Image: tristan quinn / bbc
By Jamie Bartlett2017-08-06 16:55:52 UTC
Until a couple of years ago, Antonio Garcia Martinez was living the dream life: a tech-start up guy in Silicon Valley, surrounded by hip young millionaires and open plan offices.
He'd sold his online ad company to Twitter for a small fortune, and was working as a senior exec at Facebook (an experience he wrote up in his best-selling book, Chaos Monkeys). But at some point in 2015, he looked into the not-too-distant future and saw a very bleak world, one that was nothing like the polished utopia of connectivity and total information promised by his colleagues.
"Ive seen whats coming," he told me when I visited him recently for BBC Twos Secrets of Silicon Valley. "And its a big self-driving truck thats about to run over this economy."
Antonio is worried about where modern technology especially the twin forces of automation and artificial intelligence is taking us. He thinks its developing much faster than people outside Silicon Valley realize, and were on the cusp of another industrial revolution that will rip through the economy and destroy millions of jobs.
"Every time I meet someone from outside Silicon Valley a normy I can think of 10 companies that are working madly to put that person out of a job."
Antonio estimates that within 30 years, half of us will be jobless. "Things could get ugly," he told me. Its very scary, I think we could have some very dark days ahead of us."
Think of the miners strike, but in every industry. People could be be driven to the streets, he fears, and in America at least, those people have guns. Law and order could break down, he says, maybe there will be some kind of violent revolution.
So, just passing 40, Antonio decided he needed some form of getaway, a place to escape if things turn sour. He now lives most of his life on a small Island called Orcas off the coast of Washington State, on five Walt Whitman acres that are only accessible by 4x4 via a bumpy dirt path that just about cuts through densely packed trees.
Instead of gleaming glass buildings and tastefully exposed brick, his new arrangements include: a tepee, a building plot, some guns, 5.56mm rounds, a compost toilet, a generator, wires, and soon-to-be-installed solar panels. It feels a million miles from his old stomping ground.
Former Facebook executive Antonio Garcia Martinez at his remote island hideout, ready in case automation causes social breakdown
Image: tristan quinn / bbc
Antonio isnt the only tech entrepreneur wondering if were clicking and swiping our way to dystopia. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and influential investor, told The New Yorker earlier this year that around half of all Silicon Valley billionaires have some degree of apocalypse insurance. Pay-Pal co-founder and influential venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently bought a 477-acre bolthole in New Zealand, and became a kiwi national to boot.
Others are getting together in secret Facebook groups to discuss survivalism tactics: helicopters, bomb-proofing, gold. Its not all driven by fears about technology terrorism, natural disasters, and pandemics also feature but much is.
According to Antonio, many tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are just as pessimistic as he is about the future theyre building. They dont say it in public of course, because whats the point. Its inevitable, they say; technology cant be stopped. Its a force of nature.
Even just a couple of years ago, this would have sounded like just another exhibit in the long-tradition of American dystopian paranoia. But the robot jobs apocalypse argument is starting to sound more reasonable by the day.
"Ive seen whats coming, and its a big self-driving truck thats about to run over this economy."
The Economist, MIT Review, and Harvard Business Review have all recently published articles about how the economy is on the brink of transformation. President Obamas team suggested driverless cars would dispense with 3 million jobs pretty soon. According to the Bank of England, as many as 15 million British jobs might disappear within a generation.
I blame Hollywood for our lack of preparedness. Thanks to Blade Runner, Terminator, Ex Machina and the rest, artificial intelligence is now synonymous with sentient robots taking our jobs, our women, or our lives. Forget all that.
The A.I. revolution comes in the less sexy form of machine learning algorithms, which essentially means giving a machine lots of examples from which it can learn how to mimic human behaviour. It relies on data to improve, which creates a powerful feedback loop: more data fed in makes it smarter, which allows it to make more sense of any new data, which makes it smarter, and on and on and on.
Antonio thinks were entering into this sort of feedback loop. Over the last year or so, various forms of machine learning technology, teamed up with robotics, are making inroads into brick-laying, fruit-picking, burger-flipping, banking, trading, and driving. Even, heaven forbid, journalism and photography. Every year will bring more depressing news of things machines are better than us at.
New technology in the past has tended to increase markets and jobs. In the last industrial revolution, machinery freed up humans from physical tasks, allowing us to focus on mental ones. But this time, A.I. might have both covered.
Machine learning can, for example, already outperform the best doctors at diagnosing illness from CT scans, by running through millions of correct and thousands of incorrect examples real life doctors have produced over the years. Potentially no industry will be untouched.
Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, 27 year old founder of Starsky Robotics who are using $5 million of investment to develop self driving trucks.
Image: tristan quinn / bbc
The latest wave of machine learning is even smarter. It involves teaching machines to solve problems for themselves rather than just feeding them examples, by setting out rules and letting them get on with it. This has had particularly promising results when training neural networks (networks of artificial neurons that behave a little like real ones), using an approach called deep learning.
Recently, some neural network chatbots from Facebook were revealed to have gone rogue and invented their own language, before researchers shut them off. These simple chatbots were given a load of examples to spot basic patterns in human communication, and then conversed with themselves millions of times in order to figure out how negotiate with humans. What followed appeared as a stream of nonsense:
Bob: i can i i everything else.
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me
No human, with the possible exception of one Chuckle Brother, talks like this. But the failed experiment proved an important point. It seems these chatbots had calculated, within the parameters of their task, and without human intervention, a more efficient way of negotiating. This is the essence of deep learning: coming up with new ways to tackle problems that are beyond us.
In the same week, Elon Musk (who believes A.I. is a great threat to humanity) and Mark Zuckerberg (who does not) got into a public row about the risks of letting A.I. like this loose. Zuck said Musk was irresponsible. Musk said Zuck's understanding of the subject was 'limited.' But this misses the point.
A.I. is not about to go Skynet on us. These chatbots hadnt developed some sinister secret language. But mega-efficiency or neural network problem solving might be just as disruptive. True, some of the recent fear about the coming age of the robots is probably overdone. Were not all about to be turfed out by bots. And weve always had disruption: people were warning about a jobless economy 50 years ago too. Weve always found new jobs, and new ways to entertain ourselves.
Around half of all Silicon Valley billionaires have some degree of apocalypse insurance.
Let's not forget the wonders of A.I., such as dramatically improving how doctors diagnose, which will certainly save lives. It will stimulate all sorts of exciting new research areas. Replacing people with machines will have other benefits, too: driverless lorries would almost certainly be safer than exhausted driver-full ones.
The most likely scenario, reckons Antonio, is a gradual dislocation of the economy and an accompanying escalation of unrest. David Autor, an MIT economist, reckons we could be heading toward a bar-belled shaped economy.
There will be a few lucrative tech jobs at the top of the market, but many of the middling jobs trucking, manufacturing will wither away. They will be replaced by jobs that cant be automated, in the low paid service sector. Maybe there will be new jobs who imagined app developer would be a profession but will they be the same sort of jobs? Will they be in the same places, or clustered together in already well-off cities?
Drivers alone taxi or truckers make up around 17 percent of the U.S. adult work force. Taxis are often the first jobs for newly arrived, low-skilled migrants; trucking is one of the reasonably well-paid jobs for Americans that are not highly educated. What are they going to do instead? Are the cashier operators, and burger flippers going to retrain overnight, and become software developers and poets?
At the very least it seems economic and social disruption and turbulence as we muddle through are likely. The whole shape of the economy could change too. Some worry about the possibility of growing inequality between the tech-innovators who own all the tech assets and the rest of us. A world where you either work for the machines or the machines work for you.
What does that mean for peoples sense of fairness or agency or well-being? Or the ability of governments to raise taxes? The Silicon Valley survivalists fear that, if this happens, people will look for scapegoats. And they might decide that techies are it.
Jamie Bartlett outside Apples new $5 billion HQ
Image: Tristan quinn / bbc
One of the questions I asked as part of this programme is whether we are prepared. We dont even know how little we know; and our politicians seem to know even less. I found one mention of artificial intelligence in the 2017 party manifestos.
When asked recently about the future of artificial intelligence and automation, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin replied that its not even on our radar screen and that hes not worried at all. A couple of months back his boss climbed into a huge rig wearing an I love trucks badge, just as nearly everyone in Silicon Valley agreed that the industry was about to be decimated.
Antonio told me in the race between technology and politics the technologists are winning. They will destroy jobs and economies before we even react to them.
Still, guns and solar panels? Survivalism seems like overkill to me. "What do you have?" Antonio asks, fiddling around with a tape measure outside his giant tepee. "Youre just betting that it doesnt happen."
Before I can answer, he tells precisely me what I have: "You have hope, thats what you have. Hope. And hope is a shitty hedge."
Read the original here:
- What To Make Of The Mysterious Melania Trump - Worldcrunch - July 21st, 2020
- 'The Office:' How the Jim-and-Dwight Rivalry Impacted the Actors' Offscreen Relationship - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - July 21st, 2020
- What Does Al-Qaeda Tell Us About The Base? - The Defense Post - July 21st, 2020
- The 12 Best Zombie Movies of All Time - Men's Health - July 8th, 2020
- Inside the luxury nuclear bunker protecting the mega-rich from the apocalypse - CNET - July 8th, 2020
- Leader of ultra-right militia The Three Percenters General BloodAgent predicts end of America by 2021 and warns of new civil war - RT - July 8th, 2020
- Coronavirus and the Culture Wars - PopMatters - July 8th, 2020
- The Rose | by Ben Lerner - The New York Review of Books - July 8th, 2020
- VICE - Armed Man Who Allegedly Stormed Justin Trudeau's Residence Appears to Have Posted QAnon Content - VICE - July 8th, 2020
- Military Veterans and the Boogaloo Bois Explained - Connecting Vets - June 20th, 2020
- Return to your roots: Gardening a great solution to cope with stress of pandemic - The Independent - May 24th, 2020
- Else Blangsted, Who Fled the Nazis and Found a Hollywood Ending, Dies at 99 - The New York Times - May 24th, 2020
- Inside ultra-luxurious disaster survival kits where super-rich can pay 4k for night vision goggles and posh - The Sun - May 24th, 2020
- Far More Valuable Than a Stockpile of Food and Money - Investment U - May 19th, 2020
- Eat this Now (Because You Have to): Terrible Homemade Bread - Kansas City Pitch - May 15th, 2020
- Survivor Is the Quintessential TV Show - The Ringer - May 15th, 2020
- Documentary shows life in the 'Biosphere' wasn't out of this world - Arlington Catholic Herald - May 15th, 2020
- I didn't think a pandemic would bring out the domestic goddess in me - Metro.co.uk - May 11th, 2020
- How to avoid the end times - The Japan Times - March 24th, 2020
- Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon? (Part Two) - CounterPunch - February 27th, 2020
- Veteran Analyst Warns of XRP Crash to $0.20 as Price Stumbles - Ethereum World News - February 27th, 2020
- XRP Could Be on Verge of Explosive Breakout Higher, Taking It 100% Higher - Ethereum World News - February 27th, 2020
- XRP Just Flipped a Key Resistance Into Support: Why This is Bullish - Ethereum World News - February 27th, 2020
- Ripple Is On The Verge Of A New Rally According To Analysts - Somag News - February 27th, 2020
- West Ham need something drastic to kickstart a revival they might not get it in the Premier League - FourFourTwo - January 25th, 2020
- Lost in Space Season 3 Releasing on Netflix and Dr. Smith Will Return - Honk News - January 25th, 2020
- When Is Lost In Space Season 3 Coming Out On Netflix And Dr. Smith Returning Possibilities - The Digital Wise - January 25th, 2020
- The Best And Worst Of WWE NXT 1/15/20: Survivalism - UPROXX - January 18th, 2020
- Bitcoin Indicator That Called Rally to $14000 Flashes Again - BTCNN - January 18th, 2020
- Bitcoin just cracked $8,500, and it means bulls are taking control - CryptoSlate - January 18th, 2020
- Ethereum Forms a Bearish Rejection Just Below a Key Resistance Level - Ethereum World News - January 18th, 2020
- The Explosion In This One Metric Is Bullish for Bitcoins Price - Ethereum World News - January 18th, 2020
- Why An Analyst Thinks XRP Price Has Further to Fall - Ethereum World News - January 18th, 2020
- Would a Virginia bill really ban dads from teaching sons how to use hunting rifles? - PolitiFact - December 18th, 2019
- Amazon's holiday gift to Orlando's sci-fi fans is a revitalized season of 'The Expanse' - Orlando Weekly - December 13th, 2019
- Market Experts Weigh in on the Next Major Mergers & Acquisitions in Media - Observer - November 21st, 2019
- A brief history of John Krasinski's transformation into a guy who absolutely loves the CIA - Business Insider - November 21st, 2019
- Richard Tobin of Brooklawn accused of conspiring to initimidate minorities - Courier Post - November 21st, 2019
- The Terminator Created a New Kind of Hero With Kyle Reese - Yahoo Entertainment - October 27th, 2019
- Bitcoin Might Head To The $6,000 Region In The Near-Term According to Wyckoff Logic - ZyCrypto - October 17th, 2019
- Low Tide Review: The Goonies Meets The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in Sharp Coming-of-Age Thriller - IndieWire - October 4th, 2019
- As the climate collapses, we can either stand together or perish alone - The Guardian - October 4th, 2019
- Gary K. Wolfe Reviews Trapped in the R.A.W., A Journal of My Experiences during the Great Invasion by Kaylee Bearovna by Kate Boyes - Locus Online - October 4th, 2019
- Oregon 'Hate Map' Reveals 11 Racist, Separatist Hate Groups In The State - Patch.com - August 18th, 2017
- Doomsday Desperation - Southern Poverty Law Center - August 18th, 2017
- 'American Made' Review: Tom Cruise Flies Between Comedy and Tension, Missing Both - TheWrap - August 18th, 2017
- North Korea: Nuclear War Fears Spur Sales of Preparedness Goods ... - Fortune - August 14th, 2017
- For Doomsday Preppers, the End of the World Is Good for Business - New York Times - August 13th, 2017
- Film Review: Good Time - Consequence of Sound (blog) - August 13th, 2017
- What I Learned From the Neo-Nazi in My Prison Book Club | The ... - The Marshall Project - August 11th, 2017
- Nine Inch Nails - Webster Hall, New York City - Gigs - Reviews ... - Soundblab - August 11th, 2017
- Film Review: The Glass Castle Fails on Almost Every Level - Splice Today - August 11th, 2017
- If North Korea targets Guam, how should the US respond? - Fox News - August 11th, 2017
- Naked - slantmagazine - August 10th, 2017
- Noir Thriller Wind River Examines An Ignored America - Willamette Week - August 10th, 2017
- Review: Nolan's 'Dunkirk' is as Riveting as it is Groundbreaking - First Showing (blog) - July 23rd, 2017
- Do you Have What it Takes to be a Christian Survivalist? - CBN News - July 19th, 2017
- Morning Star :: No growth but lots of opportunities | The People's Daily - Morning Star Online - July 19th, 2017
- 'War for the Planet of the Apes' Review: Finale of biblical proportions - Rappler - July 18th, 2017
- Queued Up: 'The Lego Batman Movie,' 'XX,' 'Logan,' and More - Aquarian Weekly - July 12th, 2017
- Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes - Consequence of Sound (blog) - July 11th, 2017
- Review: Paranoia thriller It Comes At Night is impressively tense and ... - Norfolk Eastern Daily Press - July 8th, 2017
- Review: Paranoia thriller It Comes At Night is impressively tense and ineffably creepy - Norwich Evening News - July 8th, 2017
- DJ CherishTheLuv, Music Missionary - HuffPost - June 30th, 2017
- What it Means to Finish Pikes Peak + Results - Hot Rod Network - Hot Rod Network - June 29th, 2017
- 'It Comes at Night' a Spellbinding Tale of Family and Survival - Shepherd Express - June 29th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - Charleston Express - June 26th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - Arkansas News - June 25th, 2017
- Where billionaires are stockpiling land for the apocalypse: Map - The Real Deal Magazine - June 19th, 2017
- Map reveals where billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse - Business Insider Nordic - June 17th, 2017
- Map reveals where billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse - SFGate - June 15th, 2017
- Billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse here's where they're going - The Advocate - June 15th, 2017
- Next "Far Cry" video game is set in Montana - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana - KRTV Great Falls News - June 11th, 2017
- Veteran teaches disaster preparation skills at Heights library - The Killeen Daily Herald - June 10th, 2017
- It Comes At Night stars on survivalism, the apocalypse - WDEF News 12 - June 9th, 2017
- Recently unveiled documents reveal anarchist strand festered at Evergreen for nearly a decade - The College Fix - June 9th, 2017
- Margaret Atwood on the utopias hiding inside her dystopias and why there is no the future - Vox - June 9th, 2017
- Humanity 2.0: The Unstoppability of Singularity - HuffPost - June 8th, 2017
- Upcoming "Far Cry" video game is set in Montana - KTVQ Billings News - June 6th, 2017
- Survivalist shares experience in Harker Heights - The Killeen Daily Herald - June 5th, 2017