Imagining Systemic Change and Robotic Ecologies in Our Time
When exploring robotics, Boston Dynamics, the DARPA funded research and development powerhouse immediately comes into the discussion. Boston Dynamics have created bipedal and four-legged creatures of engineering prowess. Here explored are the abilities when applied to a post-pandemic world rapidly in the clutches of what appears to be a global uprising. Terminators are already too deeply ingrained in the popular imagination, so no more ink will be spilled over such a topic here. This passage is one, perhaps, foolishly, optimistic. The topic that greatly needs discussing outside the context of this article is that of what fight it will take to get things done in a way that benefits us all. Here, at least, we can begin to explore a vision worth fighting for.
Robotics are both soft and hard, encroaching both intellectually and physically into our human and traditional domain. Over the past forty years, labor value has eroded due to software and machinery augmenting labor and reducing pay. The reason such a problem was not fixed was due to wealthy elites ensuring a culture of individual responsibility, an indoctrination that convinced a majority of Americans that if one didn’t achieve the “American Dream” this was due to a lack of individual integrity and in no way a issue with the system itself that in reality only benefit the very few, with at least until the present moment, a middle class willing to defend the myth. It’s not that most Americans believed the American dream, the real tragedy is that they ‘wanted’ to believe. So the goal of monopoly capitalists, for now, rages on, in our time of pandemic and plunder, to sell air; to have no costs, but reap not only hundreds of millions, but billions in excess of the time and effort put forward and endured by the rest of us. We’re finally seeing the breakdown by the blindness of both sides.
It is here to explore in a sort of invitation to entrepreneurship how one’s excesses might be unveiled and universally shared. Often the analogies, rightly, are of sharks or dragons. How might these majestic creatures be of service rather than face the guillotine? What near future tools might these creatures wield to both liberate and or damn us all? In foreseeing this, and acting upon this knowledge, we might all be saved continued hardship or worry.
On the soft front, there is DeepMind, champion of Go and all video games, and IBM’s Watson, Jeopardy! winner, increasingly augmenting and replacing the need for doctors and lawyers (to name a few), both working under the umbrella of the machine learning discipline.
The majority of labor is either service or intellectual, and with current lockdown predicaments, this makes clear fewer are needed for a functional economy than once thought. Over forty million are unemployed in the United States, and the markets seem to hum along just fine. As we’re seeing, it only takes a single publicly observable death of the culturally underprivileged to spark, under a pressurized layering of conditions, what appears to be a major step toward outright blood and bones warfare.
It is here, in our still mostly isolated predicament, we realise what is really needed. The human touch comes to mind, while also the need for space, in an increasingly hostile environment.
The intellectual and physical, the soft and hard, combined with billions gained, will mean millions invested into these systems to further eliminate the need for the human touch or percept in the organizing and maintenance of our lives, while making use of faculties tending to more delicate and personal matters. One must proceed cautiously, but diligently, as many of us as possible must take ownership of our collective direction and consequences by taking over and reimagining the role of institutions themselves.
Isolation, and now the encroaching prospect of war, as we know, will only accelerate innovation. Before exploring how lives might be saved or gained, we must envision what a physical robotic ecology in the near future will look like.
It is worth noting, already, one only needs ten percent of the economy to provide basic needs, which might go over that mark when considering the need for dignified housing and infrastructure today, however once that is attained, we can only hope, in the more optimistic interpretations of the future, one can find space for a robotics ecology to lend itself in our favor, as it becomes increasingly clear, ownership must be retained, not by the few, but by us all. It is robotics, in such a political economy, they act as our trusted guardians.
I would hope the handover (as much of our storytelling has been) would also involve a universal institutional transparency, but the discussion of privacy today seems to overshadow such a pursuit at present; a transparency that would be both global and local, whereby the uninitiated could learn based on one’s aptitude and knowledge, intuiting the ways in which the world operates in a manner that keeps the world ticking; to know of its mechanics inside and out from anywhere in the world. May the gears of the system not crush and grind upon us any longer, but be minded by millions of deeply concerned (particularly in regard to life saving surgery) or even passively concerned (such as minor refinements to an otherwise fully automated system). May they be responsive, and knowledgeable, in a highly optimised and automated world, where hearts of solid gold might be made, refined in kindness, fought for, amplified by aspiration of great discipline and prophetic scope, risking the potential pitfalls of openness, developing a mostly dormant state of compassion. Such a positive future may be hard to see in the fog of war, but it may be less than a decade before the majority of us finally see the fruits of our collective, hard won, labors encoded into the machine we call progress.
May technology further enlighten our condition and enable the connections of those we might best become connected with, to bring our race to a higher element, to sing with the joys of the unsung; to be what we never once dreamt we might become.
We must question: how many brilliant minds does it take to design and maintain a city? What will it take to motivate them to fight and make the changes needed? We have the approach of eight billion souls on our planet. To generate an elegant framework of a city, town, village, hermitage or homestead, will only take the rarely gifted or determined few, enhanced by open space and data on the web, our potential of our online networks will finally be met to its greatest potential, no longer clouded and suffocated by the tyrades of rage fueled distractions on just a few social media platforms one might easily become entangled by.
Anticipating the intellectual augmentation and replacement soon arising, one must be reminded of the great thinkers of AI who thought once chess was conquered, the rest would be easy. We may well have unforetold challenges and blunders ahead, but my instinct, based on previous successes over the last decade, says such challenges will be overcome in a matter of decades rather than centuries; maybe even in our lifetimes.
What then of the world seen with and beyond the screen? What might it look like? The hardware robotic landscape will include three primary sectors:
- Servibots. These robots serve humans, and indeed all life, but also maintain all robots and structures within the ecology, linking static robots with roaming:
- Distribots: The robots make both long and short journeys that gather from and send materials to:
- Fabots: These bots will at first encompass a collection of machinery, later contained within a single room, with the ability to make almost anything, as it progresses toward the goal of the Star Trek Replicator.
Here you are invited to take a moment to think about how these three robotic areas might affect your life. When we all can freely observe that which provides for us, soon taken for granted, what might such a world be like? What nuances or lack thereof might we one day have? How might we view the recklessness of our history? Perhaps, if we live to see it, it might be beyond our presently contained imaginings.
As the political and economic structures fail and collapse around us, may we strive to use what works, and build upon it for the benefit of everyone.
If you’d like to read more, see Proposing A Public Resource System for Loomio and a working draft of a Pamphlet that sums up my views, which also includes and provides further context for that proposal. If you are able and would like to support me, please consider a donation from my Soundcloud page where you can listen to relaxing music all day long.