Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
With the sub-title—"How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World", Christopher Steiner’s "Automate This" is hyperbolic. Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code hackers to dominate the world. Social and political science have not reached a state of measurement and predictable outcome that reaches Karl Popper’s criteria for science. Popper’s requirement for empirical falsification is not true with social and political algorithms; at least, not as reliable, reproducible experiments. Social and political analysis, even with the use of algorithms, is not science.
Of particular interest is Steiner’s explanation of algorithm impact on jobs. Like the industrial revolution, the world’s work force will dramatically change with continued automation. More product production will be automated through algorithms that manipulate machines to do the work formerly done by humans. Steiner believes primary growth industries will be ruled by technology. No jobs will be unaffected by algorithms. Steiner notes that even medical services for common colds and routine visits will be served by algorithmic analysis and drug prescription services. Code hackers will be offered the greatest job opportunities. Call centers will become bigger employers but even those jobs will be increasingly handled by algorithms that minimize employee involvement. A conclusion one may draw from Steiner’s book is that middle managers of call centers, sales people for algorithmic products, teachers, personal service providers, and organization executives will be in demand but many traditional labor positions will disappear.
Steiner’s book is a recruitment tool for today’s and tomorrow’s code hackers. That is where jobs will be. Steiner suggests that young and future populations should plan to acquire basic math skills, learn to code, and plan for a future of automation and exploration.
Curiosity is a mechanical, one-eyed, six wheeled, antenna-tailed super dog. It can stiff the air, drill rocks, analyze elemental particles, roam a countryside (at a snail’s pace 300 feet per hour), and talk to humans. Its language is in 1s and 0s. It speaks to Earth from Mars across 49 million miles of space with a message that continues to amaze and encourage human exploration of the universe.
Robert Manning, in collaboration with William Simon (Manning’s ghost writer), reflects on the technological feat of creating and delivering a robotic laboratory to the fourth rock from the sun. Manning heads a team of NASA scientists and engineers to design the latest land rover, called Curiosity, to explore Mars.
“Mars Rover Curiosity” is a tribute to NASA and its organizational skill in achieving a land mark in extraterrestrial exploration. In listening to Manning’s story, one feels humans are on the edge of a continent in the 15th century, planning to sail to an unexplored place to find answers about what there is beyond imagination. NASA’s contribution to science and a possible future for humanity seems inferred by Manning’s story; particularly in light of current scientific evidence for Earth’s global warming.
Reading the “New York Times”, Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 the front page of “Business Day” shows an article about Google called “Search and Replace”. In the same edition, there is an article by Shane Harris on the editorial page, “Giving In to the Surveillance State”. Both articles infer a dystopian future envisioned by Johnny Von Neumann and Alan Turing, the primary geniuses of the computer generation’s beginnings in the middle of the 20th century. "Turing's Cathedral", a history of computer science in the 1940s, is strikingly like the 2012 NYT's articles--“Déjà vu”.
Near the end of George Dyson’s book, a chapter is written about the potential of a computer that can dream, based on an accumulation of all the world’s known publications, communications, and locations, to answer any question about the world that is known by the collective mind of man. Nils Aall Barricelli envisions world domination by artificial intelligence. The entry to that world is “Turing’s Cathedral”, a mansion of the entire world’s information that is being built to be occupied by a wired or wireless connection to human brains.
“Turing’s Cathedral” seems to be more than a church of knowledge and mankind seems to be less than the soul of a machine.