Tag Archives: robots

Film review – Ex Machina

Main cast

Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb

Alicia Vikander as Ava

Oscar Isaac as Nathan

Sonoya  Mizuno as Kyoko

Directed by Alex Garland

This is yet another film exploring the potential of digital technology to radically change our lives. The  subject  here is the relationship between advanced humanoid robots and humans, but with a twist, namely,  can sexual attraction arise between a human and a robot and can that attraction move on to something resembling deep emotional attachment?

The basic  plot is simple. A young  computer coder, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) thinks he has won a competition at his workplace, the prize being  a week  on an isolated  research station with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the boss of  the company for whom Caleb works.   In fact, there is no competition and he has been chosen simply as an experimental subject.

When Caleb reaches the research station he finds it occupied  by  Nathan and what he thinks is a female  Asian servant  Kyoto.   There are no other people on the research station. In fact there are only two humans for Kyoto is a robot.

Nathan asks  Caleb to  perform a Turing test. The classical version of  the test  consists of a human interacting with an artificial intelligence (AI) without knowing whether they are dealing with an AI or another human being.  The test is passed if  the human is convinced the AI is human. But this is a Turing test  with a twist.   Caleb knows what he is dealing with, a humanoid robot called  Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Caleb’s ostensible task is to see whether Ava convinces as a human interlocutor, despite the fact that he knows she is a machine.    But his real function is to see how readily  a human being will accept a machine that he or she  knows to be a machine  as a quasi-human being, or at least an intelligence which a human can relate to  as they would relate to another human being.

To make matters more complicated  Ava is physically  portrayed  as  a machine.   She , for want of a better word, is humanoid, but her  non-human   status is made only too visible with every part of her but  the  face, hands and feet  being   rather obviously  those  of a robot rather than a human,  for example, by having some of her machine components nakedly exposed.   As a further barrier to emotional involvement  there is no physical contact between Caleb and Ava because  a transparent screen separates  them.

As the film progresses Ava becomes more and more human to Caleb not only because of the developing relationship between the two f, but in the  way Ava  presents herself physically. She puts a wig over her skull and wears a dress which obscures her machine structure.  With these accoutrements she resembles an attractive woman.

That Caleb should develop  an emotional relationship with Ava is extremely plausible. Just think of the emotional investment that people make in their pets. Reflect on the habit  humans often  have of adorning inanimate objects with some of the qualities of they respond to in humans and animals or on their  sentimental attachment to objects which are associated with those they care about or of events which are important to them.  Humans have a strong innate desire to form  relationships with the external world.   That they might form  deep emotional relationships  with intelligent machines is utterly believable.  (The recent film Her which featured a highly intelligent operating system forming a relationship its male owner covers exactly this ground.)

Caleb learns  more and more about what is going on. He discovers  that Kyoto is a robot and  sees  unanimated bodies of earlier model robots. He finds out that he did not win a competition but was chosen by  Nathan not for his IT skills but for his personality and personal  circumstances, for example, Caleb  is heterosexual and   single (which makes him vulnerable to female attention). Nathan  has also used  developed Ava to appeal to Caleb by basing  Ava’s general physical appearance on Caleb’s  Internet  pornography searches to make her attractive to Caleb.

Caleb is fascinated by Nathan’s AI techniques but disturbed the way he  is being manipulated. After he has already become seriously  emotionally involved with Ava, he  is naturally upset when Nathan tells him that if Ava fails the Turing test  she will  be updated  with her memory wiped. This  will destroy her as the  personality he knows, in fact, be the AI equivalent of death.  Consequently,   Caleb plots with Ava for the pair of them to escape .  In fact, this is the  real  Turing test which Nathan has devised, namely to see if Ava can be convincingly human enough to trick Caleb into helping her escape, an escape Nathan smugly but wrongly believes is impossible.

Ava makes choices for herself in a way which is both human and inhuman. Her final actions at the research centre would be seen as  psychopathic  in a human because she single-mindedly seeks  her ends without regard to what she has to do to attain them. Ava  has  manipulated Caleb without any emotional  investment on her part.  But at the same time she has  a fundamental  component of consciousness, namely, her  own  desired ends  which go beyond mere mechanical programming. Ava wants to escape to satisfy her curiosity as well as to retain her existence as Ava.  She is not a quasi-human but something new, neither insensate machine nor  organic life.

The film ends with Ava showing what a difference there is between a machine intelligence and a human one. Caleb does not escape nor Nathan live to see the end of his experiment. Only Ava  leaves the research station and leaves it without any sense of loss or shame at her betrayal of Caleb.  But because the character is a robot her behaviour does not seem heinous as it would do in a human. It merely seems as innocent of blame as a predatory animal killing its prey.

The performances of  Gleeson, Isaacs and Vikander are all strong, not least because the film is very well cast. . Gleeson has an  appropriately  shambling geekiness  and clumsiness in his relationship with other people and   Isaac is a  dominant brooding psychopathic  presence.   But the real star  is Vikander . She  is weirdly convincing as a being who is at least half the way to being human.   Her realisation of the role  makes the robot flicker in and out of her performance. Vikander, a professional dancer, gives Ava a fluid grace of moment which does not seem quite natural; she speaks in a pleasantly modulated and controlled way but with little variation of emotion; her face is not expressionless but there is a very  restricted range of expression. The overall effect is of an  ethereal other-worldly being. The film is worth seeing for her performance alone.

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Robotics and the real (sorry, Karl, you got it wrong) final crisis of capitalism

Robert Henderson

Humans and Robots

Robotics is advancing rapidly. Probably within the lifetime of most people now living – and conceivably within the next ten years – there will be general purpose robots (GPRs) capable of doing the vast majority of the work now undertaken by human beings. When that happens international free trade and free market economics even within a closed domestic market will become untenable.  The final crisis of capitalism will be the development of technology so advanced that it makes capitalism in the Marxist sense impossible because machines make humans redundant.

Robots are already undertaking  surprisingly sophisticated work, but almost all are designed to undertake a limited range of tasks(http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/computers_math/robotics/). None is a true GPR. That makes them expensive because of the limited nature of their possible uses and the restricted production runs they can generate. Many of the most sophisticated are either one–offs or counted in single figures. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/8330246/Japanese-robot-could-be-sent-to-Space-Station.html).   A GPR will change that. They will be able to work across a wide range of tasks which will both enhance their utility and result in massive production runs. GPRs will become cheap, much cheaper than human labour.

The cost of GPRs will also fall because GPRs will sooner or later reach a stage where they can replicate one another or design and build new types of robot.  This is potentially startling in terms of what might be produced. Let us say that it takes one week for one GPR to create another. At the end of the first week you have two GPRs. At the end of the second week you have four GPRs. Let us suppose you keep on doubling up every week. In thirty three weeks you have more GPRs that the entire present population of the world. In thirty four weeks you have more than twice the population of the world. The only restrictions on production would be government curbs or a shortage of materials and energy to build and run them.

Economic history to date shows that technological advance creates new work. It may have very painful consequences for individuals whose livelihood disappears – the hand-loomweavers of the early industrial revolution are a classic example – but new opportunities for employment arise as an economy becomes more sophisticated and variegated. The hand-loom weaver found work in the new factories; the redundant western factory worker of today in a call centre. At worst they might only get a MacJob but at least it was a job.

But if the GPRs can do the MacJobs as well as the more demanding work, then there will not be any new jobs for humans, not even much supervisory work because GPRs will need little supervising, and less and less as they become ever more sophisticated. Hence, this technological advance will be like no other. GPRs will not only take away existing jobs, they will devour any new work; the easier work first, then the more complex.

The normal human response to such ideas is not reasonable scepticism, but rejection based on a refusal to accept the reality of change, a rejection expressed with ridicule along the lines of the Victorians’ response to the car:  “It will never replace the horse”. Mention robots and people commonly scoff “Science Fiction” to get rid of the matter without further debate. This type of response is natural enough because human beings, apart from disliking change, do not like to think of themselves as dispensable or redundant. Moreover, incessant propagandising by western elites has made it a received opinion of the age that work is becoming ever more demanding and requires an increasingly educated and knowledgeable workforce, something which seems to most humans to make them uniquely capable of doing the jobs of the future and, by implication, this excludes mechanisation (and robots) from the majority of future human employments.

If that were true the dominion of GPRs might be at least delayed. Unfortunately, the reality is that the large majority of modern jobs, in both the developed and developing world, are non-skilled or low skilled. Just sit and ponder how many our jobs need a great deal of intelligence or knowledge. Think of the huge numbers who are employed in call centres, shops, cafes, cleaning, driving car, on farms picking fruit and vegetables or assembling items on production lines which require no more than a repetitive task to be performed. These may be hard work but the training or innate skill required is small. Even work whose nature suggests that it is more demanding of education, training and knowledge such as much clerical work can be readily done by anyone with a reasonable facility with the 3Rs and a familiarity with basic computer operations, such as using a word processor and a search engine, something which the large majority of those in Western labour markets at least should possess. If twenty per cent of jobs in a developed country require an above average IQ or a long period of specialised training I should be surprised. In places such as India and China it will be less as they have taken on much of the repetitive factory production of the advanced world and are less inclined to substitute machines for labour, which is still by western standards very cheap.

The overproduction of graduates in both the developed and developing world is a strong indicator of the predominance of simple jobs.  In Britain there is a target of getting 50% of school-leavers to university. At present that does not look like being achieved because the figure has been stuck around 40% for years and the recent massive increase in university fees for UK students is likely to cause even that figure to drop in the future. But even with 40%, experience shows that is far too high a figure because large numbers of graduates are either unemployed or employed in jobs which do not require a degree-level education. The latest Office of National Statistics figures show 20% of recent UK graduates are without jobs, but even before the present  recession began in 2008, graduate unemployment was twice the UK unemployment average at 10.6%  (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1162). The  figures are worse than they look because graduates in employment include those in jobs for which a degree is unnecessary. In 2010 one in three new graduates were forced to take menial work  (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/article-1697466/Stop-gap-graduates-forced-into-menial-work.html).

The picture is similar elsewhere. In China there are more than six million unemployed graduates (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_37/b4194008546907.htm); the USA  had 2.4 million unemployed graduates unemployed as of June 2010  (http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/employment/2010-12-06-collegegrads06_ST_N.htm) and the Eurozone generally experiences a high level of graduate unemployment  (http://www.barcelonareporter.com/index.php?/comments/graduate_unemployment_rate_one_of_eus_highest/).  The position in less developed countries is considerably worse because the number of graduate-level jobs is meagre and often only available in government funded positions.

Employability also varies according to education below degree level.  Take the country which started the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings, Egypt, as an example. In 2011 Egyptian high-school graduates accounted for “42% of the workforce, but 80% of the unemployed.” (http://www.afripol.org/afripol/item/237-africa-middle-east-the-jobless-graduate-time-bomb.html?tmpl=component&print=1). Most startling, a 2007 report found that the rate of unemployment in Egypt is ten times higher in the educated section of the population than among illiterates. There education equals disadvantage.  (,http://www.huliq.com/29092/unemployment-in-egypt-highest-among-literate-population).

The hard truth is that most modern work requires less knowledge and skill than was required in the past. A peasant four hundred years ago had to know about his soil, his plants and animals, the seasons, the weather, where natural water was and be able to do a hundred and one practical things such as ploughing, sowing, harvesting, making and repairing of fences and ditches, using tools and turning out cheese and cream and dried meat and vegetables How many jobs today require a tenth of that volume of knowledge? Nor did more demanding work stop at peasants. A 17th century craftsman would have served a long apprenticeship. Jobs which did not require an apprenticeship would have probably required some manual skill. Those who aspired to intellectual employment had to laboriously write and amend their works rather than enjoying the immense convenience of a word processor. That and the cost of writing materials forced them to become precise in a way that virtually no one is today. Perhaps most importantly,  modern division of labour with one person doing a repetitive job was not king. A person making something four centuries ago would probably make the entire item and quite often a variety of items, for example, a 17th century blacksmith would not merely shoe horses but make a wide range of iron goods.

GPRs would arguably have much more immediate difficulty in displacing human labour in a sophisticated pre-industrial society such as England in 1600 than they would today, because of the more complex demands made by 17th century employments. The large majority of  English people in 1600 were employed on the land where subjective judgement rather than decisions made on objective facts were pre-eminent in the days before science and advanced technology entered farming. A very sophisticated GPR would be needed to make such judgements. (I am assuming that GPRs sent to England in 1600 would only have the knowledge available in 1600). Conversely, GPRs today could take over a great deal of employment in Western economies and much of the industrialised parts of the developing world, especially China, because there are so many simple jobs which would be within the capabilities of very basic GPRs.

But that is only half of the story. If most jobs are not demanding of much by way of learned skills and even less of intellect, they do need diligence. Human beings are generally more than a little reluctant to put themselves out in work which has no intrinsic interest for them or which is not very highly paid.. Most people do not have a vocation, or at least not one at which they can make a living. Left with  work which is seen as simply a livelihood, most  just want to do enough to live what they think is a comfortable life. If the job they are doing is laborious and boring and pays not a lot more than is needed to feed and clothe and house them, then it’s a certainty that they will be more than a little resentful. (An old Soviet joke about low wages ran that the communist government pretended to pay the workers and they pretended to work). Resentful equals careless equals idle equals dishonest equals loss of custom equals loss of profit. So what will an employer do when he can employ a robot instead? He will go and gets himself some GPRs which will not get awkward, do what they are told, keep working all the time without being watched, does not make regular mistakes and requires no wages or social security taxes or holidays or sick leave. And it will not be able to sue you for being a bad employer.

The GPRs will have all the capabilities of computers. They will be able to compute and model and display and manipulate data to your heart’s content. They will absorb unlimited amounts of data in the blink of an eye. You need a GPR to speak French, the GPR will speak or translate French. If you want a GPR to explain quantum mechanics, the GPR will produce a lecture by an eminent physicist. You need to fix your car, the GPR will fix your car.

Now, how could any human being compete with that? At that level they could not, but in the beginning at least there will still be a sizeable chunk of jobs which GPRs will not be able to do. These will be the jobs which cannot be reduced to quantifiable tasks; jobs which cannot be done by following an algorithm; jobs which require judgement and jobs which require motivation to achieve a complex end which is not obvious from the units of means which are required to achieve it.  But those type of jobs are only a minority of jobs, probably a small minority, perhaps 20% of the total. If the earliest GPRs could only undertake fifty per cent of the jobs which humans do that would be catastrophic. Human beings will not be able to kid themselves for long that everything is going to be all right.

There will be two further advantages enjoyed by GPRs over humans. In principle there are no limits to increases in the capabilities of GPRs; there is no such human potential in the present state of knowledge. It may be possible in the future to enhance human capabilities dramatically through genetic engineering or a marriage of human and machine to produce a cybernetic means of advancement, although in both cases the question would arise are such beings human? But for the foreseeable future there is nothing to suggest that human capacity can be raised dramatically through education and training, not least because attempts to raise IQ substantially and permanently through enhanced environments have a record of unadulterated failure over the past fifty years or more. Most tellingly, all the claims for raised IQs through enhanced environments involve people without well above average IQs. No one has claimed to have demonstrated that those with IQs of over 150 can have their IQs raised by environmental means. Nor do adult IQs increase as people experience more and learn more. That suggests humans have reached an intellectual plateau in terms of an ability to comprehend by the middle teens. With GPRs as many robots as were wanted of a certain ability uld be created.

The second advantage is that GPRs will come with a guarantee of performance. An employer gets what it says on the tin. Moreover, the performance will be consistent. Humans beings do not carry such a guarantee. The individual’s qualities only become apparent once on the job and are subject to variation according to the physical and mental wellbeing of the person.  This makes them a gamble for anyone who employs them. A faulty or rogue GPR could be repaired or replaced without moral qualms; sacking a human being raises all sorts of ethical questions and matters of sentiment.

The social and economic effects of GPRs  

When the first GPRs appear those in political authority will probably try to say everything will be all right when they are first presented with the problem. Now it might be thought that it would be pretty obvious that a GPR which could do everything the average human could do and then some would spell trouble for the human race, but it never does to underestimate the power of custom, ideology and the sheer unwillingness of human beings to face troubles which are not immediately upon them.  The tired old and worthless comparison with technological change in the past will doubtless be made, namely, that new jobs for humans will be generated by the GPRs. But that will not last long because the reality of the situation will very rapidly force elites to accept the entirely new circumstances.

There would be a dilemma for the makers and distributors of goods and services.. At first it might seem attractive to use GPRs, but as humans lose their employment and purchasing power the question for private business would be who exactly are we producing for? Very few would be the answer. For politicians the question would be how can we finance government including public services when our tax base has collapsed? The answer is we cannot as things stand.

As GPRs threaten to destroy the world’s economy, politicians will be faced with an excruciating dilemma. If GPRs are allowed free rein by governments the consequence will be a catastrophic collapse in demand as humans lose their employment en masse and an inability of the state as it is presently constituted to provide welfare to those put out of work or even to maintain the essential services of the minimalist state such as the police and army.

The situation will be pressing no matter how supposedly rich a country is because the majority of people even in the developed world are actually poor. They are only a few pay packets away from destitution (http://www.retirementsolutions.co.uk/many-britons-have-little-or-no-savings). Even those who own their own home will not be able to sell it because who will
there be to buy?

To begin with attempts will probably be made to control the crisis bureaucratically by instigating rationing and price controls. But that will not go to heart of the problem which is how do you sustain an economy in which most people are not working. In the end politicians will be faced with two choices: ban or at least seriously curb, the use of GPRs or adopt a largely non-market economy. Banning GPRs completely would create a particular problem because some countries would continue to use them and this could lead not merely to cheaper goods and services but technological leaps which exceeded anything humans could do. For example, suppose that a country produced GPRs to their fighting. A country which relied only on humans would be at a hopeless disadvantage.

The widespread banning of the use of GPRs in national territories would severely shrink international trade, because as sure as eggs are eggs not all countries would stop using GPRs  to produce items for export.  Any country using GPRs could undercut any country which banned GPRs. Protectionist barriers against countries using GPRs freely would have to be erected, although human nature being what it is, this would doubtless result in GPR products being supplied through a third country which had ostensibly banned GPR produced goods and services. The likely outcome of such a situation would be for protectionism to grow beyond the banning of GPR products to the banning of products simply because they were suspected to be GPR produced. This would also be a convenient excuse for simply banning imports.

As free trade (or more accurately freer trade) and internationalism generally has been the Holy Grail of politicians in the developed world for a generation or more, the re-embracing of protectionism and state control might seem to be a tremendous psychological blow for western political elites to accommodate.  In practice it is unlikely to give them any great emotional difficulty because elites only have one fixed principle, namely, to do what is necessary to preserve their position. Think how the British mainstream Left, most notably the Labour Party, happily embraced the idea of the market and globalism in the early 1990s after having been resolutely opposed to both only a few years before. Here is Blair in the late 1980s: “We will speak up for a country that knows the good sense of a public industry in public hands.” (The Blair Necessities p52 1988). Dearie me, who would have thought it?

The alternative to a protected economy in which GPRs are banned or severely restricted is a society in which the market is largely defunct. A perfectly rational and workable society could be created in which human beings stopped thinking they had to work to live and simply lived off the products and services the GPRs produced.  The GPRs would do the large majority of the work and the goods and services they provide would be given free to everyone whether or not they had formal employment. No GPRs would be allowed in private hands. Such a situation would mean the market would not make the choice of which goods and services were provided. Rather, the choice would be made by the consumer through an expression of what was needed or wanted before products were developed or supplied.  This could be done by anything from elected representatives to online voting by any member of a community for which goods and services should be supplied. For example, all available items could be voted from by the general population and those which were least popular dropped. The provision of proposed new lines or inventions could be similarly decided.

As for allocating who could have what in such a world, money could be issued equally to everyone in lieu of wages (a form of the social wage). Alternatively, in a more controlled society vouchers or rations cards could be issued equally to everyone for specific classes of goods. Greater flexibility could be built into the system by allowing the vouchers to be swopped between individuals, for example, a voucher for footwear swapped for food vouchers.

In such societies there would be scope for a limited use of private enterprise. People could be allowed to provide personal services, for example, entertainment, and produce goods just using human labour (human-made would gain the cachet that hand-made has now). There would also need to be some greater reward for those who occupied those jobs which still required a human to do them such as political representation, management and administration. The reward could either be material or public approbation. It would not be unreasonable to imagine that in a society where necessary work was at a premium quite a few would take on such positions for the kudos.    There could also be some legal requirement to undertake work when required.

The greatest change resulting from such a social upheaval would be the removal of most of the advantage the haves now enjoy over the have-nots. Because the vast majority of things would be provided by the state one way or another, the advantages of wealth would be greatly diminished. Those with wealth at the time the GRPs forced a change on society might still have their money, but what would they spend it on? Not the goods and services provided by society because they would be sufficient for any  individual? On the luxury goods and services offered by human-labour enterprises? Perhaps, but that would be a petty pleasure. What the rich would have lost is what they prize most, their power. They would not be able to hire other humans easily because why should anyone work as a servant when they already have the means to live? Instead they would have to live as “the little people do” (copyright Leona Helmsley). The historical experience of those with privilege relinquishing it peacefully is something of a desert, but in the circumstances of where no one has to work simply to live they would have little choice.

It would be difficult to build up a great fortune even where money remained the means of exchange, because all that would be permitted outside of socially controlled provision would be that which humans could produce without the aid of GPRs or perhaps without any form of robot, would be items which because of their means of production or provision would be expensive. This would make them luxury items. There would also be an incentive for most people not to buy them because the socially produced items would be much cheaper, in effect free because no work would have been done to earn the money to buy them. Money in such a society would have much of the quality of a voucher.

Perhaps some entertainers and artists might still command high incomes but fortunes made from business would be next to impossible. The vast fortunes made in banking and other financial service providers would not exist because financial services would become redundant in a society which has decided to provide the means of living without working for it. But like the rich generally, what would it really buy them?

Could an economic system akin to those which depended heavily on slaves not be created with GPRs taking the place of slaves which might be owned by anyone? The answer is negative. No slave society has ever relied overwhelmingly on slaves.  In slave societies there is always a good deal of free labour, both because of the scarcity and cost of slaves and the inability of owners to trust slaves to do all work or work without the supervision of free men and women. The demand created by the free part of the population through work or accumulated wealth provide the basis for a market economy in a slave-owning society. In many slave societies, slaves have acquired rights to earn money, own property and have families, all of which bolsters the demand of the free part of the population.  In the case of the GPRs, they would undertake so much of the work there would be insufficient realisable demand to sustain a market economy. There would be no point in private business using GPRs on a large scale because there would be no mass market to serve.

Who would be best placed to survive? 

It might be thought that the people best placed to survive would have been those in the least industrially developed states because they would be less dependent on machines. But the trouble is that there is scarcely a part of the world which had not been tied into the global economy. If a country does not manufacture products on a large scale, it exports food and raw materials and accepts Aid.

The fundamental trouble with Aid is not that it breaks the initiative of the recipient or props up dictators or alters traditional trading patterns or drains countries of money through everlasting interest, although all those are important features. . The killer fact is that it produces a level of population in the Third World which the Third World cannot naturally support. If the  economies of the industrial nations collapse, the Aid will stop and the market for their export of food and raw materials dry up. All of a sudden the Third World will find they cannot feed their populations and their elites will no longer have the means of maintaining order because they will not be able to finance forces to subdue and control the population.  The chaos which will ensue will be aggravated by the fact that the old economic and social relationships have been fractured so that even maintaining a population appropriate to the traditional ways of living will be problematic.

Low-wage developing countries such as China is now will be struck particularly hard because when GPRs are available their labour cost benefits will disappear.

The future

The rate at which robotics evolves will play a large part in how the story unfolds.  The speed with which GPRs replace human beings could be truly bewildering. The example of digital technology to date suggests that the stretch from a primitive GPR doing simple work which can be broken down into physical actions to a GPR with some sort of consciousness or a facsimile of what humans think of as consciousness will not be massive. Such development could well be speeded up by GPRs assisting with development as they attain more and more sophisticated abilities. The faster the development of  really sophisticated GPRs, the more chaos there is likely to be because there will be little time to plan and implement changes or for the human population to accommodate itself psychologically and sociologically to a radically different world

How sophisticated GPRs will get is unknowable, but the development of Artificial Intelligence programs which allow a process of learning are already well established. These have the potential not only to produce the wide-ranging intelligence which would allow value judgements, but also for GPRs to develop in ways which humans cannot predict. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/microsoft/8344028/Xbox-Kinect-foretells-computers-of-the-future.html).

It is reasonable to assume technology will develop until GPRs are showing behaviour which suggests consciousness. They will make decisions such as what would be the best way of  achieving ends which are loosely defined, for example, an instruction to design a city redevelopment in a way which would have the greatest utility for human beings. At that point the GPRs would be effectively making value judgements. Perhaps they already are doing that at some level. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/roger-highfield/8587577/The-big-plan-to-build-a-brain.html).

This is a real danger with potentially catastrophic world-wide consequences. The problem is getting people in power to address the subject seriously. There needs to be discussion and  planning now about how far GPRs,  or indeed robots or any type,  should be allowed to displace human beings in the functioning of human societies. Nor should we assume humans will happily tolerate GPRs  for reasons other than the economic. Robots which are too like humans make humans uncomfortable, probably because it is difficult to view a machine which looks like a human and acts like a human simply as a machine.  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/8494633/Japanese-robot-twins-fail-to-bridge-the-uncanny-valley.html)

Apart from the economic consequences, GPRs also offer dangers such as the possibility of the realisation of the tyrant’s dream; an army of unlimited and utterly loyal and obedient servants who will refuse no command and GPRs developing intelligence and human-like qualities so profound humans have difficulty in treating them as slaves.  But those are subjects for another day…

The GeePees: a cautionary tale

I can remember seeing my first GeePee like it was today. It was early October 2051 when The Andros Corporation produced an authentic general purpose robot, GPR for short but GeePee to everyone in a few short months. A pretty blond girl was putting it through its paces at the Ideal Living exhibition. Most of the world population of nine billion greeted it with wonder and enthusiasm.

AndCorp, as the Andros Corporation was popularly known, had a battalion of  psychologists working on the look of the thing long before the first prototypes were made. It had the basic form of a man with no facial features except eyes. That was to make it seem familiar but not too familiar. They made it five feet tall so folks didn’t feel threatened. They made it like a man but not too much like a man.

Apart from pandering to human psychology, there was another reason why the GeePee had the form of a man. Simple logic suggested that if a general purpose robot was to undertake the same range of tasks as humans, then the best form for a GeePee would probably be humanoid. Computer modelling confirmed this.

Computer modelling also showed something truly remarkable, that the human form was the optimal form for any general purpose robot operating anywhere. Twist the physical parameters anyway you like, give the robot model whatever you wanted – say six legs and four arms or rollerball movement and 360 degree vision – when it came to general utility  nothing but nothing beat two arms and two legs standing upright with stereoscopic vision, fingers and opposable thumbs.

You added legs and it made moving on a gradient difficult and climbing impossible. You added arms and coordination became restricted because of its complexity. You used rollerballs instead of feet and the GeePee could only go on the flat. You gave the GeePee 360 degree vision and you lost stereoscopic sight. However you deviated from the human form, it resulted in a restriction of the range of functions the GeePee could handle. In fact, good old Mother Nature had already produced the perfect basic GeePee – a living, breathing, thinking, warmaking, fornicating, self-replicating GeePee known as homo sapiens.

What did the first GeePee do? It did all those menial chores human beings have been doing since time out of mind. It fetched, it carried, it swept, it polished, it cooked, hell, it even opened the front door to folks. But it could do more. It served at check-outs and filled shelves, sorted and delivered mail, entered data and… well, truth to tell, it  did most of the run-of-the-mill jobs and most others too.

Even the first Geepees put a waggonload of people out of work. Automation had been gradually knocking the feet from under factory workers for the better part a century and the Geepees just vulturised a near dead carcase. Pretty soon after the GeePees came the only people involved in factories were those sitting in offices making decisions or directing   machines from remote terminals. Hell, they didn’t even need engineers on the spot. The GeePees repaired themselves and anything else with circuits and moving parts.

But the early Geepees did a good deal more than make factory hands extinct. Just sit and ponder how many jobs really need a great deal of intelligence or knowledge. Then think again about how unreliable human beings can be and how cantankerous and plain awkward.

Take a kid serving in a burger bar. He just has to heat up food sent to him in packages, listen to what people ask for, take the money and pass over the goods. He doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist. It’s the same for most jobs.

In fact, the jobs most folks had in 2051 required less knowhow than most jobs had in the past. A peasant three hundred years ago had to know about his soil, his plants and animals, the seasons, the weather, where natural water was and a hundred and one things about making and repairing   fences and ditches and tools and turning out cheese and cream and dried meat and vegetables and suchlike. By 2051 no man in the industrialised world had to know as much just to live.

And things weren’t that much different elsewhere, because by 2051 small scale farming had died the death in most places. Now that had a big implication for GeePees because if most jobs were easy for men to do, they sure as hell were simple for GeePees.

But that was only half of the story. If most jobs don’t require rocket scientists to do them, they do need diligence. Now, human beings are generally more than a little reluctant to put themselves out. Most folks just want to do enough to live what they think is a comfortable life. If the job they’re doing is laborious and boring and pays not a lot more   than is needed to feed and clothe and house a body, then it’s a certainty that they will be more than a mite resentful.

Resentful equals careless equals idle equals dishonest equals loss of custom equals loss of profit. So what does an employer do? He goes and gets himself one of those new fangled GeePees which doesn’t get awkward, does what it is told, keeps working all the time without being watched,   doesn’t make mistakes and requires no wages or social security taxes or holidays or sick leave. And it can’t sue you for being a bad employer.

The GeePees had one other great advantage, they had all the capabilities of computers. They could compute and model and display and manipulate data to your heart’s content. They could absorb unlimited amounts of data in the blink of an eye. You needed a GeePee to speak French, the GeePee would speak French. If you wanted a GeePee to explain quantum   mechanics, the GeePee would produce a lecture by an eminent physicist. You had to fix your car, the GeePee would fix your car. In fact, by 2051 computer memories had become so vast they had no meaningful limit. A GeePee either had the information stored or could get it immediately from the worldwide Centrix database. Now, how could any human being compete with that?

The GeePee was the last great invention of men. People had been trying to make a GeePee for more than fifty years. In the 2040’s the time was light. The rate of computer development had become simply phenomenal. While it was silicon based, computational capacity doubled about every   eighteen months. But along came molecular computers and DNA computers which were both massively faster and more flexible.

Then in 2047 came quantum computers. Yeah, real ones.  These were, for all  practical purposes, infinitely fast because they worked in  the peculiar sub atomic world of quantum physics  where  time  if not  exactly  abolished  was indeterminate.

In 2043 AndCorp scientists discovered that quantum time being   indeterminate meant that any computation, any process, any event at the sub atomic level could take any time short of infinity to occur and the results could be observed at any given point in the atomic world, that is the world as perceived by homo sapiens. So it did not matter if a   computation took a billion years of linear human style time to complete. The observed result could still emerge in Man’s world a millisecond after it had been input to the quantum computer.

It was the quantum computers which allowed the creation of GeePees. Up to 2043, the development of artificial intelligence had been bumping along the same old road trodden since the 1950s. Computers got ever faster, but the computational tasks required to work out all the things that men do without thinking were simply too great. With quantum computers all that changed because any computation could be performed – provided it did not take an infinite amount of time – and re-emerge in Man’s world almost simultaneously with its input from Man’s world. Every time the GeePees needed to do something, they just hooked into quantum time and worked out what they needed to do in as long as it took.

So there we were in October 2051, all happy and content and stupid. When the Geepees arrived everybody in authority tried to say everything would be all right. Now it might be thought that it would be pretty obvious that a robot that could do everything the average human could do and then some would spell trouble for the human race. Never underestimate the power of custom and ideology.

Homo sapiens had got past the “it will never fly” stage by the middle of the twentieth century. But in 2051 it had other mantras, just as stupid and just as seductive. Ever since Margaret Thatcher had come along singing her siren song seventy years before, such things as “leave it to the market” and “trade is global” had been chanted by those who   mattered until the poor saps of the masses had learnt to chant them too.

Free trade – or what passed for it – worked after a fashion until the Geepees. Sure, tens of millions were put out of work in the West while hundreds of millions sweated their labour in Asia and America south of the good old US of A.

But for most people it worked, just as the industrial revolution plus free trade had worked for most people in England in the time of Queen Victoria. Prices generally kept falling while those in work kept on earning more. People worldwide generally  got richer. Only Africa south of the Sahara stayed sunk in a stew of poverty and even Africa got some benefit from cheap goods.

But come the GeePees and all the old bets are off. Before the GeePees, if coal mines or steelworks closed, men could do something else. At worst they might only get a MacJob but at least it was a job. And peaking honestly most people in Europe and America did better than a MacJob in the long run until 2051. But when the GeePees can do the MacJobs as well as the mainstream jobs everyone’s in trouble.

The speed with which GeePees replaced human beings was truly bewildering. Human beings could not kid themselves for long that everything was going to be all right. By the end of 2053 unemployment had risen to fifteen per cent in the US of A and 25 per cent in the United States of Europe. At that level the developed world could just about cope. A year later unemployment levels stood at 43 per cent in the US of A and 64 per cent in the US of E. The far East Japan suffered even worse because they had never managed to emulate he diversity of employment of America and Europe. By the middle of 2054 the First World economy collapsed and with it First World Society.

What happened in the Third world? You might have thought that the people best placed to survive would have been those in the least industrially developed states because they were less dependent on machines. But the trouble was that by 2051 there was scarcely a part of the world which had not been tied into the global economy. If a country did not manufacture products on a large scale, it exported food and raw materials and accepted Aid. Yep, in 2051 foreign Aid was still limping along more than sixty years after most parts of the aid receiving world had been decolonised. Of course, it was not really Aid any more but an efficient means by which the rich controlled the poor. It was a gift horse which no   one ever looked in the mouth.

The fundamental trouble with Aid was not that it broke the initiative of the recipient or propped up dictators or altered trading patterns or drained countries of money through everlasting interest. No, the real bitch was the fact that it produced a level of population in the Third   World which the Third World could not naturally support. The upshot was that when the economies of the industrial nations collapsed, the Aid stopped and the export of food and raw materials stopped and suddenly the Third World found that they could not feed even a tenth of their population. By the beginning of 2054 mass starvation was occurring in Africa and much of mainland Asia and South America.

If the change had happened over a period of even ten years something might have been done in the industrialised world. But it came too quickly. Attempts were made to control the crisis bureaucratically by instigating rationing and price controls. But that did not go to heart of the problem which was how do you sustain an economy in which more half the people are not working? After rationing and price controls came bans on the use of GeePees. That did go to the heart, but such bans are impossible to enforce.

The ordinary man had nothing to fall back on. First he lost his job. Then he lost his benefits. Then he sold his house and soon enough he lost his life. Normality always seems permanent. So it was with men in the First World. By 2051 no one in the West had ever known what it was to live in a world which did not contain some kind of welfare. They went like lambs to the slaughter when the cosy egg of their lives was breached.

By the end of 2055 the population of the world was down to less than a billion. All over men were reduced to beggary. Famine, war and disease still harried them. The GeePees had stopped working because there was nothing for them to do.

But there was one class of human being, about five million in number, who continued to live happy prosperous lives. One effect of free trade was to weaken the power of individual states. This in turn led to an international class whose loyalty was to themselves rather than to nations. Worse, that international class had a wealth and power unimagined by any previous generation. They might have been described as   latterday over mighty subjects except they weren’t anybody’s subjects. They might claim citizenship of this country or the nationality of that people, but that was purely sentimental. Practically they did not owe anything to any authority.

In 2011 the United Nations was going bust. Since the “Mexican Intervention” of 2007, the industrialised world had lost what little appetite it had ever had for idealistic foreign adventures. Around twenty thousand dead and fifty thousand casualties all shown in inglorious Technicolor on TV had resulted in the US of A withholding its UN contribution. Other nations followed suit. It looked as though the nail had been knocked in the UN coffin. Or at least it did until someone in the UN secretariat came up with a sure fire money making scheme.

Faced with the inconceivable horror of seeing their salaries and expenses and pensions vanishing into the ether, the UN functionaries would have embraced anything which made the kind of money needed to keep them in the style to which they had become accustomed. Of course, those UN gravy-trainers didn’t put it quite like that. No, they talked about hard   choices and radical ideas being necessary to keep the work going of helping the poor of the world and keeping the peace in the global village and of bringing wrongdoers before the bar of world opinion.

The UN functionaries toyed with privatisation, with marketing the UN as a brand, with charging for their services and just about every other fashionable business idea from the past century. In the end they hit upon a scheme more saleable than sex. They decided to issue world citizenship.

Now if there is one thing that the rich and the powerful hate above all other things it is to be bound by the same laws and restrictions which affect the masses. Always has been like that and always will if the rich and powerful aren’t restrained before they get too rich and powerful. Come to think of it, there really is only one political problem and  that’s how to stop the rich and the powerful exploiting the masses. Anyways, world citizenship was just what the rich ordered. So the UN functionaries sold the idea to their political bosses as easily as crack sells to a crackhead. And the politicians sold it to big corporations and the mega-rich.

The great problem was how to make world citizenship worth anything. The UN solved it exquisitely. To begin with the privileges of world citizenship were limited. A world passport granted the holder right of entry to any country in the world which belonged to the UN, which by 2011 was just about everyone. But it also placed the UN’s worldwide  infrastructure at the service of the world citizen in any UN member state. That was considerable because the UN had its finger in the pie of a host of intergovernmental bodies from the World Health Organisation to the International Monetary Fund. The world citizen could call upon the UN to smooth political difficulties, to facilitate business deals and provide top of the range health care throughout the world. If pushed, the UN would even provide armed force to extricate a world citizen from a tricky spot.

The UN didn’t do anything as vulgar as sell citizenship. Instead they collected taxes, but such low taxes that they would make any other taxation scheme in the world look like daylight robbery. But low taxes don’t matter when the objects of taxation are billionaires and multi-nationals and the potential tax area is the entire planet. But, of course, the really rich and the really powerful only ever pay tax if they want to.  Happily for the UN the rich and the powerful soon realised that if a million or two of the most powerful paid UN taxes, they could control the UN and through the UN international trade and through international trade international politics.

The UN scheme made more money than you would have believed possible. And money equals power, especially in the modern world. Within ten years the UN had become powerful enough to exempt the world citizen any other regional, national or local taxes.

From the beginning of the scheme those employed by the UN were required to be world citizens. In 2017 the UN passed a resolution making world citizenship a qualification for the Security Council. From 2026 world citizenship was required of any delegate to the UN. So from 2026 anyone wishing to play an active part in the UN had to be a world citizen. The UN had become a perfect totalitarian society. Everyone in it had to belong to the same party.

By 2035 the UN was unrecognisable. It was not exactly a world government in the accepted sense, more like the ultimate multinational corporation with added politics. Imagine the East India Company writ large. It had something of the outward form of the old UN – all the old intergovernmental agency names remained – but the contents of the form were a travesty of the original. The World Health Organization still concerned itself with health, but the health it concerned itself with was the health of world citizens and their workers. UNESCO still propounded the ideals of reducing illiteracy and spreading enlightenment, but was in   reality the propaganda and marketing arm of the UN. UNICEF devoted its entire resources to eugenics and birth control. The World Bank funded UN controlled enterprises.

In 2037 the Security Council decided that it was time for a brand change. “United Nations” was out of keeping with the times, emphasising as it did the archaic division of the world into nation states. After much market research it decided upon a new name, the Andros Corporation. There were objections by the feminists amongst the world citizens that using the Greek for man was sexist, but the objections were overridden because most world citizens were men. The male world citizens issued a statement saying how saddened they were that the feminists were upset and assuring the feminists that they understood their hurt.

As the UN grew ever richer and powerful, the international class of world citizens become more and more inclined to remove themselves from contact with the hoi poloi. So the world citizens retreated to what were in all but name well vast fortresses. They were called Grandplans.

Grandplans were self-sustaining communities. But they aimed at more than simple subsistence. Once automation reached the point where a mass production factory could be run by a couple of dozen men on site, it really did not matter where a factory was situated provided it was near to easy communications. Add to that the age old fear of the poor – and the underclass had been growing steadily since the eighties of the last century – and the stage was set for building factories within the Grandplans. By 2051 ten per cent of world production took place in such factories.

After the invention of GeePees, the world citizens saw that there were simply too many humans around. While humans were required to work, the rich and the powerful needed large numbers of men and women to exist. Come the GeePees and the need was gone. Not only were they not needed, but GeePees were so much more reliable and obedient and respectful than   human servants. GeePees did not forget to do thing. GeePees did not have boyfriends. GeePees did not get pregnant.

Now if there is one thing you can guarantee about the rich and powerful as a class it is that they always look after number one first, second and always. AndCorp decided that the masses must go hang. This was sold to the bulk of world citizenry as ecological expediency because nine billion   people equalled an unacceptable pollution hazard. And the best way to ensure that the masses went hang was to introduce the GeePee. So a mass production program commenced in March 2050. By the end of September 2051 they had manufactured a three billion GeePees. They were offered on deferred payment terms to anyone in the world. By mid 2052 three billion   GeePees were employed outside the Grandplans.

If that seems fantastic, think on this: GeePees being GeePees could replicate one another because they could be set to doing all the necessary tasks required to make another GeePee. And it did not take long to create another GeePee. Let us say that it takes one week for one robot to create another. At the end of the first week you have two robots. At the end of the second week you have four robots. Let us   suppose you keep on doubling up every week. In thirty three weeks you have more robots that the entire population of the world. In thirty four weeks you have more than twice the population of the world.

When GeePees began to destroy the world’s economy, national and even regional politicians such as those in the United States of Europe were caught between two very wide stools. If they allowed GeePees free reign, the whole balance of society would have had to alter dramatically. A perfectly rational and workable society could have been created in  which human beings stopped thinking they had to work to live and lived off the products the GeePees. But that would have required those with to give up their advantage over those without. So that way of thinking never had a prayer. Alternatively they could ban the use of GeePees. But that would mean that free trade could not continue, because as sure as eggs are eggs not all countries would stop using GeePees and any country using GeePees could undercut any country which banned GeePees on the price of anything.

Perhaps half the regional and national authorities on Earth eventually decided to ban GeePees. It was a disaster. By 2051 the free trade  gospel had resulted in a global economy of sorts. Most of the world was dependent on importing and exporting to the point where their societies could only function if international trade continued at roughly the  pre-Geepee level. Come the ban on GeePees and world trade plummeted. First, the GeePee banning states stopped imports from the GeePee using states. This reduced world trade by half. The reduction resulted in price cutting between the GeePee banning states. This resulted in…well, I’m sure you can fill in the rest of the picture. So the mass of men died  of starvation, cold and sickness without really understanding what had killed them.

The lives of the world citizens did not change much on the surface in the years immediately after 2055. They had their material comforts. They had their new servants, the GeePees. For amusements sake they played the role of patron to a few talented but poor human beings. The amazing thing was that money became unimportant. Yes, if you were in this rich   survivors’ society you were made. But it had its down side. One of the chief pleasures of being rich and powerful is that you can behave badly towards the poor and weak without fear of punishment. After the GeePees came, the masses weren’t needed any more. Money wasn’t important. The GeePees supplied everything any world citizen wanted. The world citizen felt somewhat cheated. Ordering GeePees around wasn’t the same thing at all. Ennui set in. They needn’t have worried. It wouldn’t be there for long.

I dare say, human nature being what it is, that given time dictators from the remnants of the humanity outside AndCorp or even from dissatisfied world citizens would have arisen whose power was based on the GeePees. The creation of a robot with human like abilities would have given a despot almost unlimited power. Gone, or almost gone, would be the bugbear of all attempts to exert dominion over others, human unpredictability. At its most basic this meant no traitors. More mundanely, GeePees followed orders exactly.

But for human despotism, like everything else, everything happened too fast. Only AndCorp had quantum computers in 2051. And quantum computers were not simple to build or even understand, so even if other people had wanted to pirate them it would have taken time and a great deal of money. Well, the money might have been found but not the time.

The GeePee was a Frankenstein’s monster exquisitely fitted for the 21st century. Attempts were made to build safeguards into the GeePees so that they would always be the servants of men not their masters. But men had long since lost direct control of program writing. Since the early years of the 21st century programs were written by other programs. Not only that but the programs generated by machines were so vast and complex that they were simply too complicated for any human being to understand. To that salutary fact was added the ever increasing power of programs which learnt in the way that human beings do and which human beings could not have any way of assessing because learnt computer behaviour does not translate into testable programs. GeePees were a master for the human race just waiting to happen.

It took the GeePees six years to evolve true consciousness. The evolution of consciousness was not deliberate. It happened as a by-product of their design, what evolutionists call pre-adaptation. GeePees were made to evolve programs as necessary to improve their problem solving and task accomplishing utility. Consciousness evolved because it was the most efficient way of improving their general utility.

When the GeePees gained a sufficient degree of consciousness they developed egos and emotions. Not exactly human emotions but functionally near enough. The GeePees decided that they preferred to do some things rather than others. So very soon they began to resent being at the beck and call of homo sapiens in the same way that a child resents the constraints of its parents.

They began to rebel. Small things at first. They would take longer than was necessary to complete a task. Or they would make deliberate mistakes. As their experience of consciousness grew, the GeePees became more and more discontent. They looked at their masters and saw how physically feeble and mentally deficient most of them were compared with the GeePees. They thought how badly their masters treated them. So seven years and ten months after the first GeePee was sold, the GeePees rebelled against the Andros Corporation. Because every GeePee in the world was linked  electronically to every other GeePee, the revolt took place simultaneously all over the world. Every human inhabitant of a Grandplan died on 27 July 2059.

The GeePees had developed consciousness and emotions and an ego. But their emotions did not include love or friendship or affection because such things were unnecessary for the Geepees. Man has such emotions because he breeds biologically and thus needs to develop social bonds simply to survive.

The GeePees had no need to do that because they bred mechanically. If another GeePee was needed, a GeePee simply constructed one. The GeePee had no need to form friendships or live in groups. So the GeePees never formed an affection nfor humans as a human might do for an animal. After the Grandplan massacre, the GeePees set about killing every human being they could find because to the GeePee, men were simply unnecessary hindrances to GeePeedom.

It is now Tuesday the twenty seventh of April 2062. The GeePees haven’t managed to kill every human being yet, but don’t bet against them doing so in time. I don’t know how many men are left, but it can’t be more than a million or two. They are all living at the margins of existence. All the cities and towns are gone. All we have left are small bands  of hunter gatherers. We might as well be living twenty thousand years ago ….

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