Back in the ol’ hometown, ctd

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Industry 4.0 and the wealth of nations

It’s easy enough to identify the death of the Abrahamic faiths, and the corresponding cultural changes, as an engine of much of the world’s discord. Less discussed, though just as consequential, is the digitization of industry — Industry 4.0.

Put simply, more of the world’s work, and record-keeping, has been automated. Several years ago I visited a 3-story factory just a few miles from my home which had no more than a half-dozen people on duty, though it was operating 24-hours a day at top production.

Any rote task can be automated — and will be. It may be cheaper today to move work to Mexico, but that will inevitably spur wage increases there; when wages increase enough, it will be more cost-effective to build a factory that needs just a very few people. Inevitably, necessarily, unavoidably, manufacturing employment is going to continue declining, no matter Donald Trump’s bellicosity.

At this exact moment, there are platforms all over the world pumping oil with nobody on board; they are visited every couple weeks by a technician who does some minor, routine maintenance. What is more, there is now an initiative to build oil drilling rigs which don’t need roughnecks. Crops are harvested by combines which rely on data from satellites to decide which row is ready to be picked; if Farmer Green Jeans is on board, it’s only because he’d rather sit in the cab than sit on the couch with his wife and watch Dr. Phil. Laborers are being replaced by robots and, globally, tens of millions of jobs are going to be lost over the next few decades.

Even professional services such as engineering are being automated, with computer programs now performing hundreds of calculations in a twinkling. What is more, thanks to coding the heuristics formed by experience, engineering judgment can be duplicated. No kidding: I have read of the data from subsurface soil investigations being analyzed, and design recommendations prepared, wholly by computer.

Robots have performed surgery under the direction of a doctor hundreds of miles away. Today, routine cardiac procedures are performed by doctors who watch a computer monitor far more closely than the patient in front of them.

All labor, even professional labor, is being automated; the next generation of factories and office equipment and shop tools is being designed to eliminate people. This is not science fiction; it’s happening today.

And why not? A computer or robot will work continuously without complaint, without trips to the restroom, without coffee, and for years with no further capital investment. Repetitive motions don’t cause health problems for robots. Robots don’t come in hungover, and they produce the identical product again and again and again …

The millions of jobs lost to automation is just the beginning; there are tens, hundreds, of millions more to go.

We are headed, right now, toward a world in which the only people who work are boutique craftsmen, entertainers, and the people who build, program, and maintain the machines.

We need to spend more time thinking through the social and governmental implications of that, and less time worrying about how to punish Carrier et. al. The simple fact is that a solid majority of people are ill-suited for the technical work of the future. What is going to become of them? Are they going to be allowed to starve to death? They’ll kill the technicians and destroy the machines before that happens. But there isn’t going to be any useful work for them, either. What is the world going to be like when only 50-, or 75-, or 100-million people are needed to do the necessary work? How will goods be apportioned?

As I’ve said in the past, we are living in the midst of a truly epochal change in philosophy and technology, and the world is going to look a lot different when we get to the other side of it.

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Meet my neighbors, ctd

That guy who walked into a D.C.-area pizzeria and started shooting? A Tarheel.

A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign.

[ … ]

The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true.

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Back in the ol’ hometown, ctd

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In praise of experts

The criminality of being Christian
increases with your proximity to science.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Albert Mohler makes much of a recent NPR report about a study which finds — What do you know? — that evangelicals with some science education are mistrustful of university-based scientists.

I have to admit I am somewhat astounded that that line made its way into this NPR report. Straightforwardly, here we’re being told that evangelicals with greater expertise in science have less trust in the so-called university scientists. The distinction on the left-right continuum in American ideological life was made clear when the article says that liberal respondents were more trusting of university scientists and of science museums than were conservatives, but were no more trusting of industry scientists. On the other hand, the conservatives were more trusting of religious organizations than were liberals.


Mohler, y’all should know, is a Young Earth Creationist, upholds a literal reading of the Bible, and serves on the board of the Answers in Genesis ministry. Naturally, he would read approvingly anything that points toward mistrust of science.

Not all opinions are created equal, alas. Evolution is supported by millions of objective, mutually supportive, unrelated observations made by tens of thousands of unrelated individuals over the course of more than 150-years, and has withstood the scrutiny of the world’s finest minds. Mohler’s literalism is supported by … his mommy and daddy told him so. So there.

I have a difficult time, frankly, understanding how any educated adult can regard the Bible’s origins claims with anything but contempt. The whole story is a preposterous myth, and only an inferior intelligence can fail to see that; it really is as simple as that, and not worth further discussion.

But in an age when an aide to President-elect Donald Trump can say frankly on national television that “facts no longer exist,” and an extraordinary number of Americans believe that millions of illegal aliens cast votes for Hillary Clinton in California during the recent election, it’s worthwhile to give some thought to what we know and how we know it.

The place to begin is by frankly acknowledging that, yes, everybody is entitled to his or her opinion but, contrary to the anti-intellectualism now howled and bellowed from pulpits and podiums all across the country, not all opinions are created equal. Here are some facts: My opinions about the behavior of soil when loaded is better than yours; Michael Hamar’s opinions about the law are better than mine; frequent commenter Bernie knows more about operating a warship than either of us; and regular commenter TR can undoubtedly design an electrical circuit more capably than any of us.

There is such a thing as expertise, and a lot of it is needed to keep a society running smoothly. It is true that engineers, lawyers and naval officers all make mistakes — but not so often as others and, generally, far less consequentially.

“Facts no longer exist”? Bullshit. And instead of eating the educated, the people who have devoted thousands of hours of their lives to mastering a field of knowledge that keeps the public safe, they ought to be celebrated.

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