Thursday, November 14, 2013

Rise of the Machines

Tyler Cowen, Isaac Asimov, and Our Libertarian Future.

Interesting throughout, but FWIW, I don't buy his takeaway.

In Asimov’s tale, set in November 2008, democratic elections have become nearly obsolete. A mysterious supercomputer said to be “half a mile long and three stories high,” named Multivac, absorbs most of the current information about economic and political conditions and estimates which candidate is going to win. The machine, however, can’t quite do the job on its own, as there are some ineffable social influences it cannot measure and evaluate. So Multivac picks out one “representative” person from the electorate to ask about the country’s mood (sample query: “What do you think of the price of eggs?”). The answers, when combined with the initial computer diagnosis, suffice to settle the election. No one actually needs to vote.

Asimov was on to something: American political campaigns have indeed become extraordinarily sophisticated data-mining operations driven by smart computers, harvesting and sifting through vast virtual warehouses of demographic information and consumer preferences to manipulate and shape the electorate. They may not do the voting for us, but this new generation of intelligent machines can do just about everything else. And when it comes to humans actually casting their ballots, well, we hardly are surprised by the results: Computer-powered data jocks such as Nate Silver can predict the outcomes of most races and often the margins of victory as well. We’re not too far off from the world of Asimov’s protagonist, an Indiana department-store clerk dragooned into being America’s lone “voter.” “From the way your brain and heart and hormones and sweat glands work, Multivac can judge exactly how intensely you feel about the matter,” the machine operators tell him. “It will understand your feelings better than you yourself.” ...

The rise of intelligent machines will spawn new ideologies along with the new economy it is creating. Think of it as a kind of digital social Darwinism, with clear winners and losers: Those with the talent and skills to work seamlessly with technology and compete in the global marketplace are increasingly rewarded, while those whose jobs can just as easily be done by foreigners, robots or a few thousand lines of code suffer accordingly. This split is already evident in the data: The median male salary in the United States was higher in 1969 than it is today. Middle-class manufacturing jobs have been going away due to a mix of automation and trade, and they are not being replaced. The most lucrative college majors are in the technical fields, such as engineering. The winners are doing much better than ever before, but many others are standing still or even seeing wage declines.

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He imagines this elect will be 15%. I say, try something in the range 0.1% to 0.0%