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Letter from an economist
Your book is very interesting, and I congratulate you on your perseverance and dedication. Although I haven't had time to read the book fully, I have read large sections (probably around 60% of the book) and I see where you're going and what you're saying.
I really just want to pull you up about one of your central ideas - your belief that replacing humans with software in jobs such as medicine and other professions will result in mass unemployment. I have two problems with this idea and I don't see how you have tried to get round them.
Firstly, automating jobs makes companies, and therefore the economy, the country, and the world, a more efficient (i.e richer) place. When Mr. Ford produced his automated motor production line back in the 1930s, he didn't put people out of work. On the contrary, he allowed the purchasers of his cheap vehicles access to a much larger job market. He also massively expanded the market - had he not automated the process, cars would have remained out of reach to 99% of the U.S. populace and the supporting industries of, for instance, car maintenance and second hand dealerships would not have existed.
When British call centre jobs are automated (annoying as those touch tone robot voices may be), people may find that they are temporarily out of work, but the move results in a net gain to the British economy due to large cost savings to companies and consumers, thus job prospects improve. My own mother refuses to deal with companies that have automated call centres, as she believes this puts people out of work. She seems unaware that U.K. unemployment is at its lowest in history, despite the ever increasing automation of many simple jobs. And don't forget that higher company profits on the back of these efficiencies means higher tax receipts for governments.
To summarise my first point, automation makes products and services cheaper, increases corporate profits, reduces costs to consumers, enriches governments and countries, and provides new and often unexpected job opportunities.
Secondly, companies have no interest in putting large swathes of the population out of work. They simply wouldn't have any customers if this were to happen. There is therefore a mechanism in-built in a capitalist economy which would prevent the situation going beyond a sustainable level (if there ever could arise such a situation, which is unlikely if you accept my first point).
As for one of your other principal ideas, that machines will develop beyond our intelligence and will therefore be beyond our control, I'm afraid you haven't fully convinced me, although you've done better on this than on the economic theory front. Not being a software expert (I'm in finance and economics), I suppose I can't demolish your arguments so easily, however it struck me as I read through your book that the pocket calculator I was using at that moment to carry out some calculations was a lot smarter than I am at multiplying numbers, but I have to say the sight of the little machine on my desk doesn't exactly fill me with dread. Even if it were able to learn, it wouldn't have any physical needs or desires, any emotional attachments, or any form of psychosis. These tend to be at the root of most human monsters, and without them, even with great intelligence, I just can't see how any machine or software could be in itself a threat.
I think the greatest danger we face as a species is the misuse of technology by humans. History backs me up on this - look at nuclear weapons, guns, computer virii, cloning, and many other instances of technological breakthroughs being misused. How this can be countered is anyone's guess, but global democracy and complete international co-operation would help. Of course that would require an advanced global telecommunications infrastructure, which you arte not exactly advocating!
Anyway, I thank you for your contribution, and I enjoyed reading your very thoughtful book.
I come across this type of thinking all the time, my response, I don't think this guy has managed to quite get his head around just how powerful this technology will be. This technology as I have mentioned before, is not some new golden market for investors, it will not create lucrative secondary markets for large sections of the worlds workforce. White collar workers replaced blue collar. Nanotech as Drexler sees it, could almost in theory completely replace blue collar workers, especially in the manufacturing sector, so this leaves the white collar jobs, which as I see it, smart machines and software will replace, so what's left?
Companies and governments won't allow it, to put large sections of the community out of work?
My answer - this technologies impact will be beyond their control, they will have no choice.
inevitable once you understand the technology
and the path we have been on, for quite some time.
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