the myth-making ability of the human brain, and many more.

Lastly, I haven’t mentioned the best thing about the eBook: It’s FREE. You can download it for Kindle, Nook, iOS, or as PDF here at Smashwords.

I have an upcoming guest post at Genetic Literacy Project which should come online later today. In it, I’ll be discussing the role of the authority in an argument from authority, specifically when it comes to arguments of the scientific type in promotion of The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science. In the meantime, there are two reviews below. And, if you’d like to share the pro-science message, click here to tweet about the eBook.

Get The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science for free


“I enjoyed the synthesis provided by “The Lowdown on GMOs According to Science”. Janabi recombines writings from researchers, farmers, former anti-GMO activists, science writers, and consumers into an operon that expresses a lot of great information about genetically-modified organisms. It’s hard to find this level of quality discussion on this topic around the internet, where murky misinforming fearmongers overwhelm the discussions.

Scientists, farmers and folks who had the drive to learn more about the issues provide a variety of perspectives on GMOs. Their grasp of the historical context, the present directions, and the current and future benefits will help anyone to understand why GMOs are tools that people who have experience with them *want* to use.

The writers here use their own experiences, their years of work, and their own due diligence to assess the issues. They explain the framework of misinformation and how it clouds attempts to see the facts. And it might be a perspective you haven’t heard much before. Overall it is a compelling plea for people to look at the real evidence and decide.”

~ Mary Mangan, PhD (Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology), President and co-founder of OpenHelix LLC


“The use of biotechnology in agriculture is a topic you hear  a lot about these days: farmers in distant regions of the world, looking to improve their yields, receive two versions (this will save you/this will poison you); voters in conditions altogether more comfortable than those small holder farmers weighed down by debt, are driving up to vote on whether products should be labeled to let consumers know they were grown using biotechnology. All of this and more is contained in 3 letters GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). But what exactly does this mean? To anyone advocating for food policy issues, the superficiality of information (or, in some cases, complete misinformation) which form the basis of debates on GMO are held is worrisome.  So I am happy to be the bearer of some good news: “The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science” is here and is going to be an excellent source of information for anyone seeking to learn more about this issue.

The book is put together with articles from a range of experts in this domain: molecular biologists, Alan McHughen and Kevin Folta; plant pathologist Steve Savage and plant geneticist Anastasia Bodnar, among others. The scientific viewpoint, often so frustratingly opaque to those of us who were relieved to be done with science on high school, is presented here in clear terms and the reader can come to their own conclusions.

Also interesting are the accounts of the journey of those who started out as skeptics but after doing the research became convinced by the actual facts to support the use of biotechnology in agriculture. This is especially useful because it resonates with those of us who may still be educating ourselves but feel intimidated by all the noisemakers into taking up a hasty position. This perspective is a nuance often lost in the noisy and often vicious debates that characterize this topic. It also helps that one of these journeys is that of Mike Bendzela who is a farmer. That farmers’ voices are not heard often enough in the food debate is something I have often blogged about. You may think you know all that is there is to about Monsanto, but after reading Brian Scott’s views on using Monsanto’s products on his farm; you might look at the picture differently. Of particular note is the piece by Mark Lynas, the British journalist and environmentalist who recently changed his viewpoint and came out in strong support of GMOs. 

In his own piece, Fourat Janabi replies to the “Nature does it best” argument that the anti-GMO lobby is so fond of, pointing out that nature is full of experiments which created our diverse world; also drawing our attention to the fact that the Big Ag lobby is matched by a robust Organic lobby!. He also takes up the question of how to feed 9 billion people in a time of climate change and it is here that biotechnology is going to prove crucial. The use of biotechnology can increase yields, enable climate resilience and improve health outcomes through biofortification of crops. It is not the only or perhaps even the most important tool but it is a crucial one and throwing it away on the basis of misinformation and fear mongering would be a grave mistake.

The conclusion consists of an impressive list scientific bodies from all over the world that have found that biotechnology is no more risky than any other conventional breeding technology and is safe for human consumption; hopefully this book will convince many people of that point of view.”

~ Arpita Bhattacharjya, Formerly worked in developing Economic Policy for Agricultural and Rural Development


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religious reasoning

RE: A Terse Explanation for the Finite Nature of Religion

Both Heathen Heart and R.L. Culpeper have written a few posts between themselves discussing, and respectfully disagreeing on the endgame of religion. So now I’m turning it into a chain-mail of posts by adding my two cents (and that’s probably all it’s worth) in response to Culpeper’s post, linked here. It’s written as a comment, but I’m adding it here because I needed to insert links as references  and it’s also quite long (for a comment at least).

So you’ve made some great points in your post, and I’m inclined to agree with all of them. However, and forgive me for being blunt, I think they are rooted in the application of your considerable intellect only to the short-history humanity has had. The assumptions (or fundamentals) that have thus far, underwritten our societies, are changing and will soon no longer be relevant. To elucidate this, let me use an example of a friend who took a similar position but related to GMO foods.

She said that science (read: genetic engineering) has never produced a healthier food than what we can produce organically. In this, she is not wrong. But what was also implied was scientists will never ever produce a healthier food than nature, and this is false (if we set our minds to it, we’ll do it; history is replete with such examples: flight, telepathy (cellphone), space travel, breaking the sound barrier, and so on). Producing a healthier apple than nature merely requires the requisite knowledge and tools, both of which are coming online ever increasingly in abundance with each passing year. It’s just a matter of time, because if nature can do it, it means that it’s possible, and since evolution never produces perfect organisms, there is always a better way to make it. Ergo, one day, provided that research into GM food continues, then GM food will one day trump nature’s food.

So to relate that back to your example. Religion will never release its hold upon humanity. I’d like to modify your statement if I may. I think it should be written as “religion will never release its hold upon humanity while people remain uneducated, mis-educated, disease-prone, conflict-prone, and death providing the existential threat.”

So let’s tackle them one by one.

Global literacy is on its way down, thanks to the Internet, cell-phones, and increasing wealth (this trend is slow but progressing. Global literacy is 84%, while in 1990, it was 76%). Mis-education is a problem, but again, this is also getting better and you need only look to the western countries to see that as economic growth increases, societal dysfunction goes down, more kids are sent to school as a result, instead of having to help the family get food and income, and religious fervour drops as a result. (There was a recent comprehensive study that showed that religion, social stratification, and societal dysfunction are inherently linked, but which causes which is as yet unknown. Does society-wide religion cause economic inequalities, or does economic inequality increase religious fervor?  I think it’s the latter, but there is no way to conclusively show it is one over the other.) This somewhat tackles mis-education indirectly. A prosperous society is more likely to be a freer society. And a freer society is more likely to have criticism, debates, discussions, opposing and dissenting opinions, and this makes its way into the hearts and minds of its citizens.

Disease-prone: This is somewhat self-explanatory. 100 years ago, life expectancy was 47 years. It’s 78.5 today in the west, 89 in Monaco, and 83 in Japan. Chad has the lowest at 48.69, but that is higher than the entire global average of one century ago. More and more diseases are being combatted now (Hans Rosling has an excellent four-minute video of the rising life expectancy as a result of increasing wealth). But medicine, up until now, has been a hit and miss process. As Kurzweil says, we just found stuff that worked and kept doing it with very little understanding of the underlying biological processes at work. With genetic medicine increasing in cost-to-performance ratio ten-fold per year (5 times the pace of Moore’s Law in computers), it is getting cheaper to sequence DNA, understand the information processes that underly biology, and start implementing preventive medicine instead of reactive medicine, which is resulting in Lab on a Chip technology. (Soon, your cellphone will become your doctor and analyze your body on the spot. Pandemics will cease, health will increase, people will have more time to satisfy their own desires and study, and quality of life will increase. This tech is coming online this year. I wrote a post on the future of medicine and health here, and here is a short youtube video to show it in action.) Historically, life expectancy has increased 1-2 years per decade. But because biology is now an information technology, it will (and indeed does) increase exponentially (since 2003 when the genome was mapped), and within 10-20 years, life expectancy will be increased at one year per year. (Note, this requires no new technology, only the technology and understanding we currently have to continue along at a pace equal to, or greater, than Moore’s Law, and this is indeed happening and shows no sign of abating.)

Tackling conflict. According to Steven Pinker (everyone owes it to themselves to watch his 18-min TED talk titled: The Myth of Violence), violence has declined since the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the 20th century was the most peaceful century in existence, even accounting for WW1 and WW2. War is becoming less and less common the more the information about the conflict travels. We need only look at Vietnam here. The first war to bring the reality of death and destruction back to the general population. Needless to say, it was the most unpopular war in history, and look at the conflicts since then, unwaveringly smaller, and more sensitive to collateral damage. (I am not saying it has been roses and happiness since then, but there is a clear downgrade in the severity of conflicts in regions of the world where communication and information are abundant.)

Death is the big one and will undoubtedly remain the biggest motivator, but we must realize that even if no progress is made, progress against religion can be made. Just look at the Scandinavian countries, Australia, several other European nations, China, and Japan which are majority (or close to) agnostic/atheist. But be that as it may, progress towards the dissolution of death is well underway, and even starting to appear in the mainstream press. But for now, we must take it as an assumption that death will be forever removed as the inevitable curse it is. The other examples I have shown are in progress, so is death, but until global death rates hit zero (natural deaths, that is), the jury will be out.

You also mention political and economic inequality. I could write thousands of words on this, but to try to keep it brief. Technology is changing the human landscape and bringing people out of poverty. The book Abundance is a great read to really understand the dynamics. (And Rational Optimist so I’m told, though I haven’t read it yet but I will soon.) But, in the last century: per-capita average income has tripled (adjusted for inflation), food has come down in cost a factor of 10, shelter a factor of 20, transportation a factor of 100, and communication a 1000-fold. And in the last forty years, global poverty has halved while the population has doubled. So we are earning three times more, spending less on the necessities and learning/enjoying more than ever. These trends are actually accelerating (The Law of Accelerating Returns). While we are not out of the woods yet, the trends are clearly in one direction, and short of some calamity, should continue.

Concordantly, global religiosity is on its way down (59% are now religious, 23% are now a-religious, and 13% are atheists, with the none’s being the fastest growing, with the youth leading the way). (Who ever said young people were useless? It is only they that do reliably change the world. Of course, the logical conclusion is that if death is kept at bay, might things never change? The answer, for me, is no, as we tinker with our brains and augment our intelligence becoming in the process more wed to truth than to our cognitive biases as it stands now.)

So in answer to your questions. I do foresee a world of equal economic opportunity. (I think politics is obsolete and will go the way of the Dodo in the age of Big Data we are entering into. It’s even said that the metric system will run out of numbers to quantify the amount of data we will have by 2020.) Equal opportunity for education? Yes, Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC) are ballooning in size. Needing only internet connections to take courses at MIT and Stanford, as well as whole new schools opening up such as udacity.com and coursera that offer the information and teaching content of degrees, and they are starting to become recognized by universities and applicable for course credit. (It’s early days yet, but the trends are there and heading in the right direction. Soon, only an internet connection will be required. Two billion people have internet today; by 2020, it will be five billion, and soon thereafter, close to everyone.) A time when people will want to learn? This one is harder to be so confident on, but my gut realization is yes, and allow me to explain my gut (and subjective) reasoning for such an answer. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. I’m not content in not knowing, and though I have always been like this, I often never had the leisure or time or requisite knowledge to go out there and gather more knowledge. I get better at this every year, and continuously want to continue. Now, with a sample size of just one, I cannot confidently extrapolate this out to anyone else (though I’m sure I can to you), but I do think this is part of human nature; this innate curiosity. It requires we adequately provide for one’s basic needs, then education and wants, then the potential for self-actualization (Nietzsche’s will to power: superman). As we move forward into the future, we are becoming smarter (and the lag-time between the have’s and have-nots is halving every decade [Source: The Singularity is Near]), so it is only a matter of time before inequality becomes insignificant. Here, I’ll use the world ‘believe’. I believe that once the needs of most people have been provided, and they have been educated properly, and become more prosperous, religiosity will decline, and people will want to know more, and thus wed themselves to truth. Big Data will also elucidate the many mysterious workings of the Earth and our societies, as well as making it accessible to the public.

I recently read an article on the explosion of Big Data and the death of the theorist. Historically, when we wanted to find out more about the world; we proposed a theory, computed the results, and went to gather data by experimentation/observation to confirm or falsify that theory. This process is reversing. We are now generating so much data; science and scientific studies, tweets, facebook, blogs and webpages, planes, trains, and automobiles along with everything else that our computers programs can find, and pull out the theories and do science after the fact. This is great for two reasons. Firstly, less and less will get missed as a result. Before, if somebody wasn’t thinking about or trying to find out something, then the theory was missed, lost forever, or delayed, or when found often suppressed (we lost the knowledge to make aluminum for 1800 years because of Tiberius if I recall correctly, the Emperor of Rome). Now, with an army of AI’s whose sole job it is to pull it out the world’s information, we will learn that much more about the world. Pandemics will be a thing a past, resource depletion will be foreseen well in advance, known troublemakers will be spotted beforehand and terrorist attacks possibly stopped. (If you read the article, which I recommend you do, you will see that Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad could have been derived from publicly available information on the internet before hand to within 200km. Imagine the possibilities of stopping future attacks instead, which should do away with the politics of fear, and perhaps, even the CIA and military industrial complex.)

So, I think the future is bright (provided we can move fast enough on climate change and other vexing problems of urgent immediacy), and we can do away with religion, or at least, and perhaps more likely, relegate it to irrelevance, much as flat-earthism is today. There are also other interesting aspects which I do not have time to explore; such as the merging of humanity into a global mind, the technological potential of a universal fact checker (I recently had an idea to create a script that scours what you read on the net and highlights dubious/false claims. We don’t all have time to fact-check every claim we read, we are modified skeptics in that regard, but this is what we use technology for, to alleviate our shortcomings. Kind of like a modified Watson who will soon start informing and helping doctors in their diagnosis’ because the amount of info is expanding exponentially and a doctor can’t hold all that info in his head, so we’ll be using AI to augment their powers of diagnosis, and I see no reason why it will stop at just medicine. It will subsume all fields where knowledge is definitively known, and most likely provide probabilistic answers for other fields). But, I’m in a rush so I’m skimming. (If you watch any YouTube lecture by Kurzweil in the range of 45-60 minutess, you will immediately see where I’m coming from and I recommend that.)

Anyway, I don’t disagree with anything you said. In fact, I learn lots every time I read one of your posts. It’s only that the dynamics of our society, which still allow religious belief to be insulated from facts, truth, reason, and humanism are finite, and now that we are above the knee of the exponential curve, greater change will occur in ever-decreasing amounts of time. Lastly, I do not mean to make it seem so easy or underplay the consequences of any conflicts, local or global, of humanity. Merely, that it is becoming easier to understand, communicate, and tackle them, and this trend is becoming ever more pervasive, understood, and the means of production ever cheaper democratizing them in the process. There is a lot of work still to be done, a lot of people still needlessly die, and many more are unable to enjoy the comforts that many of us now enjoy. However, these problems are being more and more understood, tackled, and it will only become easier in the future.

This is, believe it or not, brief, and I have only explored them rather inadequately and quickly. But I’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to write a counter-post; disagreeing or agreeing for whatever reason, and if need be, I can explain in more detail, any point I’ve inadequately expressed. Looking forward to hearing from you.

work future

Future of Work

This is the last chapter of my book. To those who have read this far, I am forever grateful. (If anyone wants to read the Introduction and Conclusion, just leave me a comment and I’ll email it to you. For now, I won’t be posting it online.)

Sub-chapter #20, of Chapter #5, Technology, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. I would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the full PDF of the book, then you can download it by clicking here—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published. If you wish to read the previous chapters in one convenient place online, please follow this link, and lastly, thanks for reading!


 

A FUTURE OF WORK

Last but not least, what might become of our jobs? If we play our cards right, one day in the near, or far, future, jobs—as we know them today—will become obsolete. Let’s find out why, and why this will be a good thing, perhaps the best thing to ever happen to humanity.

We are partway through a trend that once concluded, will result in a new renaissance (last time, I promise). An event that will be remembered for all time as the defining point when the potential of our creativity was unbounded by the limits of society and a new global culture was born.

First off, a bit of history. For all of humanity’s existence, we’ve had to work to survive, just as all other animals do. Whether that meant hunting for food, tending to crops, trading for goods, foods, or gold, and so on until we find ourselves working the 9-to-5 in the here and now—well, the lucky amongst us. By the way, this is how work will change. It will move from becoming a necessity to a leisure.

During this epoch, a trend has slowly, quietly and unnoticed, unfurled in the background: the ratio of man-hours relative to productivity or work done. From the start of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a span just shy of some seven-thousand years (depending on which history book you read), this ratio has stayed fairly constant. That is, the amount of man-hours vs. work accomplished didn’t deviate far from the historical norm.

Of course, civilization still prospered in some cases and progress was evident. This progress, while not increasing the work done per person, increased the quantity of workers in a concentrated area, often resulting in slavery, the moral black mark on our history, and all those extra hands were able to carry out those gigantic tasks, such as building Rome, Washington DC, and other such cities of antiquity. Though contrary to popular belief, the pyramids of Egypt were not built by slaves, but paid Egyptian laborers.

When the Industrial Revolution kicked off in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, this ratio started positively increasing. That is, the same amount of man-hours constituted increased work, otherwise known as Productivity Growth (PG). This was due to the machines and industrial processes created: steam engines, coal plants, light bulbs, medicines, and factories that became extensions of our hands and minds allowing us to work smarter, travel farther, more productively, and in better health.

This trend is responsible for almost everything we have today. Technology started replacing human labor and this trend has continued to this day, allowing us to have that little thing we call comfort, and this trend, unhindered, will continue to progress further and exponentially faster with time as it has been since it began. None of the tragedies of the 20th century even put a dent in exponential increase of computational progress—that includes WW1, WW2, The Great Depression, and others.

We went from manual labor farming to horse-drawn ploughs to tractors, to automatic irrigation and soon to underground farming. From hauling stone slabs on sleds, to the wheel, to the horse-drawn cart, to the electrical car, to the internal combustion engine, and hopefully back to the electric car soon. I know what you’re thinking, yes the electric car was invented first and these are just a few examples among many thousands.

This positive increase, or negative depending on your viewpoint (either short or long-term), which depends on the type of job you have, has an ugly consequence. People have been losing their jobs for the last 150 years as machines replaced their profession; from the elevator man to the soot-shoveler, to the autoworker to many, many others.

Though so far, there has been a technological caveat. As society has progressed, new jobs have been created, continuing economic expansion. However, this trend of new jobs replacing old jobs is beginning to stutter. In 1993, there were 194 million Americans in the labor force, and by 2000, this number had increased to 213 million. During these eight years, 22.7 million jobs were added along with the 19 million new workers leaving a surplus of 3.7 million jobs. Between 2001 and 2008, labour participation went from 215 million to 234 million people, but with only two million jobs added in that same time period. A deficit of 13.7 million jobs, and since 2008, we have lost just over half-a-million more jobs (4.317 million lost vs. 3.765 million regained in mid-2012). So the total deficit is 14.25 million jobs, and this is just in nineteen-years.

Every month, the labor force expands by approximately 125,000 people due to population growth, so that’s 125,000 new jobs that the economy needs to add, just to keep the unemployment rate steady. By 2050, the labour force is projected to be 45% larger than today, or approximately 339 million people. That’s more than 100 million new jobs that need to be added by then, just in the USA. In the rest of the world, the population is projected to increase by at least two-billion, and perhaps three-billion according to UN projections. Where are the jobs going to come from? From nowhere it seems.

Counter to the population increase, the technology we are creating (and which shows no sign of stopping but increasing) is only getting exponentially better, smaller, and smarter to the point where it will literally be able to out-think and out-flex us. This shift, this realignment, this relentless progression of automation will continue until the only thing left for the human mind to do will be to wonder, imagine, and explore the Universe—which also happens to be the things that we are best at. Eating, drinking, and sex not withstanding!

[Carl] Bass points out that we are now at a great inflection point in the automation of labor. Extraordinary breakthroughs in the areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, and digital manufacturing are all converging upon one another yielding a world full of technologies plucked right from the world of science fiction.” [Emphasis mine] ~ Aaron Frank (Writer)

We are going through an epoch unseen before in human history. We are in the midst of transitioning from a manual-labor society to a knowledge-generating, machine-operated society. We‘re currently in the transition period, because as is plainly obvious, we still have billions of people working, though many of them struggling to scratch a living out what they are given, or able to take. But the underlying trend is undeniable.

But there are those who wish to roll back the dial, or want to stop the buck here creating a static society. Of course, being oblivious to the fact that every static society has collapsed, because problems invariably crop up and a static society cannot hope to innovate their way out of them. The American economist Robert Solow earned a Nobel Prize for showing that economic growth does not come from people working harder, I.e, just working longer hours, but from working smarter. By getting more from less, and in the process freeing up time to do other things impossible beforehand. Stopping or slowing technological growth, and implementing employment for employments sake is a straight path to disaster, reminiscent of 20th century communism.

Back to basics. The reasons for the increasing mechanization in society are simple. It costs much less to have a machine do a person’s work than a person, especially with the increasing cost of labor, and companies having to contend with trillions of new currency units floating around the world and doing everything in their power to not raise their prices, so they decrease costs. Machines have no health insurance bills, don’t get sick, need vacation days, smoke breaks, and aren’t distracted by their inner monologue, along with various other factors that retard productivity. These are all ancillary reasons, however. Many of the background processes of our world today can only be done by machines and  artificial intelligence, such as aviation, computer science, heavy industry, and even in finance.

While the main rationale often used to replace a person with a machine is to improve a company’s profit margin and time to market, and not the automation of society, does not make the result of these decisions any less real (or inevitable).

In the past, as people have become displaced from one profession, they have moved to other professions that could not be automated or that were created due to new technologies invented.

In the twentieth century, as manufacturing jobs were becoming mechanized, factory workers moved en masse into the services sector. For the last fifty-odd-years, the services sector has exploded, most notably in the USA, but also in much of the developed world, be it the restaurant industry, or the financial services world. The services sector is now beginning to bloat, and it simply cannot absorb the mass numbers anymore. Parallel to this, the wheels seem to be coming off the major world economies, and fourteen-million jobs have been lost in the last eleven years alone in the USA, putting an extra squeeze on companies who now see automation as a way to reduce costs and improve their profit margins.

Foxconn, manufacturer of Apple’s iPads and iPhones, are planning on introducing one million robots to replace 100,000 workers in the next three years. The irony in this is that as more and more people are laid off and replaced by machines, the fewer products the company can sell in the long run. For a period of time, the company might improve its profit margins, as the rest of society hasn’t yet succumbed to this transitionary period, but this can only be temporary in nature.

As more and more of society’s jobs are automated—and it will happen one way or the other, for the consequences will be worse than allowing it but I’ll get to that soon—has the effect of removing the employees as consumers from the market. In a free market, employees, consumers, and employers are interchangeable; they are all one and the same. These former employees will no longer have the earnings to buy these increasingly mechanized products or services. Thus, we (theoretically) will reach a point where we can produce almost everything via automation, but there will be no one to buy the products (of course, we’ll never actually get there, as something will give beforehand).

What is going to happen to the millions of factory workers when 3D printing becomes affordable, fully capable, and factories a twentieth century relic? To miners when nanotechnology is economical and we can turn any material into anything else, and build anything we dream of? To farmers when we start growing our food; fruits, vegetables, and IVM underground in luminescent rooms, allowing it to grow at a fraction of the time needed above ground, not to mention land owners (40% of the arable land in the world is used for farming or meat consumption, which will become  essentially valueless), and then to the pesticide companies we’ll have no more use of, as food production now moved underground is out of the reach of insects? Not to mention the transportation companies that ship foods to market, and the factories that wrap and prepare the food?

These are all questions we need to be answering now instead of when the time comes. Otherwise, we’ll do what we always do when we come to something different; we’ll try to destroy it or vote into office, goldfish who want to destroy it for political gain. We aren’t exactly the brightest bunch when it comes to making decisions with our guts, instead of our brains, which is why history so often rhymes. I don’t think that any society could stop it or destroy this trend, even if it tried. If America were to outlaw technological progression, after a little while, the Chinese would be so far ahead that the American people would get shaky feet living under the yoke of a seemingly ever-increasing Godlike country on the other side of the world marching forward. Bullet trains, towering skyscrapers (they’ll be building the worlds tallest tower: almost 3000-feet, in ninety-days around the end of 2012, moon base, space station, electric cars and the list will go on). Short of full-scale nuclear war, or a worldwide dictatorship, the inexorable march of technological progress will continue. However, politics will stand in the way, and that may be a difference of maybe years, or a decade, between the society that was, and the society that will be. In the society that will be, where disease, cancer, and death are all history, a delay of even a few years could mean millions of people who should have lived but came up short. Consider for example, the controversy met with Golden Rice by anti-GMO activists and environmentalists around the world. Golden rice is a strain of rice modified to carry vitamin A (Beta-Carotene). A lack of vitamin A is estimated to kill one to two million people per year, of which 670,000 are children, as well as producing 500,000 cases of blindness, where one cup of golden-rice is enough to supply them enough vitamin A. Rice leaves naturally produce vitamin A due to photosynthesis, but the endosperm (edible part) does not, so scientists transferred two genes to make it do so. The new breed of rice had scientific tests performed, and was found that the vitamin A absorption was as good, or better, than other forms of the supplement. But anti-GMO activists successfully stopped its adoption and distribution to the parts of the world where it would have saved millions of lives per year! Think of the absurdity and stupidity of such a position. We were willing to put two modified genes inside a strain of rice, before the lives of millions of people per year, every year, until the situation is remedied because of some idealistic, bombastic, and shortsighted view of nature. Again, as we saw in the chapter, Future of Food, almost all our food today has been upended from natural selection as it is; it has been shot with radiation, hand-selected for breeding, and saved from extinction because of human intervention. The very process of planting crops is a slap in the face of mother nature, but no one is protesting farms, just the future of food, which they do not understand. And after all this, genetic engineering has not been stopped, nor can it, but the lives of those poor souls were indeed wasted. This is the inherent danger in rolling back or just delaying the wheels of progress; accidental genocide. There are many people who advocate the relinquishment of technological progress (as if such a thing were possible anyway).

The costs of many services, products, and food will continue dropping until one day they hit zero in terms of human energy input, and shortly after, almost zero from a material perspective. Once we are  at that point, we will have a choice to make, the biggest choice any society of humans has ever had to make, and with consequences that will span centuries and affect billions of human lives.

We can transition to a resource-based economy, where people are simply given everything they need or want at no cost since it doesn’t cost anything to produce from a labor standpoint, and with very little energy due to Moore’s Law of energy use—as computers increase in power, doubling every 18 months while halving in size and staying at the same price, the amount of energy consumed by them is going in the opposite direction, e.g., if the 2011 MacBook Air, had the efficiency of a 1991 computer, it’s battery would last all of 2.5 seconds, instead of seven hours. The difference is algorithmic in nature: better, more efficient algorithms doing more work in fewer cycles. What will be the point in money if nothing costs anything?

Or, the elite, or whichever section of upper-society comes into their momentary hold of power, whom are narrowly short-sighted to their own benefit (and think they know better), much as the rest of us are to our own benefit (and think we know better), will invent some other form of currency and keep the charade going round and round, convincing us that it is a necessary function of society to have government and classes. Go watch the movie In Time and you will get an idea of what could pass. I don’t personally think this will happen, but the situation cannot be entirely ruled out in advance, especially given what we’ve fallen for in the past. Just think of the French Revolution, they threw out Louie, and installed Maximilien Robespierre, who gave the world his ‘reign of terror’. Then they threw him out too, and installed the power-hungry Napoleon.

In such a world, where scarcity is no longer a natural function of the world, economies built on scarcity will (or should) break down. The function of price is to assign value to a scarce product; the more expensive the price, the more scarce the product, either by way of overwhelming demand, scarce materials, or high cost of production. Aluminum used to be worth more than gold, even though 8.3% of the Earth’s crust is infused with its ore, but the means of production were amazingly expensive and energy intensive, until electrolysis came along. The sciences and continually improving technologies have been nibbling away at scarce materials and the means of production for the last hundred-fifty years, making once-scarce resources plentiful. It doesn’t matter whether it is food, metals, silicon, electricity, or anything else. You name it; it is more bountiful today than yesteryear (perhaps except human reason).

So when we have the technology to remove the human element and increase yield to such a degree as to remove all elements of scarcity, what purpose will the free market have? What purpose will private industrial property have? Or any (by this point outdated) technology that allows you to have sway over another persons right to life? The key technological trend that has accompanied our evolving society, is that technology is both a resource-liberating force, and a democratizing force du jour. When the gun was invented, the poor peasant suddenly had a way to thwart the armored knight harassing him. Gutenberg’s printing press broke the stranglehold the Catholic Church had established for itself for over a thousand years, and the fax machine broke the Soviet Union’s monoploy on information.

Much in the same way that the threat of violence is illegal in almost all cultures today, so it will be so with the means of production in the future. There will be no benefit for a man or woman to own a technology that holds sway over others save for the sake of power, which may very well come to be regarded as a mental disorder in the future: a disruption to societies balance that cannot and will not be tolerated for the inequality, fear, and violence that may spring forth from it.

Think about crime today, almost all of which is motivated in one way or another, by money. Either directly in the acts of stealing, drug turf wars, or actual wars between nations over resources. Or indirectly, through the emotional suffering inherent in unequal societies, and the stress, cortisol, and lost family time to name a few effects. What will happen to crime? Person-on-person violence is at an all-time low, the twentieth century was the most peaceful century of human history (accounting for both World Wars), as shown by Steven Pinker’s TED talk, The Myth of Violence, and there is no reason, given future projections and technological progression, that it won’t dive even further.

Technology is accelerating at an exponential rate and will continue in such a manner for as long as human co-operation continues. Our current forms of politics, governance, and society cannot, perhaps will not be able to transition into such a futuristic society. We need new ways of governing that don’t conflict with the fast-changing means of production that will start changing in increasingly smaller periods of time, with each cycle bringing with it greater change than the last (the Law of Accelerating Returns).

Transitions are painful, an unfortunate fact of life. Especially for local and linear oriented biological life as are we. Not to mention we don’t deal well with change, which is why we tend to end up in societal systems for far longer than we should, and why history repeats itself with dictators, tyrants, monarchies,  economic fantasies, and republics of the people who end up serving the state first, the people enough to placate, and war after war needlessly conducted to the detriment and distraction of said placated people. As remarks one of America’s literary genius’s, Mark Twain “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” A sad fact of the human condition. However, this will be the first time in the history of civilization that we will truly have an alternative, an option not bound to the fallacies and falsities that are inherently created when millions of people converge on a society with their dreams, desires, ego’s, and jealousies. Once we arrive at that critical juncture, we will have the ability to free everyone from the confines of manual labor and mindless repetitive work and set people free.

We will be able to truly provide everyone on this Earth with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, instead of having them as words on paper paraded through the wheels of time as if they actually meant something.

A common point made in response to such claims, is that people derive meaning and purpose from work. Assuming that in a world where mindless work is not done, people would sit about the couch all day watching television re-runs of an age gone (since apparently people will stop making media). But this is a shortsighted notion. For one, people today do all kinds of things without the incentive of a monetary reward. Wikipedia and Linux are just two visible examples of thousands of volunteers contributing millions of man-hours freely to building something of considerable value. Aside from those, people of all stripes and colors regularly and without want or need of reward regularly read and write books, gather knowledge, learn, collect trinkets and widgets, exercise their body and mind, create art and media, and contribute to many millions of activities and hobbies. In a world free of the unnecessary (and time-sucking) jobs of today, we would have far more energy and time to focus such activities, as well as with our family and friends, and on other efforts we truly enjoy. Lifelong learning may become the new universal occupation.

“The role of work will be to create knowledge of all kinds, from music and art to math and science. The role of play will be, well, to create knowledge, so there won’t be a clear distinction between work and play.” ~ Ray Kurzweil (Inventor)

There is a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering in this world today, and there probably will be more before this transition is over, and yet more still if we collectively make the wrong choice. Though the pain of this transition, if done right, will be infinitely less than the pain of stopping or rolling back the wheels of progress.

Money may very well be a thing of the past one day. Here is to the future, and to the people and technology that will abolish human suffering once and for all. We can only dream for now, but the future is fast upon us. Without knowledge, wisdom, and a steady resolve, we cannot push into the future for there will always be those holding us back, either for immediate personal gain or an irrational fear of the unknown.

“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” ~ Carl Sagan (Astrophysicist)