January 29, 2018

Sex Robots and the future of social interaction

Engadget interview with Matt Mullen at CES 2018

Engadget, an online magazine about electronics advances, paused gawking at all the new toys at CES 2018 long enough to interview Matt Mullen, the founder and CEO of RealDoll and it's affiliates, including Realbotix. I will not go into the details of the interview nor will I make moral judgments about sex dolls, sexbots, and so on. Instead, I will shift my perspective a little bit, back up a few steps for a wider view, and try to grasp the larger social implications.

Our world is changing very rapidly. It is safe to assert that human history has never passed through the kind of massive and dramatic shift that is coming. The great "Industrial Revolution" took nearly a century. The "Information Age" is not even half a century old. The Robotics Age is next, and it has already begun. There are many ways to date the beginning of an era, but I prefer to start with the moment the impact of a new technology or new culture could no longer be ignored. 2017 saw the widespread application of automated ordering boards and computer tablet-based ordering at food service chains all over the world. Menu boards are now commonplace in Europe and Asia, and are rapidly spreading through the Americas. Tablet-based menus are a feature at coffee shops and restaurants in every major airport in the world, and have even found their way into Appleby's and Red Lobster restaurants. By 2020, menu boards and tablets will be the standard method of ordering food at every major restaurant chain in the world. Every single one. This is the beginning of the robotic age.

No one is out there studying the real social impact of this change. At the 2010 CES, TrueCompanion's Roxy made a huge splash as the first sexbot made available for sale to mainstream markets. In response, RealDoll bought a robot maker and brought it under their wing, refocusing the design and research team to finding way to animate RealDoll sex dolls. The culmination of that project is in the video above.

Whether we are ready or not, regardless of whether anyone likes it or not, robotic sexual companions are now here, at least for men. (Matt Mullen in several interviews has promised to have a male version available for the ladies by year-end.) No human can ever match a robotic personality for loyalty and cooperation. Humans are considerably more complex than the artificial intelligence that controls robots. Before long, probably within five years, it will be possible to create an artificial intelligence just as quirky, neurotic, and complex as any of us, but seriously, why would we want such a robot? Let's keep insanity a human quality, shall we? Cold, machine logic can be tempered and prevented from becoming destructive through a few simple programming tricks. Robots rising up to destroy humans is unlikely, assuming we are careful with our programming parameters. If we are stupid enough to program a robot sociopath with the wherewithal and ability to destroy humanity then we deserve to be destroyed. Even worse, if society reaches a point where having sex with another human, producing a child, and nurturing that child to adulthood is considered a form of insanity, then we will be extinct in a single generation and will deserve it.

Within ten years, anyone with a full-time job or a decent passive revenue stream will be able to buy a robotic social and sexual companion. Men will no longer need to put up with hysterical or uncooperative women and women will no longer need to put up with controlling or abusive men. Men and women both will no longer have to endure the pain and heartbreak of a real relationship. The fantasy of buying a completely loyal companion, trading that companion in on a newer model when you become bored or disenchanted with them, and so on, will not only be possible, it will become the social standard we all live by. By the time children born this year are adults, they will enter a world where human relationships are completely optional. Will the majority of them choose human companions or robotic ones? Only time will tell. Equally important, by the time children born this year become adults medical technology will have ridden the robotic wave to a place none of us can imagine yet: immortality or something close to it. Within another half-century, and possibly within a decade, some of us will be as close to immortal as it is possible for a human to be and our most loyal companion will be a robot. It is even possible that within half a century the vast majority of us will have these options available.

I am fifty-six years old. I am healthy enough that I am not on any routine medications for chronic conditions. No heart disease, no high blood pressure, no cholesterol medication, none of it. If I live to be sixty-six, which is extremely likely, then it is possible I could live to be nearly two hundred years old. This is not even a "best case scenario" likelihood. This is so realistic that most of the world's wealthiest people are assuming it will come to pass. One of the major reasons so many of our economic elite are unwilling to part with their wealth while also working hard everyday to compile more of it, is that they are assuming this is the generation that will live forever. Mark Zuckerburg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and all the rest of them are assuming they will need their money to last for centuries because they will live for centuries. In their condescension and elitism, they despise the rest of humanity, so they are very much looking forward to a world with a few hundred thousand extremely intelligent and extremely wealthy people living in isolation surrounded by robotic companions. They see this as a perfect utopia. They have embraced this possible future completely. They might allow their spouses and children to come along for the ride, but you and I they simply do not need.

This where I begin to grow very confused. The IT elites, starting with Bill Gates and stretching down to new telecom billionaires being created right this moment in India and China, are looking forward to a world without the rest of us. However, their ability to sustain their elaborate lifestyles is completely dependent on the existence of a mass market continuing to pour money into their coffers. How will they pay their bills if there is no one buying their products? It strikes me that they have not considered the full implications of an automated world without human employees. If humans are not employed, humans will not have any money. If humans do not have any money, who will dine in the automated restaurants, ride in the self-driving cars, and shop online at automated retailers? If those of us who are not economic elites have no incentive to raise children then who will buy the products the elites are producing as they live forever? Without us, how will they themselves survive? Who will grow the food they need? Who will produce the electricity to power their automated homes? Who will maintain their vast gardens?

I do not like the world I see arriving as early as five years from now. I see no incentive for me to live in this elaborate technotopia the IT elites have planned for us. I see no future for myself. I see no future for my children.

January 25, 2018

Robots writing novels

We stand on the verge of a social disaster and no one, absolutely no one, is paying attention. The assumptions being applied to artificial intelligence and robotics research should terrify all of us, but they don't. Most people either dismiss them as irrelevant or ignore them completely. A few people, especially academics who depend on government grants for their daily living, are cheering on the new technological revolution about to sweep over the horizon as the opening of a new utopia. They even have a word for it, "technotopia". One of the huge advancements being heralded as a harbinger of glory is the now confirmed ability of artificial intelligence to successfully write fiction people enjoy reading. (Digital Trends: A Japanese AI wrote a short novel that almost won a literary prize)

Here's the problem: we are creating robotics and artificial intelligence to replace productive people while ignoring the parasites.

A surprising amount of the work being done in the modern world is completely parasitic. This kind of work takes the products of Group A and distributes those products to Group B. The vast majority of work being done by these parasites is mindless, meaningless repetition. Moving fully loaded shipping containers from factory yards to trains to docks to ships does not take any real thinking. The entire logistic process, including the creation of catalogs and the processing of orders placed by retailers, could easily be handled by computers and robots. Every single step of the process is the ideal environment for application of machine-based reasoning and labor. We could easily and quickly replace millions of workers who perform back-breaking labor for pennies with machines who do the work for even less. This, in fact, is the very task that Amazon.com through its affiliates and branches has taken it upon itself to do. Entire warehouses are now run by robots with a mere handful of overseers. Experiments are under way to replace UPS, FedEx, and USPS with drones that would carry the final order from the warehouse to the customer. In five years, and maybe only three, the only people working at Amazon.com will be customer service personnel helping you and I navigate their vast, complex online database of books and products. Everything else will be handled by machine. Within ten years, and maybe within five, even customer service representatives will be replaced by artificial intelligence.

If you don't have at least a Master's Degree in computer programming, don't bother applying for one of the "50,000" new jobs Amazon claims their Second American Headquarters will create. In point of fact, almost none of those jobs are actually working for Amazon because the headquarters itself will be manned by computer servers running artificial intelligence agents with a few IT people to reboot the servers when they overload and crash. The vast majority of those "50,000 jobs" are pure imagination. They are numbers in a spreadsheet predicting jobs that will be created in the community to "service" the Amazon "staff". The vast majority of those 50,000 jobs are table servers, short order cooks, and fast food workers, along with government jobs like street pavers, street painters, police officers, firefighters, and city clerks to keep track of all the tax dollars Amazon claims they will be paying. Although, it strikes me as odd they are including clerks to track tax dollars when a major condition of their decision is which city will provide them the longest tax-free grace period to get their operation up and running. If their new, fully automated headquarters staffed by robots and computers is tax exempt, who is going to pay the taxes needed to fund the additional city workers necessary to keep the roads clear and protect the headquarters from vandals and criminals?

Are you beginning to understand? The technotopia the academics, futurologists, and silicon valley bigwigs are promising does not include you and I. Our only function will be to buy their products and pay taxes to fund their research. But how are we supposed to pay those taxes and buy those products when robots and artificial intelligence have taken all of our jobs? Consider this, California, the place where the technotopian dream has been realized to the fullest extent possible, has now become the nation's most impoverished state:
Silicon Valley Business Journal: How California has the highest poverty rate in the U.S.
Newsmax: California is the new poverty capital of America

The real problem is that all of the billions of dollars being spent by government through grants on robotics and artificial intelligence research is not directed at parasitic occupations like movie producers, literary agents, and fashion magazine editors. Oh, heaven's no! The researchers consider these occupations to be absolutely essential to the future world. After all, when every novel is written by a computer, there must be people around to buy them and read them, right? So, they wrongly conclude, we need intelligent, educated people doing the marketing and investing in the computer novel writers. Mere peons like human writers and artists should be replaced, not the literary agents and publishers! After all, they reason, if we replace the agents, editors, and publishers, who will design and market the books the computers write?

I am a writer. I have almost seven hundred blog posts archived here. I have three books and thirteen tee shirt designs available through Amazon. I don't need a computer or a robot to write my next book or create my next tee shirt design. That process involves more raw creativity, more ethical decision making, and more agony than any machine can ever experience. The creative process is the one place human reasoning and morality absolutely must be involved. Checking my spelling, confirming page layout, analyzing markets and targeting advertising, these are all simple, repetitive, time-consuming tasks that are nothing but drudgery. These are the parasitic occupations that are ideal for automation. Trolling other writers for reviews and targeting ads is pointless work that I hate with a burning passion. It is mindless, repetitive drudgery. I hate marketing and promotion. I hate thinking about it. I hate doing it.

I don't need a computer to write my books and design my tee shirts. I need a computer to market them!

And you should be asking the same question about every step in your life. For example, is it really a romantic evening on the town when you order through a tablet computer-based, artificial intelligence-backed menu program, and then a robot cooks your food while yet another robot brings it to your table? Do you really want the artificial intelligence behind the menu on the tablet computer at your table recommending your wine based on excess inventory in the automated wine cellar at the restaurant which in turn is supplied by centralized, fully automated warehouse located in the next town over? Do you really want to drop off your children at a robot-staffed daycare center on your way to your part-time job overseeing a staff of fifty computers running artificial intelligence driven robot agents making cold calls trying to sell robot nannies?

I hope you have a huge nest egg saved up. In five years, ten at the most, you will be replaced by a robot and there is nothing you can do about it.

January 14, 2018

Donald Trump is doing the job he was elected to do

Fox News: What is DACA and why is the Trump administration ending it?
Fox News: Trump on North Korea, from "Rocket Man" to "Fire and Fury"
Bloomberg: Two Koreas Resume Talks Amid New Signs of Strain

Regardless of whether or not Donald Trump is just another racist narcissistic pathological liar, for the first time in almost a decade North Korea and South Korea are sitting across a table from one another holding negotiations about the Winter Olympics, family reunions, and missing persons.

That is a huge success. Maybe the modern world is such a mess it takes a con man to create real change. I don't know. I don't care. As long as the two Koreas are talking the likelihood of global thermonuclear war drops almost to zero.

That is a huge improvement from August 2015 when China and Russia held joint military exercises aimed at improving their ability to regroup in the aftermath of one.

Unemployment is the lowest in a decade. The Dow Jones Industrial average just passed $25,000. Over a hundred American corporations have announced pay raises and new bonuses. Over a hundred international corporations have announced plans to return both their production and their tax base to the United States.

That's the real story. That's world changing. Who cares if he's a con man? He's doing the job he was elected to do and doing it well.

January 11, 2018

Immigration Reform, Bigotry, Politics, and Realism

Fox News: Trump's Profane Remarks on Immigration
Fox News: Nancy Pelosi Mocks "White Guys" Discussing DACA
Fox News: Trump's Immigration Crackdown Hurts America

I have spent my entire life trapped between two national immigration policies: American and Japanese. I know, from firsthand experience, exactly what it takes to emigrate into either country, find a job, and raise a family. Every time this debate flares up in American media, there is nothing abstract or unreal about it to me. For me, it is a very concrete issue that affects my daily life.

The United States of America has one of the most liberal, all-inclusive immigration systems in the world. Canada might be a tiny bit more liberal, as might Australia, but aside from those two countries I do not know of a single place where anyone and everyone can apply for permanent residence visa from overseas, have their name entered in a lottery, and stand a very good chance of winning permission to permanently emigrate. No other country on the planet is willing to allow anyone and everyone through their borders, regardless of their reasons for immigrating, their social status, their skill set, or any other qualifier. You can't apply to Germany or the United Kingdom or France or Spain or Switzerland for permission to become a permanent resident. Don't even try to apply to Japan, South Korea, or China. They will laugh at you at the embassy and not even provide an application form.

There is only one sure way to get accepted in the European Union as a permanent resident and by that acceptance, be free to travel to and work in any European country: be a refugee from a war-torn country or a political asylum seeker. Oh, but not from China or Russia. If you show up at the border of the EU from China or Russia seeking political asylum they will refuse you and send you back. Period. No exceptions. If you show up at the American border seeking political asylum from Russia or China, you will be asked to fill out a form, you will be interviewed, and then your application will be seriously considered. You might be allowed in, you might not, but at least you will be considered. Don't try that in Japan or South Korea. If you do, you will be arrested on the spot, spend six months in jail, and then be deported back to China or Russia. You won't be allowed a trial or a petition or an application. Once you utter the words, "political asylum", no one will even listen to you.

On the surface, assuming the quote is true, President Trump's remark about "shithole countries" is deeply offensive to the economic and political elites of those countries. That is true. However, to be bluntly honest and completely realistic, if you ask a person on the streets of Haiti or El Salvador or Venezuela or Ecuador, you might be surprised to learn that most of the people will agree with President Trump. The people who are born, struggle to live, and eventually die in those countries would happily sacrifice their earthly fortune or a few body parts to secure the freedom to live in the United States. I'm not joking. Transplant donors from those countries have traded organs on the black market in exchange for illegal transportation across the border (Mexican Cartels Harvest Organs from Illegal Immigrant Children).

President Trump should not have said what he said. He should not even have thought it to himself! I agree completely. That idea is both foolish and arrogant; and it reeks of bigotry. However, let's be real, he was not wrong. Many of the people living in those countries agree with him. They are desperate to get free of their homeland and migrate to the United States. That's just a simple reality. You might not like it. It might offend you. It might wound you deeply. Nonetheless, it is real and ignoring reality is a very dangerous habit.

When I was very young, I believed in the American Dream. I believed people should have the freedom to come to the United States, live here, and do their best to improve their standard of living. I was an avid open borders enthusiast.

I am not young anymore. I have seen firsthand the depths of human depravity that are accepted as "common sense" in many places around the world. It is horrifying and disgusting how much damage humans will do to one another with no sense of shame or guilt simply because they assume the person being hurt is less important or somehow deserving of the pain they are inflicting. The problem with any kind of truly open borders is that is paves the way for people to bring this "common sense" into the United States and then insist we adopt their worldview. In March 2014, Social Work Today dedicated an entire issue to this problem. The American Psychological Association took up this problem as recently as April 2017. These families were not being abnormal or aberrant. In their homelands, physical and sexual abuse of children was simply understood to be one of the prerogatives of being an adult. Best if you have your own children to abuse, but if you don't, as an adult you are free to abuse the neighbor's children. Like it or not, that is their reality. This is a common practice in many societies around the world. Pedophilia is not aberrant in Muslim countries. It is perfectly normal. That's simply reality. Harsh physical punishment of disobedient wives and children is a common practice in Mexico and many South American countries. Beating a child to death is frowned upon, but broken bones are perfectly okay. That is simply the reality they live with every single day. Regardless of how it makes you feel, this is their reality. Physical and sexual abuse of children might be illegal in some South American countries, but very few people are ever charged. Even worse, in many of these countries the abuse laws have no prescribed punishments. A conviction in a court of law simply results in a warning not to do it again.

When people who grew up knowing that breaking a child's arm for failing to do their chores is "common sense" then decide to leave their homeland and move to the United States, they bring their "common sense" with them. There are very real reasons people are dying in the desert trying to sneak across the southern border and come to the United States. People are literally dying to emigrate here. It is not hyperbole. It is reality. The reasons they are willing to risk death is because they believe coming to America will free them of social restrictions on their behavior, provide them economic opportunities to improve their lives, and give them a real chance at a better life. I feel great sympathy for the children of illegal immigrants who came to the United States locked up in the back of a truck, hidden away in the trunk of a car, or carried on their parent's back through the desert. It is horrifying what they endured as children. However, it is not bigotry to point out that they are here in violation of our laws. That's reality. They have no legal, moral, or ethical claim on the American Dream. None whatsoever. It is not their fault, but that does not magically change the reality of their illegal presence within our borders.

"So who's going to pick the strawberries?" you ask.

In Tokyo, one strawberry can cost exactly the same as an entire crate of strawberries in America. You're not worried about who will pick the strawberries. You don't have any sympathy for field workers who spent 10 or 12 hours in the hot California summer, six days a week, picking fruit with their bare hands. They are paid pennies per hour to do this work. Most often, they are paid by the bushel or the basket. The faster they can pick, the more money they can make, but even the fastest among them barely manage a dollar an hour. This is why most Americans are unwilling to go out into the fields and pick. It is not that they object to the work. What they object to is being treated like slaves and paid pennies by corporate farms that earn millions every few months. In some cases, especially raisin farming, some corporate farms earn several million dollars in sales every single month. Illegal immigrants pick the grapes, spread them out on tarps or in drying houses, then gather them up in bushel bags and cart them to the packaging houses. Inside the packaging house, in temperatures that cause massive dehydration, kidney failure, and stroke, more illegal immigrants work the machines that package the dried grapes into fancy red boxes for you to buy.

The only thing you're concerned about is the price of lettuce, not the quality of life of the illegal immigrants who pick it and package it. Americans are unwilling to work like slaves for slave wages in any industry, including agriculture. Standing around in your $200 tennis shoes, blasting conservatives by posting to Facebook or Twitter with your $1000 iPhone, crying, "Who will pick the strawberries?" because your favorite YouTube commentator copied it from some "expert" on MSNBC is the absolute height of hypocrisy. The real bigot is not Pres. Trump, with his inexcusable and profane outburst. The real bigot is you because you are agreeing American agriculture must use illegal immigrant slaves to harvest their crops so that you don't have to pay $15 for a head of lettuce.

January 03, 2018

2018, Either a New Beginning or the Final Chapter

Here we are once again, January 3rd (January 4th here in Tokyo). This is the moment where everyone tries to guess what the new year will bring. At the same time, the good and bad waiting for us down the road begins to rear its ugly head. I can promise you two things for 2018: there will be no solution to either the tension on the Korean Peninsula or the delicate detente between Israel and the Palestinians. Unless these two areas erupt into open warfare (which is a very real possibility), things will go on as they have been for the past five or ten years. Nothing is changing.

This is not good.

North Korea has been starving for twenty years. They need the wealth of South Korea both to improve the luxurious lifestyles of their leadership and provide the economic stimulus necessary to lift their people out of poverty. There is a very simple solution: the Kim family needs to relinquish control of the country and create a genuine constitutional republic. Naturally, that will never happen. As a result, the peninsula will never be reunited and China will preserve their buffer between Democracy and Communism. The real reason that North Korea continues has nothing to do with the Kim family and even less to do with the United States. The situation on the Korean Peninsula continues because China feels safer with the chaotic North Korean regime between their people and the freedom of South Korea. North Korea is China's version of the Berlin Wall.

Nothing will change in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people until Iran stops sending cash and weapons to Hamas, Hezbollah, and all the other Maliki Jurisprudence compliant gangs of thugs, terrorists, and criminals who hate Judaism as a religion and the Jews as a people. Anti-Semitic passions, fueled and maintained by the largest, most popular school of Islamic scholarship, are the real problem in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people. Iran manipulates this hatred with the deft and skill of master diplomats. Some Iranian leaders share this devotion to Maliki Jurisprudence, but for most of them Islamic fundamentalism is nothing more than a tool that generates huge profits. The Hamas and Hezbollah soldiers are mostly true believers, but the Iranian overlords who profit from the chaos are mostly secular elitists solely concerned with their own wealth. I don't mind people getting rich. I encourage it. However, the wealth of these men (and they are all men) is based on their ability to create, maintain, and fuel violent hatred of an entire cultural system and the people who belong to it. I hate seeing Chinese elites profit by supporting the Kim family in North Korea and I hate seeing Iranian elites profit by supporting terrorists in the wild borderlands surrounding Israel.

North Korea is backed by China and Iran is backed by Russia. This creates the very real danger that these two regional conflicts will explode into global thermonuclear war. As I pointed out back in August 2016 ("War is Coming"), this has almost nothing to do with the competence or incompetence of President Trump. It was the inability (or perhaps merely the unwillingness) of President Obama to seriously counter the growing militarism of both Russia and China that brought us to this point. I fear 2018 has become the year of decision. This might be the year that launches us into World War Three or this might be the year when China and Russia surpass the global prestige of the United States. Either way, by the time this year has ended nothing on the global geo-political stage will be the same.

To be completely honest, I do not know why the war did not start a year ago. Last winter, while President Trump was still consolidating his administration and still learning the limits of his new job, would have been the perfect strategic moment for either China to encourage North Korea to invade South Korea or for Russia to encourage Iran to launch missiles at Tel Aviv. Even more devastating would have been for both satellite states to begin military operations at the same time. Russia and China missed a golden window of opportunity that will probably never come again in my lifetime.

Unfortunately, this means that 2018 has become a critical junction point. By the time this year ends President Trump will either be the most powerful president in the history of the United States or a great lame duck impotently flapping around and quacking at the top of his lungs. Much depends on what happens in November. Well, to be more precise, during the active campaign season that begins in earnest in August. If the Republican Party is poised to take full control of the Senate while maintaining or improving their hold on the House of Representatives, then President Trump will become the most powerful president of my lifetime. If the Republican Party suffers substantial losses in either the House or the Senate (or both!), then President Trump will be the most impotent lame duck President of my lifetime.

Make no mistake, China and Russia will both be attempting to influence the outcome. They will both benefit greatly if President Trump can be rendered impotent. A lame duck president would give them the opportunity they need to finish consolidating their geopolitical stranglehold on resources and shipping lanes. If the Republican Party loses control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives then I don't know if it will ever be possible to restore the global supremacy of the United States.