Friday, October 28, 2011

Sam Harris must not have done appropriate research.

Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith.
Sam Harris

I harass Sam Harris all the time.  He seems to be in utter denial over the demise of the Logical Positivism movement.  It is outside his area of study so it is possible that he simply wasn't aware of it when he wrote some of the works he has decided to stand behind.  If we bring reason to the table we must accept that optimal cannot be determined in broad classes of problems, therefor determining what is right or wrong is simply beyond the scope of reasoning.  Any legitimate attempt to ascertain epistemelogical truths runs afoul of the prevailing philosophical disposition which is that faith, wherein it is synonymous with belief is a necessary component of knowledge.  Usually epistemologists subscribe to the notion that knowledge alone requires that a belief be both justifiable and true.   Without all three elements it cannot be known.  I would argue that a myriad of mathematical findings in addition to the works of Godel and Turing show us that we can assert premises but almost never determine their legitimacy or verifiability.  I am in agreement with the notion that reason, spirituality and ethics should be considered in almost everything we do.  However, I believe it is important that we do overstate the case for implications of premises we just pulled out of common or individual desire.  In fact, as a practitioner of AI we draw distinct concentric circles around the types of environments and their relationship to the capacity to allow a finding of optimality.  The class which is defined by making plans or choosing actions in a world like our reality is called a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process.  Without being able to see the whole universe at once, best or worst decisions can only be determined over the scope of what is known.  Worse yet if you have say two equivalent objectives in a place where you have complete information you cannot always find a single best course of action.   Even if we just say we don't need to justify the premise of an a priori goal, we will still find calculating the best course or behavior to arrive at that goal cannot be determined without complete information.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What we can do about inequality, without eating the rich.

I have an idea.  Imagine a company conceived to follow a terminal arc, like Cincinnatus and his career as a general. People of my generation have lost the security of guaranteed retirement packages that our parents had. There is a way to re-fill this lost part of the social contract. Build companies from the outset with the idea that they will, in some asymptotic bound, no longer require labor costs. Combine this with idea of profit sharing or employee ownership, not excluding the possibility of publicly traded shares, and you have an appealing alternative to old fashioned retirement. Mechanization is inevitable, displacement is consequential to that, designing that truth into the compensation package could be a lucrative and humane way to incrementalize retirement. Instead of working 30 years for one company, work on a half dozen projects that last five years each reaching a point of sustainable yield on a precisely prearranged schedule. After the first six months we switch from product R/D to facility R/D, after a year we refine our business model and decide what percentage of the stocks can be given to the workforce over the lifetime of the company given that start up will cost something so it must be partially sold, after two years begin fazing out the basic work force, janitors install rhoombas etc. , after four years a skeleton crew works out bugs and does R/D on maintenance automation and design automation, after five years senior staff automates out running the company day to day, then apply Xeno's method, half the hours worked each year....until viola everyone works somewhere else or plays in the sun, whatevs. Sorry I had to tag you all but I hear many of you asking the same questions, that this will answer, and yet nobody seems to read it when I put an answer in a Note. Please share this with your freinds because I am a just one guy and this is at least an idea. P.S. Maybe we should allow people to automate their own jobs out of existence in return for a percentage of their wages....maybe even make it law that this should be the case.

Existing companies recognize that talent is a powerful resource. Leading edge companies, over the last decade at least, have innovated both with new products and incentives to lure in top talent. Take Google and it's legendary millionaire masseuse. One of my Profs. frequently told the story of a fellow graduate student that left the dog eat dog world of academia, to work for this new fangled search engine company, largely because of amazing perks like profit sharing and an in house masseuse which made long hours and a boiler room intensity of competition seem fun and doable. So Google won the search engine war, with better algorithmic science and the science of human resources and that masseuse retired a very young millionaire. The stories could be lined up from here around the street. Office Max has warehouse workers who's stock options are worth millions, you might think they would get lazy, actually just the opposite, they don't need oversight because they own the company. So down to the nitty gritty. Say you are a shareholder in an existing company, and I tell you that I have a plan that will double your money in five years, but first you have to give up half your stock to a pool to hire in new talent and restructure costly aspects of the business using machines. So because your stock is down (this doesn't apply to Exxon or Apple) anyway, if you give up half your stock now, the value is already depressed, and you can write this up as a loss on your taxes, because capital reinvestment is almost always deductible. So we now have half the companies value to hire really top flight talent, but the trick is that we compensate them with very little cash and lots of ownership. Because the new employees are coming on board to put the ship on autopilot they work harder because their efforts are directed at a goal that they share with the company. Stock prices might even enjoy short term gains because prices reflect belief in the future of the company not it's actual value. In the long run if all goes right you start cleaving out big parts of the labor costs. This happens in regular companies but there is usually much more weeping involved. Now each worker has a tiny golden parachute in the form of the dividends payed by his/her former employer. Now remember half the ownership of the company has passed from the ownership class to the working class so you should see at least incremental improvement in upper management because those bosses are now servile to the people who used to work for them (and consequently know what they should be doing). So back to the original stock holders benefits, first they get a big tax write off, second the stock might tick up because you just radically restructured the company, third the management is now being managed by former workers, fourth the product and production quality will probably shoot up because of improved talent, fifth long term costs like labor are always going to decrease therefore making larger dividends possible, sixth if they are willing to concede the fifth benefit they can use the money for vertical integration by buying their materials suppliers. Everyone wins except the companies that try to compete using the old model, nobody wants to go to work at a company that is a treadmill, so they die and leave bigger market shares for the companies that have properly incentivized performance. Imagine how much less dread you would have for your workplace if you knew that if you did your job well you would not even have to do it anymore after five years. It turns out that if people can see the goal they run much faster.

Smart people will have to work toward enfranchising people through decreasing commoditized resource dependence. You do this by designing manufacturing processes to use local even ubiquitous resources while providing further manufacturing capability. By lowering the threshold to enter the market or obviating the market all together outlays by the 'materially poor' are less of an impediment to their own production capacity. Ultimately, a decentralized, decommoditized economy puts each person in touch with their own resource dependence which I believe will create enhanced social and environmental responsibility.

Of course, some jobs are currently beyond automation.  On the other hand there are a myriad of particularly service related domains that are merely resistant to automation. White collar and manufacturing jobs however, are not difficult because parameters space can be minimized. If you want a build an automatable company you might have to change the practice drastically in order to limit the variability confounding the machines that will do it. I have yet to hear a person describe a useful profession that wasn't at least mostly automatable. On Sam Harris 's page I listened to people of every stripe claim their job couldn't be automated, the masseuse said it, but obviously he must be aware of the number of shaking chairs he competes with, and I wonder if he realizes surgeons have been being replaced at an super-linear rate, the roboticist claimed it and I gave him a link to my paper on robots which build robots. In fact I would like to posit this right now...if your job doesn't have a machine to do it, it wasn't important enough to warrant it being done well. Just ask astronauts, pinnacle humans, with no business competing with machines with millisecond saccades. Find me a working poet and I will show you the last guy on earth who will actually have a job. I myself will have retired long before somebody or something decides we need more of what that guys does without doing it ourselves.

Support American Workers: Buy the Yuan

Some people who continually regurgitate talking points will claim, 'if we don't also lower corporate taxes and reduce regulations multinationals will leave the country in droves.' Well that ship has sailed. Monetary policy in the Fed and Beijing has colluded to inflate the value of the dollar such that it doesn't make sense to make things in the U.S. This is part of a totally conscious decision to adopt a policy that favors the spending of dollars over trying to earn dollars, the Fed simply represented the interest of the investment class over the working class. If we allow the value of the dollar to fall (relative to other currencies) simply by buying the Yuan in piles, we could drive up the cost of Chinese imports and it would help stabilize local manufacturing globally. This will make it easier for small businesses to compete with gigantic businesses. By radically decreasing the availability of any currencies (by purchasing them) those currencies become more valuable relative to the dollar therefor products sold for dollars are more competitive and products purchased with dollars more are expensive. Wallmart would take a huge dive and GM would boom but the tax base of the federal government would increase because they can tax GM and their employees whereas with Wallmart they only get the corporate tax and no sales tax. The Chinese Central Government would be mad and Americans would have to tolerate higher prices but they would at least have jobs.

How you can help

Ask your local brokerage firm, bank, or credit union to sell you Yuan.  Ask your boss to put your retirement savings in Yuan. Write your congressman and demand the right to purchase Yuan. Compliance with fair and open trade dictates that you should have access to this currency market.  Breaking the central governments hold on the price of the Yuan benifit Chinese workers by making their work worth a decent wage and American workers by making their products competitive in more markets.  It is relatively safe because the Chinese government attempts to control its value relative to the dollar and other currencies. China isn't going away and neither are we. There are obvious reasons that neither nation will let their currency become too devalued. However, historically the Yuan has consistently risen in value versus the dollar over time. This means that you don't even have to invest in a Chinese business, you can simply buy the currency and it is like betting on the whole nation being capable of making their currency valuable. Of course it may seem safer and more familiar to buy some Harley Davidson stock instead. This is fine but it isn't smart. If you want to help Harley Davidson and your neighbors children you can, collectively, and individually make the U.S. economy more competitive by making U.S. made goods cheap enough to sell in emerging markets like China, Brazil and India. It is natural that these nations will have growing numbers of people entering a 'middle class' and the United States, Europe and Japan will have the lead in products for middle class consumers: Harley Davidson motorcycles, Armani suits, Sony T.V.'s. The people in the emerging markets will crave and consume the niceties that we have come to enjoy. We cannot stop the developement of the underdeveloped but if we lower our own pricepoint then we will speed up the onset of the day when a Chinese worker cannot automatically produce goods for less than slave wages...we are doing both the Chinese and American workers a favor by making it impossible find anybody in the world who will work for less than a fair wage.

Please share this post with everyone you know. It will only work well if many people do it.

Lies fit into 142 characters or less more easily than truth.

Platitudes like aphorisms are lies of brevity and convenience.
This is my blog. In this blog I encourage subtle, complete thinking, attribution, and no ad hominem attacks. If you want to attack something attack peoples' ideas, words, writings, art, whatever, but if you attack a person I will remove your comments. And for my sake please leave your conformity pants out on the line.