Skip to comments.Violence Against Tech Firms May Only Be Beginning
Posted on 01/24/2014 8:15:29 AM PST by Second Amendment First
For the past few weeks, protests have been building against a private bus system used by Google and others in Silicon Valley. The action took a menacing turn yesterday when one Google worker was followed home.
Google and other Silicon Valley tech companies have attracted the protesters' ire because sky-high tech salaries have led to sky-high real estate prices in San Francisco, pricing out poorer residents. They're also in the cross-hairs for their role in assisting NSA surveillance. The private bus system (which used public bus stops) was seen as another kick in teeth by, in the words of Kevin Roose, "coddled 22-year-olds with Stanford BAs."
But recent protests against tech firms aren't confined to Silicon Valley. In France, for instance, striking taxi workers attacked and vandalized cars booked through Uber.
Taken together these protests are small, uncoordinated and may ultimately fizzle out. Or, like the early tremors from a massive earthquake, they may be a significant harbinger of things to come. In fact, we may be nearing not one but two waves of violence directed at technology companies in the United States and abroad.
The first wave may prove to be nothing more than an unfortunate product of social resentment. The second wave could be catastrophic.
The First Wave
Many technological revolutions inspire fear and often violence when they displace workers -- the Luddite riots in Britain in the 1800s being the most famous example.
We are living through one such revolution today.
A recent, widely-cited study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford's Program on the Impacts of Future Technology, put the matter starkly. In their analysis of over 700 different jobs, almost half could be done by a computer in the future. This wave of computerization will destroy not simply low-wage, low-skill jobs (though those are in acute danger) but some white collar and service-sector jobs previously thought to be immune as well.
If the researchers are correct, there are, broadly speaking, two possible outcomes. The first is that society, as it historically has, finds a new equilibrium that manages to satisfy (almost) everyone. Low skilled workers and those with a mismatch in skills eventually train themselves into fields with better employment prospects. Some people, industries, and towns are displaced, but the macro economy and the social and political structures that rest on it, carries on. Meanwhile, new technologies continue to enrich our lives, enhance our productivity and produce a safer, cleaner world.
Alternatively, the jobs lost to computerization and robots are never replaced and workers caught in the transition never find a way back to the work force (some fear we could be seeing signs of this today). As the pace and scope of automation and roboticization accelerates, millions more find themselves unemployed, under-employed and increasingly desperate while those who own the robots, create the algorithms or otherwise work in technology reap immense benefits. Technology firms may ceased to be viewed as beneficial innovators and instead be viewed suspiciously as architects of greater inequality.
In this second, darker scenario, it's quite easy to see individuals or potentially even organized movements venting their frustration and desperation against technology firms (and their sometimes ostentatiously wealthy owners) using violence. The Occupy Wall Street protests sparked by the financial collapse and the accumulation of huge piles of wealth by a tiny fraction of humanity has primed the pump for such unrest. Discussing the Google protests in Salon, Natasha Lennard wrote approvingly that while such intimidation could be seen as terrorism, "it works" and should therefore continue.
But as challenging and uncertain as this scenario is, it's still comprehendible. Human society has dealt successfully with technological job displacement before. If it does come to pass, it could be met with more aggressive wealth distribution, repression or some clever policy of mass education (or make-work).
It's the second wave that could be far more troubling.
The Second Wave
One of the crucial dynamics driving the computerization of human jobs is the evolution of machines intelligent enough to do work formerly consigned to humans. Beyond the rote, mechanical and dangerous work that robots are already beginning to do today (on factory floors, in war zones, etc.) lies the next wave of more sophisticated human skills, a wave that requires artificial intelligence to master.
Yet the development of ever-more intelligent machines carries with it immense danger beyond simply the loss of human jobs. These dangers have been spelled out most recently by documentarian James Barrat in his book Our Final Invention (which we reviewed here) and more recently by MIT physicist Max Tegmark. Put simply, the rise of machines as intelligent (and eventually more intelligent) than humans could potentially put human life and civilization at risk of extinction.
The creations of super-intelligent machines has been dubbed the Singularity by computer scientist Vernor Vinge, so named because, like the edge of a Black Hole, it is the point at which it is impossible to predict the course of human events because humans will no longer be masters of their destiny. Machines will.
Exactly when (or even if) the Singularity will occur is a matter of debate. Our efforts to build intelligent machines may hit a brick wall. But if progress towards intelligent machines continues unabated, you can be sure the debate regarding a "post-human" future that is currently a peripheral concern (at best) will take on increasing urgency. In such an environment, how will society react? Will people accept the fact that their destiny -- the destiny of their species -- may cease to be in their hands? Will they wish to pursue research that could destroy human life as we know it?
Some futurists think we'll happily welcome the prospect. Ray Kurzweil -- a popular proponent of the Singularity's benefits who is currently directing Google's artificial intelligence efforts -- has argued that since progress toward the Singularity will be incremental, people will be gradually socialized to the idea that the human race as we have known it for centuries will eventually be replaced by human-machine hybrids or simply conscious machines. The Singularity will come bearing gifts. First Google Glass, then Google Eyeballs, then Google Brain, then the uploading of "you" into the cloud for a life immortal, with nary a complaint along the way.
The less optimistic take sees at least some segment of humanity reacting negatively, and violently, against the coming Singularity. This scenario has been anticipated by computer scientists working in artificial intelligence. AI researcher Hugo de Garis for instance, wrote a book of speculative fiction positing a war between "Cosmists" and "Terrans" -- the former devoted to advancing the Singularity and the latter dedicated to stopping it at all costs.
Could such a war happen in the future? It's impossible to predict. But violent acts of sabotage and assassination directed at those working in companies and institutions deemed instrumental to creating a "post-human" future seem highly plausible -- even inevitable -- if progress continues. If Kurzweil is wrong and the rise of super-intelligent machines is viewed as more alien than benign, it won't be hard to convince people that their lives and the future of human civilization rest on stopping this work. People have killed over much less.
States, too, would take a keen interest in the progress of AI (indeed, they already have). In the scramble for geopolitical power and position, powerful states may view the race for AI as a new arms race, and take measures, such as preemptive war, to disadvantage their rivals.
So keep an eye on the Google bus fracas. It may symbolize a tragic irony: the "disruption" that so many tech firms pride themselves on may be coming. And it might not be pretty.
Of course they will. The elites despise the rest of us. They’re not funding and developing this technology to make life easier for US, it’s to allow them to exist WITHOUT us.
The proclamations of sustainable life on the planet being fewer than 100m humans takes into account that most of the work won’t be done by humans. And once the elites decide they no longer need us...the fun begins.
The writer assumes it's about technological displacement, when it IMO is really about envy. "I can't have what you have, so I want to burn yours to the ground."
And that will end when the machines decide they no longer need the elites.
Hmmmmmmm... the long-time financial supporters and outright enablers of these dangerously psychotic libtard fascists have now become the targets. Looks like a reap-sow situation. Just FYI... whining about it won’t help.
I’m reminded of the opening chapters of the Dune series that discusses such a possibility, the ensuing hostilities and the end result being the elimination of ALL digital technology.
Nut-job Conspiracy Theory Ping!
To get onto The Nut-job Conspiracy Theory Ping List you must threaten to report me to the Mods if I don't add you to the list...
Well it is Berkeley.
First they came for Frankenstein’s experiment ...
It’s only a matter of time before EVERY job is mechanized. Even ‘untouchable’ white collar jobs will be outsourced to automation with advances in AI.
How will you feed your family then?
There won’t be anywhere to run. No skills that can be developed that won’t ultimately be done more cheaply and efficiently by machine.
Maybe; however it could be about something else entirely — the second sentence of the second paragraph says:
They're also in the cross-hairs for their role in assisting NSA surveillance.So it could be that they're taking a stand against tyranny and the media-spin is to make them the bad-guys by painting them as envious or "backwards and afraid of technology."
...and I said nothing for I have all my original parts...
Sounds hopeless. What do you propose?
Better learn how to build and control the machines then!! Adapt or die has been true for centuries.
Although I fear the Cosmists are going to win when the military replaces soldiers with robots.
Stick close to John Connor.
The foundation may be envy and “can’t have what you have”, but the real catalyst will be people driven by hopelessness/desperation and “no path to have what you have.”
It’s like that old Ferengi comment about Humans becoming more violent and bloodthirsty than Klingons when deprived of not only their creature comforts but also exposed to real adversity on a personal level.
Maybe the hostilities aren’t about envy, but simply survival.
Most of the FSA in this country was either put out of a ‘family supporting’ job by free trade or automation beginning ~40-45 years ago. Their numbers will only grow. The welfare state was the narcotic that allowed us to overlook the fact that we were being ‘outsourced’ and ‘replaced’ en masse. Think it’s a coincidence that the welfare state became a fait accompli around the same time we began sending our industries overseas? The welfare state was put in place to keep us from noticing. It’s H1B visa holders now. Within 20 years it will be most white collar jobs replaced with AI.
How many of these can you support, realistically, with your taxes? What kind of social chaos are you willing to tolerate in the name of progress. Their children have run feral for 2 and 3 generations. How long before it’s your children running feral? With all the progress in automation on just car assembly lines, I haven’t seen cars become more affordable to the average family in the US.
The welfare state is unsustainable in the long term. When it crashes, do you think it will be possible for all the participants to get jobs? What sort of jobs will they get? The elites will still have the tech and the money and the resources.
Given their stance on overpopulation, what do you think the over/under is that they’ll just let us starve in the streets?
Why do you think they’re implementing a rabid surveillance system right now? How likely do you think rebellion will succeed under that sort of scenario? ‘0’? Less? Do you really think it’s all about keeping US safe?
This isn’t about weaving looms. That was simply a process. And new skills were out there to be learned. This is about the replacement of nearly the entire human species.
The same elites that are pushing all this tech are also the same ones rabidly preaching population control.
Specifically YOUR population control.
I don’t know, the people near Connor tend to get killed in droves.
If John Connor isn’t nearby, Commander Adama or Neo will work just as well ...