Saturday, June 9, 2012

On Automation

So the other day I was in Wal Mart and I just happened to go through the self checkout line. For those of you who live under a rock (You know who you are), a self checkout is basically a scanner that has a vending machine attached only instead of giving you delicious Skittles that let you taste the rainbow, it spits out nothing but mechanical heartache and rage. I didn't think about this ahead of time. I was actually wearing pajamas and bathrobe, so I obviously wasn't thinking of anything ahead of time. If you think that's odd attire to wear in public, you are wrong.

Traditional garbs of the ancient Wal Mart tribe.

Now that you're done ogling obese mutants, let's continue. Where was I? Oh right, mechanical heartache and rage. So halfway through scanning my groceries, the computer starts flashing a warning that said I hadn't put my Pop Tarts in the bag. This might have been an error with the scale or the artificial intelligence had misjudged how much my groceries were supposed to weigh or maybe I had already eaten three of the Pop Tarts. I don't know, I'm not a computer programmer. I'm Joey. Hi.

After hearing my howls of animalistic rage, an attendant comes by to help. After searching through my bags, she shrugs and swipes a card. This overrides the problem and I get to go on my merry Pop Tart way. But I couldn't enjoy my Pop Tarts. They no longer tasted like thunderbolts and strawberries. They tasted like failure and a robot apocalypse.

Everyone has seen Terminator. If you haven't, why in God's name are you on my blog? You need to be going out and watching that movie. When you see Linda Hamilton's boobs, think of me. For those who still haven't watched the movie out of fear of Linda Hamilton's boobs (understandably), I'll do a quick recap. A robot is sent back in time to kill Linda Hamilton before she can give birth to a son who is destined to save humanity from the aforementioned robot's boss...I didn't realize how stupid that was gonna sound. What can I say, it was the 80's!

                                    Pictured: The 80's                  Source

Anyways, the Terminator's boss was a rogue AI named Skynet. Skynet, upon gaining self-awareness, had deemed it necessary to nuke the world. Why it would think this was a good idea is never really explained, but again, 80's. The concept of a rogue AI isn't anything new. Isaac Asimov even went through the trouble of analyzing the morality of human and robot interaction over 60 years ago. Frank Herbert's Dune repeatedly referenced the Machine Crusade, a terrible war where thinking machines tried to wipe out mankind. Some people write it off as technophobic and conservative, but I'd like to point a few things.

You remember that self checkout I mentioned at the start of the article? Some people see that as progress. Sure, there may be bugs right now, but they'll get that ironed out. What if they replaced all of the registers with self-checkout? That's, like, ten times more progressive! Of course, Wal Mart isn't putting these in their stores for the sake of some technological revolution. They're putting them in because there's a one-time fee and then they never have to pay them again. In science fiction, you see robots doing all the bullshit labor most people don't want to do, but it never answers one question: Where are all the people?

Robot is based off a Czech word meaning slave and that's exactly what they are: Laborers you don't have to pay. It's a perfectly logical conclusion, why pay these schlubs every week when I can pay a robot a single installation fee? In theory, it lowers the cost of production and raises efficiency. It's every employers dream! Of course, it's also every employees nightmare. Everybody's heard the Tall Tale of John Henry, they taught it in school around the time they talked about Paul Bunyan. This American myth (or true story, depending on your school's budget) details one of the first stories about the worker's struggle against automation. In a perfect corporate world, robots would do all of their work while the executives get all the profits. Of course, the robots would have to build walkways from building to building so their corporate masters would never have to walk the streets and risk an ass kicking by all the laborers they put out of work.

I can think of at least one man who's not
afraid of skyscrapers....     Source

It's pretty much undeniable that machines are more efficient than people. Robots don't show up late to work, stinking of booze and sticky with hooker saliva. They can make millions of computations in a fraction of the time it takes a human being. They are, for all intents and purposes, the perfect worker. Of course, on those rare occasions they do make mistakes.... This happens. Stanislav Petrov was faced with ass-tearing Armageddon and, in a moment that proved his scrotum was full of Batmen swimming in molten metal, he played it cool. Pure instinct told him that the United States hadn't launched missiles at Mother Russia, despite the most advanced computers in the Soviet Union telling him otherwise. If that had been a completely automated system, we'd all look like that stuff that comes off the end of a cigarette. What's that called? Oh yeah, fucking ashes.

But as an intellectual (in my humble, gold-plated opinion), I have to ask a serious question: In God's name, why are we putting up with this? Why are we standing by while we lose our jobs to C-3PO? It turns out there is an entire religion out there that embraces the idea of robots replacing humans. I don't just mean in the workforce, I mean in every walk of life. Whether that means uploading your brain into a robot or onto the internet, or maybe replacing every part of you with cybernetics. They're called Transhumanists and it's what happens when we let the nerds win. They didn't watch Blade Runner or the Matrix and root for the good guys, I'll put it that way. I'll admit, it all sounds good until you get realistic. There has never been a machine in the history of the world that didn't malfunction and when these do, it won't just make a weird clicking noise. That cyberworld you live in populated entirely by naked Scarlett Johansson's? Yeah, the Overmind just missed a zero and all the loveslaves turned into naked Danny Devito's.

This article will be continued at a later date, as I can go on for quite some time about it. When I do, it will probably be in a more somber style, but for tonight I've just been having fun.

This has just been some random thoughts by a casual observer. If you agree or disagree, that's your prerogative. These observations are casual and so I wouldn't be surprised to find them inaccurate and in the end, grossly off-topic. But they're my thoughts and it's boring to keep them to myself.

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