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Humans Need Not Apply

 

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Script

Every human used to have to hunt or gather to survive. But humans are smart-ly lazy so we made tools to make our work easier. From sticks, to plows to tractors we’ve gone from everyone needing to make food to, modern agriculture with almost no one needing to make food — and yet we still have abundance.

Of course, it’s not just farming, it’s everything. We’ve spent the last several thousand years building tools to reduce physical labor of all kinds. These are mechanical muscles — stronger, more reliable, and more tireless than human muscles could ever be.

And that's a good thing. Replacing human labor with mechanical muscles frees people to specialize and that leaves everyone better off even though still doing physical labor. This is how economies grow and standards of living rise.

Some people have specialized to be programmers and engineers whose job is to build mechanical minds. Just as mechanical muscles made human labor less in demand so are mechanical minds making human brain labor less in demand.

This is an economic revolution. You may think we've been here before, but we haven't.

This time is different.

Physical Labor

When you think of automation, you probably think of this: giant, custom-built, expensive, efficient but really dumb robots blind to the world and their own work. There were a scary kind of automation but they haven't taken over the world because they're only cost effective in narrow situations.

But they are the old kind of automation, this is the new kind.

Meet Baxter.

Unlike these things which require skilled operators and technicians and millions of dollars, Baxter has vision and can learn what you want him to do by watching you do it. And he costs less than the average annual salary of a human worker. Unlike his older brothers he isn't pre-programmed for one specific job, he can do whatever work is within the reach of his arms. Baxter is what might be thought of as a general purpose robot and general purpose is a big deal.

Think computers, they too started out as highly custom and highly expensive, but when cheap-ish general-purpose computers appeared they quickly became vital to everything.

A general-purpose computer can just as easily calculate change or assign seats on an airplane or play a game or do anything by just swapping its software. And this huge demand for computers of all kinds is what makes them both more powerful and cheaper every year.

Baxter today is the computer in the 1980s. He’s not the apex but the beginning. Even if Baxter is slow his hourly cost is pennies worth of electricity while his meat-based competition costs minimum wage. A tenth the speed is still cost effective when it's a hundred times cheaper. And while Baxtor isn't as smart as some of the other things we will talk about, he's smart enough to take over many low-skill jobs.

And we've already seen how dumber robots than Baxter can replace jobs. In new supermarkets what used to be 30 humans is now one human overseeing 30 cashier robots.

Or the hundreds of thousand baristas employed world-wide? There’s a barista robot coming for them. Sure maybe your guy makes your double-mocha-whatever just perfect and you’d never trust anyone else -- but millions of people don’t care and just want a decent cup of coffee. Oh and by the way this robot is actually a giant network of robots that remembers who you are and how you like your coffee no matter where you are. Pretty convenient.

We think of technological change as the fancy new expensive stuff, but the real change comes from last decade's stuff getting cheaper and faster. That's what's happening to robots now. And because their mechanical minds are capable of decision making they are out-competing humans for jobs in a way no pure mechanical muscle ever could.

Luddite Horses

Imagine a pair of horses in the early 1900s talking about technology. One worries all these new mechanical muscles will make horses unnecessary.

The other reminds him that everything so far has made their lives easier -- remember all that farm work? Remember running coast-to-coast delivering mail? Remember riding into battle? All terrible. These city jobs are pretty cushy -- and with so many humans in the cities there are more jobs for horses than ever.

Even if this car thingy takes off you might say, there will be new jobs for horses we can't imagine.

But you, dear viewer, from beyond 2000 know what happened -- there are still working horses, but nothing like before. The horse population peaked in 1915 -- from that point on it was nothing but down.

There isn’t a rule of economics that says better technology makes more, better jobs for horses. It sounds shockingly dumb to even say that out loud, but swap horses for humans and suddenly people think it sounds about right.

As mechanical muscles pushed horses out of the economy, mechanical minds will do the same to humans. Not immediately, not everywhere, but in large enough numbers and soon enough that it's going to be a huge problem if we are not prepared. And we are not prepared.

You, like the second horse, may look at the state of technology now and think it can’t possibly replace your job. But technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can’t match.

Just as the car was the beginning of the end for the horse so now does the car show us the shape of things to come.

Automobiles

Self-driving cars aren't the future: they're here and they work. Self-driving cars have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles up and down the California coast and through cities -- all without human intervention.

The question is not if they'll replaces cars, but how quickly. They don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be better than us. Humans drivers, by the way, kill 40,000 people a year with cars just in the United States. Given that self-driving cars don’t blink, don’t text while driving, don’t get sleepy or stupid, it easy to see them being better than humans because they already are.

Now to describe self-driving cars as cars at all is like calling the first cars mechanical horses. Cars in all their forms are so much more than horses that using the name limits your thinking about what they can even do. Lets call self-driving cars what they really are:

Autos: the solution to the transport-objects-from-point-A-to-point-B problem. Traditional cars happen to be human sized to transport humans but tiny autos can work in wear houses and gigantic autos can work in pit mines. Moving stuff around is who knows how many jobs but the transportation industry in the United States employs about three million people. Extrapolating world-wide that’s something like 70 million jobs at a minimum.

These jobs are over.

The usual argument is that unions will prevent it. But history is filled with workers who fought technology that would replace them and the workers always loose. Economics always wins and there are huge incentives across wildly diverse industries to adopt autos.

For many transportation companies, the humans are about a third of their total costs. That's just the straight salary costs. Humans sleeping in their long haul trucks costs time and money. Accidents cost money. Carelessness costs money. If you think insurance companies will be against it, guess what? Their perfect driver is one who pays their small premium but never gets into an accident.

The autos are coming and they're the first place where most people will really see the robots changing society. But there are many other places in the economy where the same thing is happening, just less visibly.

So it goes with autos, so it goes for everything.

The Shape of Things to Come

It's easy to look at Autos and Baxters and think: technology has always gotten rid of low-skill jobs we don't want people doing anyway. They'll get more skilled and do better educated jobs -- like they've always done.

Even ignoring the problem of pushing a hundred-million additional people through higher education, white-collar work is no safe haven either. If your job is sitting in front of a screen and typing and clicking -- like maybe you're supposed to be doing right now -- the bots are coming for you too, buddy.

Software bots are both intangible and way faster and cheaper than physical robots. Given that white collar workers are, from a companies perspective, both more expensive and more numerous -- the incentive to automate their work is greater than low skilled work.

And that's just what automation engineers are for. These are skilled programmers whose entire job is to replace your job with a software bot.

You may think even the world's smartest automation engineer could never make a bot to do your job -- and you may be right -- but the cutting edge of programming isn't super-smart programmers writing bots it's super-smart programmers writing bots that teach themselves how to do things the programmer could never teach them to do.

How that works is well beyond the scope of this video, but the bottom line is there are limited ways to show a bot a bunch of stuff to do, show the bot a bunch of correctly done stuff, and it can figure out how to do the job to be done.

Even with just a goal and no example of how to do it the bots can still learn. Take the stock market which, in many ways, is no longer a human endeavor. It's mostly bots that taught themselves to trade stocks, trading stocks with other bots that taught themselves.

Again: it's not bots that are executing orders based on what their human controllers want, it's bots making the decisions of what to buy and sell on their own.

As a result the floor of the New York Stock exchange isn't filled with traders doing their day jobs anymore, it's largely a TV set.

So bots have learned the market and bots have learned to write. If you've picked up a newspaper lately you've probably already read a story written by a bot. There are companies that are teaching bots to write anything: Sports stories, TPS reports, even say, those quarterly reports that you write at work.

Paper work, decision making, writing -- a lot of human work falls into that category and the demand for human metal labor is these areas is on the way down. But surely the professions are safe from bots? Yes?

Professions

When you think 'lawyer' it's easy to think of trials. But the bulk of lawyering is actually drafting legal documents predicting the likely outcome and impact of lawsuits, and something called 'discovery' which is where boxes of paperwork gets dumped on the lawyers and they need to find the pattern or the one out-of-place transaction among it all.

This can all be bot work. Discovery, in particular, is already not a human job in many firms. Not because there isn't paperwork to go through, there's more of it than ever, but because clever research bots sift through millions of emails and memos and accounts in hours not weeks -- crushing human researchers in terms of not just cost and time but, most importantly, accuracy. Bots don't get sleeping reading through a million emails.

But that's the simple stuff: IBM has a bot named Watson: you may have seen him on TV destroy humans at Jeopardy — but that was just a fun side project for him.

Watson's day-job is to be the best doctor in the world: to understand what people say in their own words and give back accurate diagnoses. And he's already doing that at Slone-Kettering, giving guidance on lung cancer treatments.

Just as Auto don’t need to be perfect -- they just need to make fewer mistakes than humans, -- the same goes for doctor bots.

Human doctors are by no means perfect -- the frequency and severity of misdiagnosis are terrifying -- and human doctors are severely limited in dealing with a human's complicated medical history. Understanding every drug and every drug's interaction with every other drug is beyond the scope of human knowability.

Especially when there are research robots whose whole job it is to test 1,000s of new drugs at a time.

Human doctors can only improve through their own experiences. Doctor bots can learn from the experiences of every doctor bot. Can read the latest in medical research and keep track of everything that happens to all his patients world-wide and make correlations that would be impossible to find otherwise.

Not all doctors will go away, but when doctor bots are comparable to humans and they're only as far away as your phone -- the need for general doctors will be less.

So professionals, white-collar workers and low-skill workers all have something to worry about.

But perhaps you're still not worried because you're a special creative snowflakes. Well guess what? You're not that special.

Creative Labor

Creativity may feel like magic, but it isn't. The brain is a complicated machine -- perhaps the most complicated machine in the whole universe -- but that hasn't stopped us from trying to simulate it.

There is this notion that just as mechanical muscles allowed us to move into thinking jobs that mechanical minds will allow us all to move into creative work. But even if we assume the human mind is magically creative -- it's not, but just for the sake of argument -- artistic creativity isn't what the majority of jobs depend on. The number of writers and poets and directors and actors and artist who actually make a living doing their work is a tiny, tiny portion of the labor force. And given that these are professions that are dependent on popularity they will always be a small part of the population.

There is no such thing as a poem and painting based economy.

Oh, by the way, this music in the background that your listening to? It was written by a bot. Her name is Emily Howel and she can write an infinite amount of new music all day for free. And people can't tell the difference between her and human composers when put to a blind test.

Talking about artificial creativity gets weird fast -- what does that even mean? But it's nonetheless a developing field.

People used to think that playing chess was a uniquely creative human skill that machines could never do right up until they beat the best of us. And so it goes for all human talent.

Conclusion

Right: this might have been a lot to take in, and you might want to reject it -- it's easy to be cynical of the endless, and idiotic, predictions of futures that never are. So that's why it's important to emphasize again this stuff isn't science fiction. The robots are here right now. There is a terrifying amount of working automation in labs and wear houses that is proof of concept.

We have been through economic revolutions before, but the robot revolution is different.

Horses aren't unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they’re unemployable. There's little work a horse can do that do that pays for its housing and hay.

And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own.

But if you still think new jobs will save us: here is one final point to consider. The US census in 1776 tracked only a few kinds of jobs. Now there are hundreds of kinds of jobs, but the new ones are not a significant part of the labor force.

Here's the list of jobs ranked by the number of people that perform them - it's a sobering list with the transportation industry at the top. Going down the list all this work existed in some form a hundred years ago and almost all of them are targets for automation. Only when we get to number 33 on the list is there finally something new.

Don't that every barista and officer worker lose their job before things are a problem. The unemployment rate during the great depression was 25%.

This list above is 45% of the workforce. Just what we've talked about today, the stuff that already works, can push us over that number pretty soon. And given that even our modern technological wonderland new kinds of work are not a significant portion of the economy, this is a big problem.

This video isn't about how automation is bad -- rather that automation is inevitable. It's a tool to produce abundance for little effort. We need to start thinking now about what to do when large sections of the population are unemployable -- through no fault of their own. What to do in a future where, for most jobs, humans need not apply.

Robots, Etc in the Video

Terex Port automation

Command | Cat MieStar System.

Bosch Automotive Technology

Atlas Update

Kiva Systems

PhantomX running Phoenix code

iRobot, Do You

New pharmacy robot at QEHB

Briggo Coffee Experience

John Deere Autosteer (ITEC Pro 2010). In use while cultivating

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Baxter with the Power of Intera 3

Baxter Research Robot SDK 1.0

Baxter the Bartender

Online Cash Registers Touch-Screen EPOS System Demonstration

Self-Service Check in

Robot to play Flappy Bird

e-david from University of Konstanz, Germany

Sedasys

Empty Car Convoy

Clever robots for crops

Autonomously folding a pile of 5 previously-unseen towels

LS3 Follow Tight

Robotic Handling material

Caterpillar automation project

Universal Robots has reinvented industrial robotics

Introducing WildCat

The Human Brain Project - Video Overview

This Robot Is Changing How We Cure Diseases

Jeopardy! - Watson Game 2

What Will You Do With Watson?

Other Credits

Mandelbrot set

Moore's law graph

Apple II 1977

Beer Robot Fail m2803

All Wales Ambulance Promotional Video

Clyde Robinson

Time lapse Painting - Monster Spa

Are Hong Kong & Macau Countries?

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DeriumsCCGs

Squarespace

Script:

Welcome to Hong Kong: the island city of China packed with seven million people at unbelievable density. But if you, dear tourist, start from Victoria Harbor and head toward the mainland you'll find that while Hong Kong is China she doesn't act like it.

To cross the bridge your passport must be checked and stamped and checked and stamped. Not because you're a suspicious foreigner: Mainland Chinese can't just stroll across either, but rather because Hong Kong has her own immigration policy.

And Hong Kong isn't the only isolated island, there's nearby Macau with her own passport-checking bridge and a ferry between them -- which also checks passports. Travel from Hong Kong to Macau to the mainland and back and you'll end up with three stamps, and that goes for everyone: Hong Kongese can't just live in Macau and Macanese can't just live in Hong Kong and they both can just live on the mainland.

Yet it's all China. And inconvenient travel isn't the only speciality of these sister islands. They also have:

  • Separate governments and political parties.
  • Separate police.
  • Separate money.
  • Postal systems.
  • Schools.
  • and languages.

Hong Kong even has her own Olympic team which competed in the 2008 Beijing olympics which doesn't make any kind of sense.

The only things these sister islands don't have that other countries do:

1) Their own armies.

Though that isn't unique with modern countries, and…

2) Formal diplomatic relations.

Though even this unclear as both are members of international trade organizations. And other countries have 'embassies' in Hong Kong and Macau, sure China won't let them be called embassies, those are only for mighty Beijing -- they're called consulates even if they're bigger than Beijing's embassy.

All this makes Hong Kong and Macau, as mentioned in a previous video, the most country-like countries that aren't countries.

So why are they China?

China says so.

It's called 'One China, Two Systems' -- though fast-counters in the audience will see it should be called 'One China, Three Systems. Also there's China's special economic zones (where capitalism runs free) making it more like 'One China Four Systems' -- and if China got her way it might be 'One China, Five Systems'.

But we can't talk about everything so back to China, Hong Kong, and Macau (oh my!)

China ended up having these two essentialy city-states, as always, because Empire.

Portugal showed up in Asia in the 1500s and didn't exactly make friends. China and Portugal skirmished until Portugal used Bigger-pile-of-money diplomacy to bribe a local Chinese official into turning over the islands of Macau as a trading port.

Later, Britannia found China and discovered she had many of lovely things like silks and porcelain and precious, precious tea that Britannia craved. In return China wanted from Britannia… to be left alone and Britannia nobly agreed to respect China's independence and soverenty.

OOPS!

OPIUM WARS!

Nothing generates demand like addiction -- which Britannia was happy to supply. And, her bigger-gun diplomacy secured Hong Kong as a base through which the drugs must flow.

Later in a world where telegraphs and lightbulbs were newfangled a lease gave control of Hong Kong to Britannia for 99 years or quote "as good as forever", kicking the transfer problem down the generations to be delt with by the unimaginably futuristic society of the 1990s.

Thus these sister cities grow up under the influence of their Emperiffic parents. Hong Kong had English common law and lived in Britannia's org chart as one of her many crown colonies and Macau had Portuguese civil law.

And the parental effect is still seen today: visit Hong Kong and she is clearly Britannia's daughter what with her love of business and international finance (and lasers!) and english-accented language and near-identical transport system.

Macau had a more troubled adolescence, as her bigger sister stole the spotlight with her trading skills. But Macau eventually grew up to be the gambling capital of the world. She's Las Vegas x10 with a mixture of Portugal and China.

But Empires come and empires go, and the 90s eventually arrived, meaning Britannia's lease expired. Portugal claimed the treaty gave her control of Macau forever but China disagreed and the UN was in a no-empires-no-longer mood, and frankly had Portugal complained too much, China could have used her own bigger-army diplomacy at this point to resolve the situation.

So the transfer was going to happen: but the world was nervous about China, what with the lingering communism and all, so the deal was the Empire's daughters would go but they had to remain basically independent, to which China agreed as long as everyone else agreed to call them China.

The situation was a bit like if the US had to give Alaska back to Russia and Russia super promised to leave Alaska self-governing. You couldn't blame the locals for being nervous.

But, unlike what you'd expect in this case China has mostly left the little sister islands alone.

So everything is dandy...

however...

The handover came with its own version of the as-good-as-forever clause. China didn't agree to leave Hong Kong and Macau alone for all time, only fifty years, again passing political problems to a future generation. (Hopefully one that's actually unimaginably futuristic this time).

Anyway, assuming such provincial concerns as these are not rendered irrelevant by the singularity, what happens in the 2040s? Will Hong Kong and Macau remain tiny city-states or will they lose their independence and be absorbed?

Only China knows, and China does not say.

The Law You Won't Be Told

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McSteed TV, Scott Weinberg, & others.

The Law You Won't Be Told

On a Jury you know your options: guilty, or not. But there's another choice that neither the judge nor the lawyers will tell you -- often because they're not allowed to and also it might better if you don't know.

This video will tell you that third choice, but be warned: simply watching may prevent you from ever serving on a jury -- so this is your last chance to hit the pause button before you learn about...

Jury nullification: when the defendant is 100% beyond-a-reasonable-doubt guilty but the jurors also think he shouldn't be punished. The jury can nullify the law and let him go free.

But before your on your next jury and yell 'Null! Booya!' at the judge you should know that just talking about jury nullification in the wrong circumstances can get you arrested. Though a video such as this one, simply acknowledging the existence of jury nullification and in no way advocating it is totally OK. And, while we're at it:

(CGP Grey is not a lawyer, this is not legal advice it is meant for entertainment purposes only. Seriously, guy, don't do anything in a court of law based on what an Internet Video told you. No joke.)

So why can't you do this? It's because nullification isn't in the law †, but exists as a logical consequence of two other laws:

First: that juries can't be punished for a 'wrong' decision -- no matter the witnesses, DNA, or video proof show. That's the point of a jury: to be the decider.

and

Second: when a defendant is found not-guilty, that defendant can't be tried again for the same crime ‡.

So there are only two stated options: guilty or not, it's just that jury nullification is when the words of the jurors don't match their thoughts -- for which they can't be punished and their not-guilty decision can't be changed.

These laws are necessary for juries to exist within a fair system, but the logical consequence is... contentious -- lawyers and judges argue about jury nullification like physicists argue about quantum mechanics. Both are difficult to observe and the interpretation of both has a huge philosophical ramification for the subject as a whole.

Is nullification the righteous will of the people or an anarchy of twelve or just how citizens judge their laws?

The go-to example in favor of nullification is the fugitive slave law: when Northern juries refused to convict escaped slaves and set them free.

Can't argue with that.

But the anarchy side is Southern juries refusing to convict white lynch mobs. Not humanity at its best.

But both of these are juries nullifying the law.

Also juries have two options where their thoughts may differ from their words. Jury nullification usually refers to the non-guilty version but juries can convict without evidence just as easily as they can acquit in spite of it.

This is jury nullification too and the jurors are protected by the first rule, though the second doesn't apply and judges have the power to overrule a guilty verdict if they think the jurors are… nt the best. And, of course, a guilty defendant can appeal, at least for a little while. Which makes the guilty form of jury nullification weaker than the not-guilty kind. Cold comfort, though.

Given the possibility of jurors who might ignore the law as written, it's not surprising when picking jurors for a trial, lawyers -- whose existence is dependent on an orderly society -- will ask about nullification, usually in the slightly roundabout way:

"Do you have any beliefs that might prevent you from making a decision based strictly on the law?"

If after learning about jury nullification you think it's a good idea: answer 'yes' and you'll be rejected, but answer 'no' with the intent to get on the jury to nullify and you've just committed perjury -- technically a federal crime -- which makes the optimal strategy once on a jury to zip it.

But This introduces a problem for jurors who intend to nullify: telling the other 11 angry men about your position is risky, which makes nullification as a tool for fixing unjust laws nation wide problematic.

(Not to mention about 95% of criminal charges in the United States never make it to trial and rather end in a plea bargain, but that's a story for another time.)

The only question about jury nullification that may matter is if jurors should be told about it and the courts are near universal † in their decision: 'no way'.

Which might seem self-interested -- again, courts depend on the law -- but there's evidence that telling jurors about nullification changes the way they vote by making evidence less relevant -- which isn't surprising: that's what nullification is. But mock trials also show sympathetic defendants get more non-guilty verdicts and unsympathetic defendants get more guilty verdicts in front of jurors who were explicitly told about nullification compared to those who weren't.

Which sounds bad, but it also isn't difficult to imagine situations where jurors blindly following the law would be terribly unjust -- which is the heart of nullification: juries judge the law, not solely evidence.

In the end righteous will of the people, or anarchy, or citizen lawmaking -- the system leaves you to decide -- but as long as courts are fair they require these rules, so jury nullification will always be with us.

Footnotes

† As with any legal topic, check your local rules and regulations. The video is about Jury Nullification in the United States, but of course, in the US things are still different in each of the states. For example, New Hampshire (live-free-or-die) passed a law explicitly allowing judges and lawyers to inform juries of their ability to nullify laws.

‡ This is the 'double jeopardy' clause -- made famous by its wildly inaccurate movie representation. Each instance of a crime counts as a new crime, so robbing a bank and being found not-guilty on a technicality does not give you a rob-the-bank-again-for-free card.