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Will Machines Ever Become Human?

What does “human” mean? Humans are conscious and intelligent — although it’s curiously easy to imagine one attribute without the other. An intelligent but unconscious being is a “zombie” in science fiction — and to philosophers and technologists too. We can also imagine a conscious non-intelligence. It would experience its environment as a flow of unidentified, meaningless sensations engendering no mental activity beyond mere passive awareness.

Some day, digital computers will almost certainly be intelligent. But they will never be conscious. One day we are likely to face a world full of real zombies and the moral and philosophical problems they pose. I’ll return to these hard questions.

term-robot

The possibility of intelligent computers has obsessed mankind since Alan Turing first raised it formally in 1950. Turing was vague about consciousness, which he thought unnecessary to machine intelligence. Many others have been vague since. But artificial consciousness is surely as fascinating as artificial intelligence.

Digital computers won’t ever be conscious; they are made of the wrong stuff (as the philosopher John Searle first argued in 1980). A scientist, Searle noted, naturally assumes that consciousness results from the chemical and physical structure of humans and animals — as photosynthesis results from the chemistry of plants. (We assume that animals have a sort of intelligence, a sort of consciousness, to the extent they seem human-like.) You can’t program your laptop to transform carbon dioxide into sugar; computers are made of the wrong stuff for photosynthesis — and for consciousness too.

No serious thinker argues that computers today are conscious. Suppose you tell one computer and one man to imagine a rose and then describe it. You might get two similar descriptions, and be unable to tell which is which. But behind these similar statements, a crucial difference. The man can see and sense an imaginary rose in his mind. The computer can put on a good performance, can describe an imaginary rose in detail — but can’t actually see or sense anything. It has no internal mental world; no consciousness; only a blank.

[Read the full text here, at BQO]

Bur some thinkers reject the wrong-stuff argument and believe that, once computers and software grow powerful and sophisticated enough, they will be conscious as well as intelligent.

They point to a similarity between neurons, the brain’s basic component, and transistors, the basic component of computers. Both neurons and transistors transform incoming electrical signals to outgoing signals. Now a single neuron by itself is not conscious, not intelligent. But gather lots together in just the right way and you get the brain of a conscious and intelligent human. A single transistor seems likewise unpromising. But gather lots together, hook them up right and you will get consciousness, just as you do with neurons.

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But this argument makes no sense. One type of unconscious thing (neurons) can create consciousness in the right kind of ensemble. Why should the same hold for other unconscious things? In every other known case, it does not hold. No ensemble of soda cans or grapefruit rinds is likely to yield consciousness. Yes but transistors, according to this argument, resemble neurons in just the right way; therefore they will act like neurons in creating consciousness. But this “exactly right resemblance” is just an assertion, to be taken on trust. Neurons resemble heart cells more closely than they do transistors, but hearts are not conscious. Read the rest of this entry »

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Center for Immigration Studies Report: All Employment Growth Since 2000 Went to Immigrants

Thousands of immigrants marched on the US capital Washington to demand immigration reform on October 8, 2013. (Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Thousands of immigrants marched on the US capital Washington to demand immigration reform on October 8, 2013. (Anadolu Agency/Getty)

According to a major new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), net employment growth in the United States since 2000 has gone entirely to immigrants, legal and illegal. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CIS scholars Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler found that there were 127,000 fewer working-age natives holding a job in the first quarter of 2014 than in 2000, while the number of immigrants with a job was 5.7 million above the 2000 level.

The Center for Immigration Studies is a non-profit research institute. Founded in 1985, the organization is regularly consulted by policymakers, the academic community, and the media on matters of immigration policy.

The rapidity with which immigrants recovered from the Great Recession, as well as the fact that they held a disproportionate share of jobs relative to their share of population growth before the recession, help to explain their findings, the authors report. In addition, native-born Americans and immigrants were affected differently by the recession.

Other significant findings include:

  • Because the native-born population grew significantly, but the number working actually fell, there were 17 million more working-age natives not working in the first quarter of 2014 than in 2000.
  • The share of natives working or looking for work, referred to as labor force participation, shows the same decline as the employment rate. In fact, labor force participation has continued to decline for working-age natives even after the jobs recovery began in 2010.

Read the rest of this entry »


Economist: 100,000 Net Job Loss Since September

a-new-job-can-helpAccording to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business professor Edward Lazear, America has lost a net 100,000 jobs since September 2013.

The Hoover Institute fellow asserts in his March 16 Wall Street Journal editorialthat job employment numbers are more accurately measured by the number of total hours worked than by the number of people employed. The job gains often touted by the government don’t always tell the true story about U.S. employment. Lazear explains that an employer who replaces 100 40-hour-per-week workers with 120 20-hour-per-week workers is contracting, not expanding, operations. The professor says that this is true at the national level as well. Read the rest of this entry »


Progress: Government Workers Cost 45% More Than Private Sector Workers

 writes:  The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced on March 12th that the total cost of employing a state or local government worker is 45% more than an equivalent worker in the private sector.

For the month of December 2013, employers in private industry spent an average of $29.63 per employee hour worked, but the equivalent cost for a government worker averaged $42.89 per hour. Not only do government employees average 33% higher pay than those in the private sector, their pension and retirement benefit costs are now an incredible 254% higher also. Given that compensation formulas for federal, state, and local government are comparable, it should come as no surprise that this year spending by the U.S. government will exceed revenue by an all-time high of $744.2 billion, and our gross national debt is a stunning $18.5 trillion.

“Not only do government employees average 33% higher pay than those in the private sector, their pension and retirement benefit costs are now an incredible 254% higher also.”

The BLS reported that private employers spent $20.76 on average for wages and salaries, plus $8.87 for benefits per hour worked. State and local government paid $27.66 for wages and salaries, plus $15.23 for benefits per hour worked. Government employees cost 33% more in wages and 71% more in benefits. The biggest difference is that government pension costs are 254% higher than the private sector.

Read the rest of this entry »


How Obama’s Internal Devaluation Increases Income Inequality

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Chriss W. Street  writes:   The Obama Administration’s $5.8 trillion of big government deficit spending has caused the United States to suffer an “internal devaluation,” as American worker wages after inflation were forced down in each of the last five years.

American competitiveness increased by over 10% due to worker sacrifices, but all the benefits flowed directly to corporate officers and financial speculators. When the President recently lamented, “The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream,” he could count on the unwavering support from Warren Buffett, who was the last year’s biggest dollar gainer with a $12.5 billion jackpot. However, as recent polls demonstrate, American voters are now solidly against deficit spending.

Read the rest of this entry »


Reality Check: 34.3 % of Americans Don’t Want a Job

someecard-work-homelessDuring the 2012 presidential campaign, as I listened to the competing slogans from Republicans and Democrats, phrases repeated endlessly on the campaign trail, I had a bad feeling that the traditional GOP message was failing to recognize a hidden truth about modern America. A truth that the Democrat campaign understood, and successfully tapped into. Many Americans actually don’t want a job.

It was a subversive, nagging thought. I wanted to dismiss it. Because I wasn’t just thinking about the welfare-dependent, or Occupy Wall Street anti-capitalists, or the the aimless couch-surfers in their parents’ basement, or members of the undocumented criminal economy, or the federal and state workers, the privileged, well-connected political classes who enjoy job security and fat pensions—the other, perfectly legal criminal economy–I was thinking about a lot of normal, regular people. People for whom the tried-and-true GOP-playbook phrases about the ‘Great American Work Ethic’ fails to impress.

Women move into the wartime labor force - NARA...

Women move into the wartime labor force – NARA – 292121 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Work does suck. Even for those that don’t want a get-out-of-work-free card, the modern workplace is a numbing, soul-sucking, hamster-wheel cage that’s increasingly unrewarding, humiliating, and for tangible less reward.

Between the nanny middle-managers, human resources rule-makers, petty tyrant bosses, the modern workplace a less dynamic environment than it used to be.

Add to that the diminishing opportunities for advancement, portable technology invisibly leashing employees to workplace concerns even when they’re not on the clock, and flat wages, the American workplace has become a treacherous, all-bullshit, all-the-time environment that doesn’t exactly inspire industrious, risk-taking, enterprising folks the way it did a few elections ago.

Read the rest of this entry »


Report: Government Workers ‘Absent’ 50% More Than Private-Sector Workers

tdy-130328-happy-worker_2p.TdyHorz3A government worker is 38 percent more likely to be absent from work for personal reasons or illnesses than a private-sector worker, and government workers miss 50 percent more of their usual work hours as a result of such absences than do private sector workers, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Each month, the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey collects information from 60,000 households, including information on employment status.  BLS uses this data to publish employment statistics. Read the rest of this entry »


White House takes down White House visitor logs, blames Republicans

WHITE-HOUSE-AP-PHOTO-USE-e1368122980136

Patrick Howley writes: The White House has taken down online White House visitor logs and blamed Congress.

The logs, which were posted beginning in December 2009 “as part of President Obama’s commitment to government transparency,” are the latest victims of a partial government shutdown that has temporarily idled 17 percent of the federal workforce.

“Due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation to fund the government, the information on this web site may not be up to date. Some submissions may not be processed, and we may not be able to respond to your inquiries,” reads the index page for the visitor logs.

“This dataset is currently private,” says the exact location on the page where the visitor logs used to be.

Read the rest of this entry »


NYTimes Fingers Pornography as Source of Employment Declines

NYTpornNumbrsNYT’CATHERINE RAMPELL writes: The pornography industry, long accustomed to being a scapegoat for the country’s moral ills, is now being blamed for America’s economic failings, too.

Employment in the motion picture and sound recording industries plunged in August, for a loss of 22,200 jobs. It was the sector with the biggest losses last month, and also represented the largest monthly decline since the Labor Department started keeping track of jobs in the industry in 1990.

Some have attributed the job losses to the X-rated film industry. After an H.I.V. scare, the industry temporarily shut down around the time that the Labor Department conducts its monthly survey.

It sounds like a plausible theory, but there are a few reasons to be skeptical.

First, the numbers are volatile from month to month, and for some reason have gotten more so in recent years. So the decline could just be noise. Read the rest of this entry »


Gallup: Unemployment Rate Jumps from 7.7% to 8.9% In 30 Days

`Outside of the federal government’s Bureau of Labor statistics, the Gallup polling organization also tracks the nation’s unemployment rate. While the BLS and Gallup findings might not always perfectly align, the trends almost always do and the small statistical differences just haven’t been worthy of note. But now Gallup is showing a sizable 30 day jump in the unemployment rate, from 7.7% on July 21 to 8.9% today.

This is an 18-month high.

At the end of July, the BLS showed a 7.4% unemployment rate, compared to Gallup’s 7.8%. Again, a difference not worthy of note. But Gallup’s upward trend to almost 9% in just the last three weeks is alarming, especially because this is not a poll with a history of wild swings due to statistical anomalies. Gallup’s sample size is a massive 30,000 adults and the rolling average is taken over a full 30 day period.

Gallup also shows an alarming increase in the number of underemployed (those with some work seeking more). During the same 30-day period, that number has jumped from 17.1% to 17.9%.

via Gallup: Unemployment Rate Jumps

 


BET Founder: ‘This Country Would Never Tolerate White Unemployment at 14 or 15 Percent’

Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Bob Johnson said Tuesday that the nation would “never tolerate white unemployment at 14 or 15 percent” and yet unemployment for the black community has been double that of white Americans for over 50 years.

“This country would never tolerate white unemployment at 14 and 15 percent. No one would ever stay in office at 14 or 15 percent unemployment in this nation, but we’ve had that double unemployment for over 50 years,” Johnson said while speaking at the National Press Club about the gap between whites and blacks in America.

“The national average is 7.7 percent, and African-American unemployment is 13.8 percent. To be honest, it’s probably greater than that when you count the number of African-Americans who have simply given up on finding employment,” said Johnson, who is also founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies.

In 1972, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 11.2 percent in January of that year and as low as 9.4 percent in December of that same year. It dipped as low as seven percent in April 2000. The unemployment rate for blacks in February 2013 was 13.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Johnson said the challenge was to figure out why the unemployment rate for blacks has been so high, “and if that doesn’t change, somebody’s going to have to pay— 34 million African-Americans are not going to leave this country, millions of African-Americans who don’t have jobs.”

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