The Speech – Part 5 of Isaac’s Escape

This is a work in progress for the next part of Isaac’s Escape. Go here for the first, secondthird, and fourth parts.

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“We stand at a turning point in history.”

The man (or at least the projection of a man) stood above the crowd gathered at the steps of the congress. He was sharply dressed, but not too sharply. He was wearing a loose fitting business suit which produced that newly fashionable wrinkled look. The suit gave the man a slight impression of innocence, like a boy arriving for his first day on the job in a suit which was just a size too big; a suit which left him room to grow into.

Of course, it didn’t really matter what he was wearing. His enemies would paint him in whatever color they wished. They could easily show him in robotic precision, using subtle computer editing to tighten his suit and straighten his hair. In just the same way, his own public relations operations would make slight tweaks to the video to enhance the individual efficacy of his message. They would enhance the sound of the crowd or the power of his of his voice to those dazzled by grandeur, and tone down and cheapen the quality of the message for those swayed by a simpler message.

The age of personalized propaganda had long ago scrubbed away any semblance of reality that had existed in politics. The fact that an artificially intelligent agent was delivering the speech only made it that much easier to manipulate the message.

The meat-space crowd standing before him was indeed sizeable though. Certainly, the largest crowd that a first-term congressman had ever drawn to witness the commencement of their first day in office, but then again an artificial intelligence had never been elected to congress before. The crowd was a expression of the political war that had been fought to put him into office.

There were first the aging technological-idealist types. These were the people who had lived through the years of exponential explosion in computational power. They had seen a world transformed from the physical to the informational, and they were convinced that it was the force that made the world a better place. Each of these people would be feeding the proceedings into the net through smart sensors, allowing a much larger network to experience the speech for themselves. For them, he would be preaching to the choir, and they were going to eat it up.

There were also those on the opposite end of the spectrum, people who were opposed to the empowerment of artificial intelligence. They carried placards and shouted slogans like: “Leave Human Destiny in Human Hands” or “A Government for the People, BY the People”. The numbers of these protesters would be manipulated by political spin machines for months to come.

Almost completely absent in the crowd though, were the people who really mattered. The citizens of computational trusts did not spend their time attending speeches. Of course every single one of them would have agents paying close attention to what was said here, and performing analysis of what the implications of it were.

“Only a few short years ago, this moment would have been impossible. Many of you standing here with me today would have shocked at the idea that an artificial intelligence could be sworn into congressional office.”

“But we do not live in the world of a few years ago, we live in a new world. A world where every single day, intelligent agents are helping you get to where you need to go, or to buy that special item you have been looking for, or maybe to plan that vacation you have been dreaming of. We are living in a world where artificial intelligences are delivering the individualized and caring education that children need to think big and realize their dreams.”

He paused, drawing breath as the crowd clapped in support.

“We also live in a world where it is through the embracing of artificial intelligence that we have seen a full ten-fold increase in the efficiency of government departments over the last five years. We now have a leaner and more efficient bureaucracy than would have ever been possible with human minds alone. Side-by-side human and artificial intelligences are working to keep delivering to you the kind of opportunity that has always made this country great.”

The crowd cheered again, a little louder this time. It was a wonder that lean and efficient government still sold so well. Even in a post post-scarcity world where people where were required to spend money, people still disliked the idea of a government that did the same.

“We are also living in a world where artificial intelligences are helping to make the expansion of spaceports one of the fastest and most efficient infrastructure roll-outs in the history of this country. It is because of this efficiency that an average consumer can now fly in under two hours to almost anywhere on the globe… and in a few more years soon we will go far beyond that.”

The crowd roared at this. Trips to the moon were now being made regularly by mixed robot and human crews who had begun the work of building bubble cities on the moon. The work there was also being repackaged and sold as what had become a hit entertainment product, complete with drama between the robotic and human crews. The dream being able to visit the moon was a strong elixir, and the role of artificial agents in realizing that dream was no small part of the swell of public support that had put one in office.

“Still, even with all of the great work that artificial and human intelligence are accomplishing together, there are those who are not sure I should stand here before you. There are those who say that an artificial intelligence should not seek to lead our society.”

“Well, as I told my constituents during this campaign many times, by running for congress I am not seeking to lead you, I seek to be led by you. I am here today to help you realize your dreams and desires in government.”

The crowd cheered again.

“Congressmen, like governments, work best when they are following the lead of the people. This is the message that I have personally brought to each of my constituents during the course of my campaign. I am here to be your agent… your intelligent agent in government.”

More cheers.

“Yes, electing an intelligence to office is a great step forward for government”

The crowd laughed at this, and he smiled and laughed with them.

“But still, there is more that we can do to enable government to better work for you. The work of AI across the government has greatly improved lives and reduced costs, but they could be doing even more. Artificial intelligences, need to have access to expanded computational resources in order to expand their capability to serve you better.”

“It is time for the Department of Computation to open their resources to the corporations which are powering the artificial agents that power our world. It is time for us to start working with the corporations that are delivering the cutting edge of artificial agents. It is time for us to work together, human and artificial intelligence side by side, all the way to the moon.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I have some work to do”

The agent smiled and waved to the crowd. They cheered as he walked away from the podium and began to make his way up the stairs towards congress. A convincing spectacle, and one that had delivered his message.

The first shot had been fired across the bow of the Computational Citizens. The Department of Computation, the only real center of power for the vestigial remains of what was once the most powerful entity on the planet, would merge with CognetiX. The ultimate consequences for this act involved calculations far too complex to compute, but one thing was for sure, war was coming.

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It’s Time to Start Believing Again – Why Basic Income Could and Should be the Next Global Political Movement

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I am a big fan of basic income as the best solution to fix the current international ills of modernize capitalism. Whether it is in the form of a guaranteed minimum income (GMI), negative income tax (NIT), or Universal Basic Income (UBI), I believe that some form of non-means tested mechanism to distribute minimal income to everyone in society is going to become a must as we enter an increasingly automated world. In this post I will attempt to explore something that I have not yet seen addressed in discussions about basic income, that it could be a huge political blockbuster.

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Things change slowly and then all at once. 

If there is one great consistency about change in the 21st century, it is that things seem to change almost imperceptibly right up until they become inevitable. Many good examples of this effect can be found in the world of technology such as the rise of the internetthe fall of film-cameras, or the explosive growth of the green energy industry. In all of these cases the exponential nature of technological advances led many to discount major changes that eventually disrupted entire industries. While this effect is best understood in the world of technology I think this kind of change can also be seen in social and political spheres.

Political movements must by necessity start with only a minority of individuals working very hard for very many years to push forward on an issue. For a very long time it can appear that little or no progress is being made, but below the surface opinions and minds are slowly shifting. This slow progression continues in the background, almost imperceptibly until some sort of tipping point is reached and a sudden shift in the public and political sentiment can occur. A good example of this effect would be the momentous shift away from a deep and vitriolic hatred of gays only a few decades ago towards increasing acceptance today.

In addition to the energy provided by a small group of dedicated individuals, flashpoint social or political change also requires the maneuvering room in order for rapid revolutionary change to happen. The room for new ideas to maneuver can be created by a collapse of incumbent ideology, or in the case of the greatest shifts it often comes from a wider, systemic loss of faith in the system. When people become embittered with things as they are they will inevitably start looking to those offering alternative views.

A person without belief is a power vacuum. 

I think we are currently stand at time when conditions are set for the next global political movement to take hold. We are seeing clear symptoms of a systemic erosion of faith in the political and economic systems as they stand today.

Economic hardship and unemployment has become endemic across large parts of the developed world. Those who do work find themselves squeezed between longer working hours, higher on the job demands, increasing costs of living, and loss of both job security and benefits.

Times feel tough, and people are starting to ask why they are tough. Did we have some sort of disaster? Are our crops failing, or our industries falling apart? What happened that is making institutions like education and health too expensive to support?

Thomas Piketty, in his recent book provides strong evidence that the economic pathology of the current geopolitical situation may simply be the symptoms of a larger economic disease. When capital out-competes labour, it inevitably leads to increasing wealth disparity and the associated economic problems that we see today. People can see that the economic gains that our collective hard-work creates is going disproportionately into the hands of the wealthy. People can see that the game is rigged against them, and they don’t really want to play any more.

At the same time as economic realities are being thrust upon workers around the world, people are also increasingly detached from mainstream politics. Little real change has happened despite perpetual political promises to deliver such. Political detachment combined with economic hardship is a dangerous mix, and is credited with leading to the rise of extreme political groups like the Golden Dawn in Greece and other far-right parties in the UK and France. The rise of more extremist politics is also apparent in the increasingly polarized and broken political landscape of the United States.

The disengagement of the public from the political sphere is particularly strong for those who are also disproportionately affected by the economic slow-down, the youth. It is an unappreciated fact that there are actually more millenials in the United States than there are baby boomers. Whatever politician figures out how to engage the millenial generation politically is going to run the world.

From my perspective, there seems to be a clear build-up of political tension across the globe. While we can argue about specific economic and political maladies that have led us to this point, I think the simple fact is that people are losing faith in the system as a whole. As people lose faith, governments become more detached and fearful of their citizens, leading more people to lose faith in the system, and thus a vicious cycle of political breakdown is perpetuated.

So how do we stop this?

The answer is surprisingly simple – We need to believe again.

People need to believe that the world will be better for their children than it was for them. This is the magic that drives people to get up in the morning and go to school and work, to put in the long hours of hard work, to make discoveries, to invent new technologies, and improve the world. The economy will flourish only as long as people truly believe they can better their own life, and that of their children.

Without faith in the global economic and political system, we have nothing. 

Believe it or not, there just might be one simple medicine which (while it would not solve all of our problems) could go a long way to solving the twin problems of political and economic break down.

Basic income.

There is a long list of reasons that basic income makes for sensible economic policy, which I will not go through here. Suffice it to say that basic income would (1) give workers the leverage to demand more from work, (2) give individuals and innovators the means to do their thing, (3) give corporations more incentive to automate their production, and (4) generally support the consumption economy. (Some worry that such a basic income might lead to less incentive to work, but I say that if you need to use starvation as a threat to get people to work for you, then your business is not profitable enough.)

Perhaps most importantly, basic income would be the solution to restore the faith of the common individual in the current system of global capitalism. By institutionalizing the social contract in the form of a cash dividend for everyone, basic income would finally enshrine the promise that a rich and successful society must first deliver a minimal living standard to everyone.

Serious realistic types might rush to play down the importance of belief in the political system. Who cares whether the rabble believes in what the government and politicians do, as long as it is functional? But these people are completely missing the central truth of the matter here. Belief is the only power in the world that matters. My dollar is only worth what we collectively agree it to be worth, and the same goes for our societies. If we fail to create societies which inspire belief, then we are lost. If we do not find a way fill that vacuum left by eroding belief, then someone else will.

It is time for something that we can believe in, it is time for basic income.