Friday, April 18, 2014

Rejecting the Robots

A rant in response to this interview of Bill Gates.  A pertinent quote from the article: "As for what governments should do to prevent social unrest in the wake of mass unemployment, the Microsoft cofounder said that they should basically get on their knees and beg businesses to keep employing humans over algorithms."

What we need are institutions and communities committed to human values over machine values (in the terminology of the late Lewis Mumford).  We need people to build communities redundantly, rather than efficiently, using technology that is old and outdated (from a mechanistic perspective).  We need to make it possible to be happy as a poor person again (fed, clothed, sheltered, and contributing meaningfully to a community that makes this possible without enslavement, i.e. without owing anything to large industry outside the community).  In terms of quantitative measurement, people may suffer or die more in these new poor communities.  The quality of healthcare will be lower (by some evaluations: note that this need not mean that mortality rates rise).  But qualitatively, our life with humanity will always be better than our life without it.

The future I see lies in disengagement and dispersion.  Leave the global society, the national power grid, the Internet (as an alternative to the village square), regular international travel, industrial agriculture and medicine as backbones of society (propped up by markets "too big to fail," which really don't exist).  Education should prepare us to live well and cheerfully with minimal reliance on industry and technology, particularly where these make our existence more miserable than not.  If the rise of robots makes men miserable, then we must simply abandon the robots.  Not reason with their masters.  Not beg for more scraps from people who couldn't care less.  Not look for dreams of expensive happiness that we are never going to achieve (many of our parents did not even achieve them, and their generation came closer than ours ever will).  Bill Gates is the voice of a past that I don't want, leading to a future wherein I have no place.  As I write these words using an operating system not designed by Microsoft (which I despise without hatred: it is simply shoddy) or Apple (which I despise without hatred: it is simply shoddy and pretentious), I am glad that Bill Gates and his like can never own the world, no matter how they might try.  Nature is bigger than any of us.  She does not make me live and die as Bill Gates, or the mindless minion of Bill Gates, not even when circumstances thrust me into a position where it is easy for me to imagine myself this way.

I think my own way to a death uniquely mine--uniquely tragic, uniquely comic, an intimate, personal experience I savor for myself with faculties that come to me from something much richer and more ancient than elite snobs with dreams of robots and rigid world-systems (wherein the future belongs to efficiency and algorithm rather than redundancy and imagination).  I think Bill Gates is full of shit.  As shit-stirrers go, he means well enough, and does his part to fulfil the little measure of that which he conceives to be virtue.  For that I respect him--as a man (not a prophet, certainly not a prophet I am eager to follow, since his heaven looks like hell in my eyes).  In his advice to governments, Bill Gates makes the same mistake that Occupy Wall Street did: you don't beg bureaucrats for anything you really want to get, ever, whether they serve private shareholders or pretend to represent the public.  It makes no difference.  To beg them is to give them power, to feed their dream at the expense of your own, to love the Devil more than God (waxing Christian again).  I do not beg Wall Street for anything.  I do not beg Uncle Sam for anything.  I do not beg Bill Gates for anything.  I expect nothing from them but death (and thus greet each new moment of my life with conscious wonder and gratitude, as the arrival of something blessed that I did not expect, that will certainly end soon).

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