Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford

First of all, wow. There is so much here. Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford covers not just robotics and A.I., but the impact of technology on culture, jobs, economics, sports, war, politics, and the fate of humanity. To its credit, the book examines all sides in the light of what science knows now, with various opinions from scientists about what it may know in the future. There are many shockers here, and more coming. For example, income inequality, if allowed to continue at its current rise, may make the movie Elysium seem more like a documentary. Ford points out that the trends (extrapolated by the movie’s setting and plot) are on par to produce a society in which the ultra rich few enjoy comforts unattainable to mass citizens who are more like refugees or slaves. There are a few caveats, however. It is unlikely that the kind of workers (such as Matt Damon played in the movie) will be needed. His work would be done by robots. The movie also postulates that robots will be relatively dumb, and this is probably not realistic, either. (So say the majority of scientist/engineers. The movie had to make robots relatively dumb to maintain continuity vis-a-vis Damon's job.) Whether there will be general intelligence equivalent “hard” A.I.s is a matter for speculation, but most agree it will happen, although some say sooner, some say later. (Scifi, especially in movies, tends to underestimate the timeline. Most book writers of science fiction project things further out. It really depends on the rate of change in society and technology, and no one knows what has yet to be discovered.) Particularly intriguing is the point of view this audiobook brings to the question of health care (which was also a major theme in Elysium.) Ford shows that our current system (supported and locked in by our two party political system) is not geared to reward efficiency. The goal of health care now is profit. He proves this with careful reasoning and multiple examples. Medicare is the most efficient, but even it cannot address the rise of costs, which, together with fraud and the widespread public acceptance of junk food and soda, mean only escalation of deficits (poverty.) Today the number one reason people go bankrupt is medical bills. Meanwhile, there are ads on TV which exacerbate the problem. We are taught to depend on drugs to fix us when we get sick, rather than to prevent disease by proper nutrition and exercise. One ad, for a motorized electric cart for disabled people to get around, is promoted as being “reimbursed by Medicare,” but a report showed that only 20% of those getting the carts actually needed them. That’s an 80% scam of Medicare dollars. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hospitals are overbilling as standard practice, and investing millions in new technology which, one might think, would improve health care. But in most cases this technology is being created, not for efficiency, but for revenue. As radiologists and lab technicians are then replaced by robots, there will be fewer employees in hospitals, too, as in other industries. Ford examines those industries, and shows how and why the trend of fewer employees (and greater valuations of companies as a result) will require tough decisions on the part of college freshmen and politicians alike. Narrator Jeff Cummings is always engaging in creating a true ear-wax melting audiobook, for sure. (By the way, Rise of the Robots is also an unrelated video game.) 

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