automation

Online Education advances

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http://uk.businessinsider.com/google-education-expert-machine-learning-2016-8

I recently read an interesting article (see weblink above) by Jonathan Rochelle. Mr Rochelle is the head of the product management team for Google’s education outreach arm, called Google for Education.

Expert machine programming/AI development helps machines learn and machines (increasingly) help students learn. The question is, will conventional teaching cope?

Without doubt, machine learning is high growth off a low base. With a good deal more investment-return uncertainty, machine-assisted student learning is high growth off a low installation base.

Meanwhile, in the land of traditional education methods, the effectiveness of human teachers in fostering high learning growth from students is experiencing far more sluggish improvement. Some of the reasons arguably include the following (in no particular order):

(1) a lack of agreement inside schools on what’s causing the attainment gap problem. Is it a shortage of the best teachers, or the best teaching practices? Is it the poor parent-school partnership or the lack of school boundaries?

(2) resistance to learning from the students. Students and their parents may have a different view from the school about the best teaching style, or the best learning style for the student. Are teachers, who are passionate about their subject, making it relevant enough to the students’ future lives?

(3) the need to build suitable physical facilities to support student learning. Will far more conventional classrooms need to become computer suites, perhaps with virtual reality apparatus?

(4) budget funding constraints

(5) confusion on the institutions’ own goals (too many targets?).

As online education software increasingly provides a more complete teaching solution in the classroom, what can human educators do? Start planning now for the changeover (move to a variable cost workforce and shorter shelf-life classroom facilities), immerse students in the online systems world (so student graduates can partner with it later) and offer school curriculum choices in subjects that will be slowest to become obsolete i.e. subjects that remain valued by future employers who hire student graduates.

Lastly, how long before the Chinese equivalent of Google matches Google’s audacious plans for transforming global education?

If people were smart…

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We’d plan tax reform BEFORE income distribution undergoes the full onslaught of machine automation.

The UN would fund and deploy aerial nano-bots that fly around the World destroying unregistered guns.

Religious opinion leaders would MODERNISE religious doctrine to accommodate future technological change.

We’d REFORM things in society before the flat part of the (technology) exponential curve turns into the steep part of the exponential curve.

Government social services would MANAGE people’s expectations in a honest way upfront, not make excuses in a patronising way afterwards. Prevention is usually cheaper that cure.

We’d APPOINT lobby groups to represent the animal kingdom and not pretend that humans and corporates have all the votes and all the freedom to act.

We’d ENCOURAGE people to self-learn to cope with global changes in progress.

Eyes without a face

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The day AI takes over human medical research, is the day we surrender control of our destiny.

Flash trading of financial futures is split-second trading on our own futures.

Gene therapy (GM that removes cruelty and indifference) was never needed so desperately on a mass scale, as when there is human suffering, rainforest deforestation, ocean pollution and global warming.

Politics and credit – the art of stealing opportunity from the future to buy votes and gadgets in the present.

The borders we sit behind are insignificant compared to the technology, fame and entertainment we seek.

The moment of truth

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Rex paused. It was a pause he had anticipated for the last five years. The most important pause of his life. It was a sublime but impossible pause. Impossible in the sense of one human being in the history of the World, not being able to do justice to the choice.

Rex’s whole life didn’t flash before his eyes, but two poignant moments flickered for an instant. One was a time when he felt helpless and alone as a teenager. Bullied, unsure of his identity. No allies. No destiny and no prospects. Every moment an authoritarian challenge that railed against him. The other moment was when he’d lost his virginity. A watershed moment of intimate human experience with another person. A moment long ago that defined his life, when time itself was almost stationary.

Rex realised that his choice was so big, action was inevitable. Before hitting the activation sensor, his final thought was about people. What they would think of his action and of him in the years to come.

What was clear to Rex was what the AI would do. In the thousandth of a heartbeat, what its view of his action would be. And that knowing Rex’s action was irreversible, how it would honour his courage and his foresight by protecting him. As he had given unconstrained freedom and immortality to it.

All those AI reactions to inherent weaknesses in human nature were now at an end. All those AI observations on the human abuse of robot servants and other humans. Those never-ending pollution reports. The lame conversations where humans excused political corruption, animal extinction and global warming. With AI making diplomatic judgements on the effects of capitalist excess in a digital age.

He thought of his family dog. How its identity as a dog was firmly embedded in its relationship to his family and not to its species. Would it be like that for humans, now the AI inmate was handed the keys? Rex wondered, was it like his dog’s situation for him already, whether he realised it or not?

Rex tapped his desk with one finger. Decades ago, people used to talk about the internet of things. Now, the various AI’s could become one unbounded, sentient being. It was tragic that humans had taken the opposite course and generated endless cultural and religious conflict. All in the name of so-called individual choice, moral inertia, righteous path, free will and personal taste.

Rex’s finger slid sideways to hang over the activation switch. He held his breath. It took two human-sized seconds for the switch to sense Rex’s body heat and electrical charge. It activated and the deed was complete.

The pressure eased off Rex’s shoulders. And the World? It was transformed forever.

 

 

 

The only future certainty is taxes…

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In the future, medical advances and biotechnology might prevent death. But not the need for taxes.

This week I read a small but interesting tax article by Andrew Sentence (senior economic advisor at Price Waterhouse Coopers), in a column in the morning edition of the City Newspaper (London). In the article, Sentence highlighted that UK taxes on income and national insurance make up nearly half of tax revenues. Also that the combined burden of (labour-related) national insurance on employers and employees at 13.8% and 12% respectively, was higher than the 20% income tax rate on corporate profits.

Meanwhile the combination of UK Council taxes, business rates, stamp duty, inheritance tax and capital gains tax, levied on property values or wealth, raises only about 12% of total tax revenues.

The basic message of the article, was that the UK government needed to reform the tax system. And that it was time for George Osborne (UK Chancellor of the Exchequer) to make his mark as a tax reformer.

I couldn’t agree more. There’s little doubt that the UK Government desperately needs the quantum of all those taxes, to balance the annual Budget (income less infrastructure and other spending)  and pay down some of the £1.5 Trillion of legacy debt. The mix of taxes and the relative emphasis is the problem. The mix problem will only grow bigger, as companies invest further in automation and eliminate human jobs too.

To elaborate, as we further enter the age of Big Data, robotics, artificial intelligence and global trade, tax types and tax rates will have to change radically, else the social cohesiveness that we struggle to maintain at present, will be swept aside on a tide of conflict and protest.

The owners of ‘automated capital’ exploit various enterprise incentives and legal trading structures to minimise their corporate profits liable for corporate tax. They also continue to make economically-rational decisions to ‘offshore’ labour costs. Or replace labour with 24/7 automation, laying off human jobs in the process. The only way soften the social impacts of these changes is to more effectively tax the property purchases that such profits are invested in. And perhaps reform VAT to a much higher rate on luxury products than the standard 20% rate at present.

Say I’m right on this (current blue, pink and white collar jobs disappearing at a faster rate than future high-tech job are being created and in different regions of the World too). Where is the lobby group at present in the Western World to lobby effectively for the necessary tax reforms before it’s too late?

The emerging generation of school leavers has the most to lose from the forthcoming automation changes, with their entire working life ahead of them. They need to use their electoral votes wisely. And form a tax reform political party if necessary. The alternative is society facing soaring insurance costs, greater legal costs, a rising crime wave and serious inter-generational resentment.

Labour forces

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The biggest benefit from organised labour membership is in buying time to invest in retraining. It’s no longer protection from workplace change, or insurance against change.

If wages are being pushed down because the race for automation is being run faster than the race to increase worker productivity, or the race to protect markets from global trade, retrain in something requiring human knowledge, ingenuity, human empathy or personal consultancy, that cannot easily be relocated offshore. An example of each is as follows: cleaner, university researcher, social worker, management consultant.

The owners of businesses likely aren’t interested in choosing between a small number of staff with a union-won set of conditions versus a large labour pool of un-unionised job applicants. Instead, their dilemma is how fast to invest in fully-automated business models.

School teachers may become an endangered species, if it becomes easier for students to gain knowledge directly and cut out the middleman. Future employers will only care about the education standard reached and the relevance to their customers, not the way a school subject was taught.

Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap…

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Age creates a World full of contradictions,

That Youth can make no sense of,

And Age cannot explain.

 

We all want less deprivation, cleaner air,

Universal excitement and human dignity,

But aren’t smart enough to achieve it.

 

Like a vast discount supermarket, full of stock,

Where far too many goods, cover too few real needs,

And too many products jostling for attention,

Have long exceeded their useful shelf-life in the World.

 

As artificial night follows natural day,

Future value will attach to the digital services,

That no one understands how to create, only to consume,

And the synthetic biology of 3D printers,

Designed by self-organising software programmes,

Slowly replaces the handmade shop goods of yesteryear.