Sunday, March 18, 2012

competing visions of a computer-controlled future

Spiegel | Federico Faggin has lived in the United States for more than 40 years, but he's still living la dolce vita in classic Italian style in his magnificent house on the edge of Silicon Valley. The elderly Faggin answers the phone with a loud "pronto" and serves wine and antipasti to guests. Everything about him is authentic. The only artificial thing in Faggin's world is what he calls his "baby." It has 16 feet -- eight on each side -- and sits wrapped in cotton in a cigarette case.

About four decades ago, Faggin was one of the first employees at Intel when he and his team developed the world's first mass-produced microprocessor, the component that would become the heart of the modern era. Computer systems are ubiquitous today. They control everything, from mobile phones to Airbus aircraft to nuclear power plants. Faggin's tiny creation made new industries possible, and he has played a key role in the progress of the last few decades. But even the man who triggered this massive revolution is slowly beginning to question its consequences.

"We are experiencing the dawn of a new age," Faggin says. "Companies like Google and Facebook are nothing but a series of microprocessors, while man is becoming a marginal figure."

The Worrying Speed of Progress
This week, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Google chairman Eric Schmidt opened CeBIT -- the digital industry's most important annual trade fair -- in the northern German city of Hanover, there was a lot of talk of the mobile Internet once again, of "cloud computing," of "consumer electronics" and of "connected products." The overarching motto of this convention is "Trust" -- in the safety of technology, in progress and in the pace at which progress unfolds.

This effort to build trust seems more necessary than ever, now that those who place their confidence in progress are being joined by skeptics who also see something dangerous about the rapid pace of development.

In his book "The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future," American computer scientist Martin Ford paints a grim picture. He argues that the power of computers is growing so quickly that they will be capable of operating with absolutely no human involvement at some point in the future. Ford believes that 75-percent unemployment is a possibility before the end of the century.

"Economic progress ultimately signifies the ability to produce things at a lower financial cost and with less labor than in the past," says Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. As a result, he says, increasing effectiveness goes hand in hand with rising unemployment, and the unemployed merely become "human waste."

Likewise, in their book "Race Against the Machine," Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), argue that, for the first time in its history, technological progress is creating more jobs for computers than for people.


umbrarchist said...

The problem is we think in terms of employment instead of wealth.  Employment is about the peons making the wealthy more wealthy.

The fact that double-entry accounting is not even suggested  as being mandatory for the majority of people means that the people at the top CANNOT BE TRUSTED.

Tom said...

OH, double entry my hiney, Umbra!

People don't know how to prepare or read simple financial statements: family P&L or balance sheets.  What is the need for that double-entry nightmare, for anyone who doesn't earn a living as a bookkeeper?

umbrarchist said...

 Why is double-entry a nightmare when computers cost $150?

But there is still the problem of understanding what is going on.  Why is it any worse than 4 years of English literature in high school?  It is really nothing but an error checking system.  Most families make fewer than 20 transactions per day.  It should not be a big deal.

But our lords and masters don't mention what we all lose in depreciation every year.  Somehow that planned obsolescence does not come up either.

The Accounting Game: Basic Accounting Fresh From the Lemonade Stand

CNu said...

I've got a Palo Alto firewall coming in tomorrow so's I can get a first hand view of what and how a state of the art firewall do what it do.

Between what I already know and depend upon with virtualization in the data center, with software defined networking coming down the pike, shiiiiiitttt......., I don't give a rats patootie about what these silly, smelly humans know or don't know how to do

Tom said...

"these humans"

CNu my bedtime reading w/ the kid has been alternating between Greek & Hopi mythology.  They're both hilariously incomprehensible at times, but there's at least one consistent point: when the God-dude/God-chick is speaking to our hero, everything goes great for hime.  When not, he tends to experience some setbacks.    

Your humanity may reinstate itself at any time without notice, so be careful how you categorize us down here on the ground!

Tom said...

And by "people" I just mean attorneys, doctors, scientists, architects, and "non-profit strategy consultants."  God only knows what the meth/trailer contingent is doing with whatever money they have left after buying bullets to shoot at cops.

CNu said...

 I was watching Star Wars Clone Wars the other night, and in this newest episode, Darth Maul, was "resurrected". Of course, he's obsessed with vindicating himself on Ben Kenobi who cut him in half on Tattooine after he killed Kwai Gon Djinn - Maul and his brother Savage beat the hell out of Obi Wan - and Obi could never get in sync with the force so busy was he taking blows from these two horn head devils.

It was a perfect "abba, abba, why dost thou forsake me" moment, given the Jedi dependence on 4th dimensional cognition. Cain't get your mind up off the cube into the hypercube, so much for your vaunted command of the force.

Interestingly, many years ago, it occurred to me that if a subset of these humans had stably acquired cognition off the cube, and all that that entails, might'nt they go to some lengths to keep the other humans from joining them? Much as we use firewalls and blackhole DNS and a whole host of other measures to prevent clever humans from having open access to our data?

jes sayyin....., mebbe the situation a whole lot simpler than most folk are inclined to think....,

Tom said...

It's an interesting idea.  I remember thinking, too many years back to recall clearly, that a lot of info on the Gnostics gave the feeling of being behind a firewall.  

Dale Asberry said...

Another creature comes to mind... yeast!

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