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Customer Review

19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really neat book that will get you to think about very important issues, October 12, 2012
This review is from: Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World (Paperback)
This may be a path breaking book. What will the world be like when Artificial Intelligence is at least as smart as people? James Miller uses some straightforward economics and gets predictions that will blow your mind. To Miller, short of a nuclear war the dramatic changes in society seem inevitable.

Increased life expectancy. People will find themselves less willing to take physically risky jobs since you will now be giving up more years of expected life if you are killed. But won't that also mean that people will take greater financial risks because if they lose money on an investment, they will have more time to recover. (Note also that the cost of some types of violent crime will also increase and the cost of other crime may fall.)

Education. Miller argues that traditional education will gradual disappear as people can simply plug in a computer chip into their brain. Surely, for simply learning facts, why spend the time memorizing facts when a computer chip can provide you with more information than you could possibly memorize. One thing that Miller points out is surely right about: a lot of the educational investments that people have made will quickly become obsolete. He briefly discusses how education will change, possibly the emphasis will be more on learning how to better use the information that is available. Surely, AI improvements might also allow you to substitute raw computer power for this type of learning also. But for people who will be overwhelmed with all this information and possibilities, I can easily see schooling helping people cope with this power and using it most effectively.

Sex. Just a porn has replaced sex for some people today, will the effect be even greater when extremely human like robots can replace real people. Think "Blade Runner." If people find it easier to simply have "relationships" with robots and many men replace women with robots, what does that do to people's incentives? Do some men work to be successful to attract women? Read Miller's discussion on all this.

Jobs. Miller ably takes on fears that people have that there will be massive unemployment as people are replaced with machines. This is an old line of argument that we have seen when technological developments such as steam engines or cars or computers have come along in the past. Yet, when a bulldozer replaced fifty people with shovels, there were other jobs that they were able to do. As Miller indicates, the real threat here to advancements might be government regulations.

My discussion here barely skims the surface of the important issues raised in the book. But my suggestion is that people should simply read the book themselves.

I should note that some of the discussions weren't clear to me, but even in that case the important thing is the interesting questions that are being asked. For example, increased life expectancy could increase inequality. People who have saved up over a long period of time will have a lot more money than those who have spent their money as they have earned it. Miller raises other points indicating that inequality might actually decline. The net effect isn't obvious, though I suspect that with more opportunities inequality will increase. Another example involves property values. Increased life expectancy obviously works in the opposite direction as a reduction in the number of children, but what is the net effect? On the other hand, might it be that either the cost of raising children will fall or that the return from having children will rise?

There are other issues about how quickly these advancements will take place, but I read Miller's book as more of a discussion of the implications of these advancements than any guarantee that they will occur by a certain date. It seems plausible that these advancements will occur and what has been missing is a serious discussion of what side effects they will produce.

I have known of James Miller's academic work for a number of years. My guess is that after this book a lot more people are going to know who James Miller is.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 13, 2012 7:47:18 AM PDT
M. A. Plus says:
I would give the book two stars. Just reading through p. 60, I notice the following dubious things:

1. Miller fails to consider that Moore's Law might grind to a halt well short of its physical limits because of political constraints. As Peter Thiel has argued, most forms of engineering progress since 1970 have become effectively illegal because of environmental ideology or irrational risk aversions. The Singularitarians with their doomsday predictions could incite political restrictions on computing as well.

2. He hasn't addressed the fact that living standards in many ways have stagnated since 1970, an inconvenient truth which blows up all the acceleration-speak promoted by singularity cultists.

3. He believes in nanotech genies.

4. He likes the idea filling the world with more people as smart as John von Neumann, without considering that we already have that many comparably smart people around now, yet progress still seems to have bogged down any way despite their freedom to think about hard problems. He also fails to consider how many high-IQ people these days go into rent-seeking professions like law, administration or finance instead of doing things which push the frontiers of knowledge or increase wealth.

5. He fails to consider the advantages of raising the intelligence of the billions of the world's dumbasses to just ordinary levels. That could revolutionize our world for the better by pushing a lot of people above the threshold where they can start to support themselves without the need for zoo keeping; become more educable and employable; become more law abiding; not pump out bastard kids they can't support; save money and plan for the future and so forth.

6. He over-relies on Ray Kurzweil.

7. He over-relies on Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky.

8. He makes his imaginary "jailed" ultra-AI sound like Hannibal Lecter as it plays mind games with its captors to find their weaknesses and trick them into releasing it to take over the universe.

9. He says we could become "immortal" by 2049, a nonsensical claim because you would need longitudinal studies lasting far longer than current life expectancies to see if anti-aging and life extension therapies work.

10. He basically wrote this book as an advertisement for the Singularity Institute and Eliezer Yudkowsky's greatness, so please donate to fund Yudkowsky's humanity-saving mission. He mentions that the Singularity Institute's director, Michael Vassar, would like $50 million towards that end, but that they could get started with $10 million.

The next section about human intelligence and its enhancement I found defensible because it has a basis in, you know, _reality_. We know that human intelligence exists and we know what it can do, unlike the case for Yudkowsky's science-fiction fantasies about sociopathic AI's. Only about a third of the book didn't feel like a ripoff, so I wasted about $8 in buying it.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 14, 2012 7:21:00 AM PDT
qt says:
Your comment looks like a review of the book. Why not post it as such rather than as a comment on another customer's review?

Posted on Oct 15, 2012 10:34:51 AM PDT
I have not read the book. Does he discuss the potential of 3-D printers and nanotechnology to thoroughly revolutionize economics? Your mention of equality and inequality suggests that he didn't. But, I'm asking because I genuninely don't know. Thank you in advance for your response.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 15, 2012 11:40:33 AM PDT
M. A. Plus says:
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Posted on Oct 29, 2012 8:20:45 PM PDT
M. A. Plus says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Feb 11, 2013 11:06:21 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 11, 2013 11:13:43 AM PST
John: First-off let me applaud you (and put in a plug) for your work on firearms, the 2nd Amendment (from an economist's perspective), and crime/safety. Bravo on that. But it seems to me---as a jurist specializing in, among other things, both systems-theory and law-&-economics (as well as, more-specifically-still, intellectual property law)---that both you and James Miller seem not to fully appreciate what the emerging technology(s) are ultimately FOR and have the potential to (finally, at long last) accomplish, *viz.*, a cybernated world of leisure and ultra-abundant (closely approximating so-called post-scarcity) wealth for EVERYONE on the planet. Far from merely 'utopian', this a real possibility in the offing over the next decade or two (or three). But in such a world, 'jobs' (and more-or-less **HAVING** to HAVE one to survive) doesn't make much sense. Sure, there may still be economic activity(s) and exchange(s), but everyone **should** (and this is NOT intended as a 'moral' 'should', but rather as what is sometimes called a 'pragmatic' 'should', as in "the engine 'should' start, since there's nothing wrong with it, the battery, or the rest of the drive-train") be able to have a REAL income equivalent to if not a billionaire of today, then at least a multi-millionaire. Now considerations such as, e.g., Hirsch's 'social limits to growth' notwithstanding, once people are sufficiently-wealthy, they no longer (want to and/or have to) engage in work they find unappealing, no? Here's the thing, income-for-labor, and (having-to)-labor-for-income, is, or at least should be, on its way to being finally phased-out. How should people (be able to) gain income if not through labor? How 'bout through the ownership of (a chunk, so to speak, of) **cybernated capital**. Cybernation & robotics blurs the economic-theoretic distinction between 'labor' and 'capital' anyway, or, more precisely, progressively renders the former (human labor) ultimately redundant/superfluous. You and Miller seem to think that jobs will evolve. Wrong. Jobs---including professions such as medical doctor, lawyer, dentist, college prof, what-have-you---are simply going to go the way of the dinosaur over the next few decades, IF we can handle such a techno-socio-economic transformation w/o screwing the pooch. When you say things like "when a bulldozer replaced fifty people with shovels, there were other jobs that they were able to do..." you seem (to me, anyway) to evince not fully understanding what is about to happen over the next decade or 2 or 3. We're not talking about mere steam-shovels, John. We're talking about human-equivalent (or at least human-*task(s)*-equivalent)---and eventually *beyond* merely equivalent, but far *superior*---ROBOTS and CYBERNATED SYSTEMS. Such robot(ic)s and cybernated systems will result in one of two things almost overnight, once they fully kick-in: 'Jobs' (again, at least eventually, including even 'professions' or 'occupations' such a doctor, dentist, lawyer, CPA, college prof, etc., etc.) will either themselves be(come) **cybernated** OR will simply be completely **OBVIATED** (just like the occupation of 'moat engineer', or even 'blacksmith', for that matter, has nowadays become not itself 'automated', but has simply been more-or-less totally **obviated**). Now, what do we do, economically-speaking (i.e., micro-economically or 'catallactically' speaking), when labor(ing)-for-income becomes not only redundant/superfluous, but even more-or-less impossible? Now, if you and/or Miller want to gainsay that, and say, that that won't happen because blah blah blah, then fine---edify us. But people---all people, not merely an elite few---will either someday be ultra-wealthy and leisured, or they won't. If they are not, then, woops, I suppose we still have more techno-economic progression to have happen. But until everyone on the planet is wealthy and leisured, it is absurd for anyone to speak in terms of an 'affluent society'. We actually live in a somewhat techno-economically **backward** society (as compared to what is already perfectly technologically *feasible*), lamentably. Hopefully that'll change in the coming next few yrs or decades.

Btw, John, are you at all familiar with the ideas of Louis Kelso? Despite insufficient attention being given to his ideas, the man was on to something(s). Let me know if you need some citations. And, again, great work on guns & crime/safety. ;-)
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