February 25, 2013

February 25, 2013

Don't Forget the Zeroth Law

[This year's Oscars technically ended on Sunday morning. As a result, I'm barely coherent today. You're getting an entry I wrote last week. The one I'm writing todaywhich is turning out to be almost entirely random riffs on things that annoyed me during this morning's commutewill see the light of day either tomorrow or never.]

I’ve mentioned a few times before that when the robots take over, I will welcome them with open arms. Look, I’m a left-handed, nearsighted realist. Nature didn’t build me to survive. In an apocalyptic film, I’m the one who gets killed off hilariously in the first 20 minutes. The best chance I have is to become a minion for the new robotic world order.  

Luckily, Wired magazine* seems to think along the same lines; this month’s cover story is all about the wonderful world of robots. I started reading with enthusiasm, slowly sank into a valley of despair, and then finished the article with cautious optimism.  

Here’s the problem: Humans are great and all**, but robots are just better. The Wired article defines four specific categories in which they trump us:

1. Jobs today that humans do—but machines will eventually do better.
2. Current jobs that humans can’t do but machines can.
3. Robot jobs that we can’t even imagine yet.
4. Jobs that only humans will be able to do—at first.

Any way you slice it, we are screwed. It’s been a good run, humanity!  

Wired did a good job of trying to sugarcoat our impending doom by portraying robots as catalysts that will allow humanity to realize even more of its potential. Like how the industrial revolution and internet boom created whole new economic sectors. This argument would totally make sense if we weren’t knocking against the glass ceiling of what’s physically possible. The way I see it, human potential is more like energy than entropy: conserved rather than increasing. Call me a pessimist if you will, but I observe a number of people on my commute every day and…things aren’t looking good for the human race.  

Not to mention the Newsweek article I read about how most of the first world is reproducing at too low a rate to sustain its population. Say what you will about Latin America, but their seven-births-to-each-death strategy of a few years ago is gonna look pretty smart in a few decades.  

(Fascinating side note from that article: something like 1 of every 3 male Japanese teens and 2 of every 3 female Japanese teens express “no interest” in sex. I have a bad feeling that Hello Kitty is somehow to blame.)  

(Fascinating side note from that article: The German word for this phenomenon is schrumpfnation. I ask once again: German—great language? Or GREATEST language?)  

So between declining birth rates and the advent of robots that best us in almost every job (seriously, they play sports, they create art, they serve food), and I think it’s time to start brushing up on Asimov’s laws of robotics.  

In cheerier news, here’s a Daily Show segments that made me LOL multiple times. That’s been a rarity since Newtown, which sent Jon Stewart over the frothing-liberal edge:  

* Which I apparently subscribe to now, since one showed up in my mailbox over the weekend. No idea if or when I signed up. To quote Gandalf, “I have no memory of this place.” Also, is it Wired or WIRED? Damn you hipsters and your new-agey typography.
** We both know I think humans suck. But go with the premise.

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