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Comment: Square foot gardening is the rebuttal (Score 1) 127

by Paul Fernhout (#47711745) Attached to: FarmBot: an Open Source Automated Farming Machine

Other styles of farming whether square foot gardening or indoor hydroponics can be much more productive per acre than big field farming with tractors, but they are *labor* and *knowledge* intensive. Robotics (or other automation) make greater yields per square foot much more achievable more cheaply. That also makes vertical farming in cities more feasible.

See especially:
"A 2010 study published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems showed that biointensive methods resulted in significantly increased production and a reduction of energy use when compared with conventional agriculture (Moore, S.R., 2010, Energy efficiency in smallâscale biointensive organic onion production in Pennsylvania, USA, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 25:3, pp. 181â188). This study states that "Current mechanized agriculture has an energy efficiency ratio of 0.9 ... energy efficiency for biointensive production of onions in our study was over 50 times higher than this value (51.5), and 83% of the total energy required is renewable energy."

The fact that many people have inefficient backyard gardens does not mean that people could not have very productive gardens if they knew more and had more time for them. Biosphere II was a good example of intensive food production in a small space.

See also books on "Survival Gardening".

The best one I've seen (by that name, by John Freeman) is not mentioned there though:

Don't know about this new one by someone else:

Granted, that is mostly about organic vegetables and beans. Grains may be a somewhat different issue, but they are already heavily automated in many ways. But as Dr. Fuhrman suggests, eating more fruits and vegetables is healthier than eating more grains (especially refined grains).

You should not discount that gardening in the sunshine can be good health-promoting exercise. It saves money indirectly by displacing other less healthy recreational activities like shopping for the next unneeded consumer item.

BTW, we can grind up rock to get good fertilizer for relatively cheap, especially if powered by excess renewable energy:

By this estimate by economist Julian Simon, there is plenty of opportunities for growing lots more food if we want to:

General purpose agricultural robotics makes intensive gardening so much more feasible to do on a small local scale... Still, highly-automated indoor agriculture powered by cheap energy is probably more the future of food production because it is so much more predictable.

Comment: Also our FOSS Garden Simulator started around 1990 (Score 1) 127

by Paul Fernhout (#47711563) Attached to: FarmBot: an Open Source Automated Farming Machine

Though only finished and released around 1997: http://www.gardenwithinsight.c...

(Unrelated work and also two years of grad school to learn more about ecological modelling plus excessive ambition caused delays in getting it done...)

And MECC's "Lunar Greenhouse" from 1989 ran on the Apple II:

This emulator did not work for me, but seemingly Lunar Greenhouse is online:

But there are other text-based games like Hamurabi which goes all the way back to 1968 where you "plant" crops and harvest them. I played a variation of tha first around 1980 or so.

It can be played online:

I've long wanted to build a general purpose gardening (and maintenance) robot like the ones in "Silent Running". For some reason, there has been economic resistance to supporting general purpose agricultural robots. Cheap illegal labor in that sense harmed my career in robotics in the 1980s when I really, really wanted to make such things. :-(

That's one reason I've just done software, which is cheaper to do on your own than robotics. Or it was, now that robotics is getting so much cheaper for various reasons due to cheap powerful embedded computers and cheaper sensors and actuators and 3D printing and web-based design and manufacturing like via 100K garages and such.

There were a couple times I spoke with academic roboticists about making general purpose agricultural robotics in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both were interested in industry-fundable specific purpose robots, like for seeding transfer in greenhouses (Rutgers) or for autonomous wheat harvesting with big machines (CMU). Those were no doubt fairly practical ideas, and I may have been well served in a robotics career to have pursued such practical ideas in cooperation with those professors, but they were not the general purpose system I really wanted to work on like the Silent Running-type drones. Still, they might have been stepping stones to better systems -- but it is easy to be too ambitious and impatient when you are young.

Nowadays though, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in agricultural robotics, and I wonder if crackdowns on illegal agricultural labor may even be connected to it?
"Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers

Also, this is a problematical statement from the point of view of a robotics engineer: "A robust agricultural guest worker program, properly designed, will not displace American workers," Black said in remarks prepared for the hearing. "As my testimony shows, in Georgia, even with current high unemployment rates, it is difficult for farmers to fill their labor needs."

That guest worker program displaces robotics engineers... Otherwise there would be a much greater demand for general purpose agricultural robots.

Instead, I worked on virtual gardening software for growing virtual plants. My wife and I also made a simpler version of the garden simulator just for breeding virtual plants (mostly her work):

That said, there is little that is better for mental health for many people than real gardening with real plants and real sunshine and real dirt... So, robots could help us, but it is still healthy to get your hands dirty in the soil and sunshine and not leave it all to the robots...
"Silent Running Final Scene - Joan Baez (Rejoice in the Sun) "

Silent Running is a movie that inspired so much of my own work... Even a lot of the motivation behind the garden simulator is related to the movie, because if we are going to live in space, we should know how to grow food there. One design idea for that garden simulator software was to have a "growbot" to do repetitive tasks, but we went for a more hands-on approach for that version.

BTW, MIT has (or had) stuff in robots and gardening, starting from around 2008:
"Our long-term goal is to develop an autonomous green house consisting of autonomous robots where pots and plants are enhanced with computation, sensing, and communication."

Anyway, I'd still love to build the Silent Running drones, as impractical as they may be. Those three drones captured the spirit of the better hopes for robotics working in friendly partnership with humans (including medical care), compared to so many unpleasant realities or fears about robotics (like cruise missiles and predator drones, and the Terminator movie franchise).

The Red Dwarf scutters reminded me of those Silent Running drones. They seem easier to build (as they use wheels). I put together a web page on an "Open Scutter" project in 2010, but nothing more has happened with it:

But so many other distractions. I'm embarrassed to say my MakerBot Thing-o-matic kit (purchased from before MakerBot turned to the dark side of non-FOSS) is still not put together... Of course, I've also often found it a lot less fun (and sometimes even harder) to put together someone else's design than to just DIY from scratch. But mostly I wanted to put that together with my kid and the logistics have not worked out well for that yet.

Comment: In Praise of Idleness By Bertrand Russell... (Score 1) 303

... from 1932 echos part of your point:
"First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earthâ(TM)s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two different bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising. Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. These are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might, therefore, be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is rendered possible only by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example."

The key part agreeing with you being: "The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given."

You make another interesting point on equal distribution of material wealth in the USA essentially in terms of mass. To support your point, it's true that a lot of "money" controlled by the wealthiest 0.1% is now in the "casino economy" of the stock market and so on (FIRE sector) and so unavailable for use by most people to signal demand for material goods.

Still, I can doubt your point on equal distribution of goods and services is true overall, even if it is no doubt true for, say, beverages. I'd be curious to see more substantiation of that point.

It seems to me in the USA that wealthy people own a lot of land (and control corporations and politics, see: ), they have in general better quality products and services (including education and food), as families they have more potential free time and self-determination, they have better access to medical care, and they face less financial precarity in their day-to-day lives. In general, they are not forced to take on risks that poorer people are (unsafe cars, unsafe neighborhoods, unsafe food, unsafe jobs, etc.). Those are enormous benefits towards a happier life. Still, as you point out, by strictly material standards, most people in the USA are better off than even the wealthy of 100 years ago. That is an important point. However, there is more to life that material goods. Things like face-to-face community, craftsmanship, general literacy, time spent by mothers with their young children, and time spent in nature and in sunshine seem to have declined per capita in the USA -- as have birth rates. A whole bunch of illnesses, including mental illness, seem to be on the rise.

There is a deeper issue here if we put aside the controversial issue that robots and AIs could do most jobs soon (and in a way, robots etc. just crank up a trend that has been going on for decades) . The fact is, most human labor is already not needed for use to live near to our current standard of living. Bertrand Russel pointed this out in that 1932 essay: "Modern technic has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor necessary to produce the necessaries of life for every one. This was made obvious during the War. At that time all the men in the armed forces, all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the War were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of physical well-being among wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance; borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The War showed conclusively that by the scientific organization of production it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world."

So much of potential US productivity has been squandered in competition:
"But our [women's] rebellion was simultaneously based on thinking that went something like this: If a family can live comfortably on one full-time worker's income, then a family can live comfortably on two half-time workers' incomes. So rather than dad being gone from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday with mom stuck at home, mom and dad would each work 20 hours a week, and divide home and childcare equally. Women working meant income and childcare equality, and more home-time for dad.
    I will pause here to give you the opportunity to stop laughing.
    What in fact happened is that when we were done smashing the barriers that kept women out of the Ivy League and managerial positions, the Gen-Xers came rushing in with a very different idea in their heads, namely, now my partner and I can both devote our lives to climbing the corporate ladder. Market research executives have a name for them: DINKS, or double-income, no kids.
    Here is sobering statistic from "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33- to 46-Year-Old Generation," a study from The Center for Work Life Policy in New York: About 43 percent of Gen X women and nearly a third (32%) of Xer men do not have children at all -- nor do they intend to.
    With all that extra income, these wealthy (primarily white), highly educated Gen-Xers could afford to buy bigger houses, more luxurious cars. So, of course, housing and other prices followed suit. Eventually, we needed two incomes just to maintain the same quality of life that the Boomers and Silent Generation enjoyed from just one. And after the fad of downsizing, globalization of the workplace, and two economic downturns (in 2000 and 2008), we are now all running as fast as we can just to not fall behind."

Elizabeth Warren also talks about this in "The Two Income Trap":
"Of course, the notion that mothers are all going to run pell-mell back to the hearth and turn back the clock to 1950 is absurd. But that aside, a big part of the two-income trap is that families have basically bid up the cost of living. Housing is a big example. A generation ago, an average family could buy an average home on one income. Today you can't do that in three-quarters of American cities. We all know that housing prices are going up, but what most people don't realize is that this has become a family problem. Housing prices are rising twice as fast for families with kids.
    A lot of that has to do with public schools. As confidence in the public schools has dwindled, people are bidding up the prices on homes in those school districts with good reputations; so for a typical family, the only way to afford one of those homes is to send mom to work. Average mortgage expenses have gone 70 times faster than the average father's income, and the only way families are keeping up is by bringing in two incomes.
    Of course that's where you see the trap. If families were simply sending Mom into the workforce and using that money to build their savings, or to have more fun, or to go on more vacations, you wouldn't see the same kind of financial trap. If Mom or Dad got laid off, heck, they'd stop going on vacation. But that's not the case. If mom gets laid off now you can't say, "Well, we'll just stop paying the mortgage for awhile." One of the things we've heard over and over after our book was released was mothers stepping forward and saying: "You're telling my story. You know, maybe I prefer to work and maybe I don't, but I tell you I have no choice financially. The only way we're getting health insurance and the only way I'm sending my kids to a decent school is for me to work and work some more." ...
    Yes, there's this great myth out there that we call the "Over-consumption Myth," which goes: If you earn a decent income, and you're in trouble financially, it must be because you're blowing all your money at the Gap, and TGIF. The myth is so powerful, it almost seems like heresy to question it. But when we actually looked into the data on what real families actually spend, it's just not true. An average family of four actually spends less on clothing than their parents did a generation ago, adjusted for inflation. That includes all the Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirts and all the Nike sneakers. How does this work? Well we forget all the things we don't spend money on anymore -- how many kids have leather shoes for Sunday school anymore? How many people dress up in wool suits for work everyday?
    The point is that families today are spending their money no more foolishly than their parents did. And yet they're five times more likely to go bankrupt, and three times more likely to lose their homes. Families are going broke on the basics --housing, health insurance, and education. These are the kind of bills that you can't just trim around the edges in the event of a downturn."

Germany shows a different ways forward on this.
"How did Germany become such a great place to work in the first place? The Allies did it. This whole European model came, to some extent, from the New Deal. Our real history and tradition is what we created in Europe. Occupying Germany after WWII, the 1945 European constitutions, the UN Charter of Human Rights all came from Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Dealers. All of it got worked into the constitutions of Europe and helped shape their social democracies. It came from us. The papal encyclicals on labor, it came from the Americans."

As does the Netherlands:
"Still, de Bruin's observations suggest that glamour, hospitality and charm may not be essential ingredients for female happiness. Living in a wealthy, industrialized society plays a huge part in the Dutch woman's sense of contentment, she said, given the benefits of a social net that allows for balance between work and family life. She backs that claim with statistics: 68 percent of Dutch women work part time, roughly 25 hours a week, and most probably do not want a full-time job."

I listed several pathologies that can chew up productivity here (including endless schooling, lack of preventive health care, and so on):

Now, it may well be true that a marketplace is a better way to organize useful labor than central planning Russell was enamored of (assuming the market is policed by government regarding externalities, monopolies, wealth concentration, and systemic risks).

But Russell's general point from 1930 is still valid and has been made by others and is even more valid today -- that we already are at the point where most of us don't have to work to provide a decent life for most. But instead, much human energy is frittered away in competition, war, boring schooling, guarding each other, and then addictive pursuits stemming from the craziness of it all. As Bob Black suggests:
"Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done -- presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now -- would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkies and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes."

It's true that material expectations are higher now than in the 1930s. But so too are our abilities via robotics, AI, and a better knowledge of materials and design.

As I think Kevin Carson or someone else on the p2presearch list suggested, what would our economy look like in an intermediate state if this process of implosion was going on? Perhaps it might look much like today -- with rising unemployment, falling GDP, and various short-term social distresses?

Yes, we could perhaps create a world where people were providing endless services to others, such as the person who watches the person who watches the person who watches to ensure your dog is guarding your house (see also Dr. Seuss on bee watching). We could create a world where almost everyone is a maid or gardener to a few ultra-wealthy people like in some third world nation. Some liberals have even joked that it looks like the goal of most US Republican leaders is to remake the USA into Pakistan (no strong government, little publicly supported infrastructure, privatized education, huge rich/poor divide, etc.).

But is that really the world we want? I guess is does come down to an assessment of human nature and what most people want. Also, if most of those services could be provided by AIs and robots, which you reasonably question, then even if people want more services, there is no need to have people provide them.

While I agree in the current value of tradeskills, many trades are tough on the knees, and it is hard to be a tradeperson past 50. And in any case, we would soon see falling wages if everyone rushed to the trades right now. They could absorb more people than now, but not everyone who needs a job to survive in our current economy. Again though, robots and AI don't have to replace all humans to make a big dent in the economy. They just have to allow, say, one skilled human welder to do the work of ten welders by supervising ten robots who do the mostly routine welding.

There have been several articles on the development of 3D printing for homes, so even the trades are going to be facing automation. In general, better design, made easier by better computers and the internet, can eliminate many jobs in many trades, by making products last longer, making them easier to DIY install or repair, or by making products in automated factories. For such an example, and maybe it was not perfect, but there was Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion Bathroom:
"The four, stamped sheet metal or molded plastic sections are each light enough to be carried by two workers. They'll fit up tight staircases and through narrow doors, allowing retrofitting in existing structures. All the appliances, pipes, and wires are built-in, limiting on-site construction to mere hook-up. With the sections bolted together, the interior has no germ-harboring nooks, crannies, grout cracks or anything that can rot. Large-radius corners make germicidal swabbing easy and complete. Downdraft ventilation draws fumes and steam to the undersink vent. Both sink and (deep) bath-shower are arranged to ease the care of children and seniors. The mirror doesn't steam up, the sink doesn't splatter, and the toilet paper stays dry. Dymaxion Bathrooms are to be equipped with "Fog Gun" hot water vapor showers that use only a cup of water to clean hygienically without soap. ..."

I'd encourage you to look at Bertrand Russel's essay (overlooking some 1930s-era comments on Russia), or stuff by others like Bob Black on work:

Humans seem adapted to a certain amount of daily physical exercise. We can either get this through some form of manual "work" (including gardening and caring for young children) or by going to the gym. It seems like gardening etc. might be preferable to boring repetitive gym "work"? Again, when going up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and given a lot of AI and robotics would we really want to turn to a paid human for most services? Would you really want a "personal shopper" to find your next DIY-installed faucet for you instead of turning to Amazon and looking at the reviews?

One can make the case for general "work" by all, but within these limits like EF Schumacher does:
"The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure."

Still, as Bertrand Russel points out, it takes some degree of education (and not like modern Prussian-derived schooling designed to dumb most people down) to understand the potential of "idleness". The basis of much of modern science came from a small subset of the idle rich of Europe.

I don't think most people see the end of scut work as bad. What they see is that the end of menial work means a lot of people starve or otherwise suffer in our current economy where the right to consume for most people (and their families) is based on offering personal labor for sale. While there a lot of things wrong with using IQ as a measure, as someone else on Slashdot mentioned years ago, half of all people have an IQ of less than 100 (by definition), and IQ correlates somewhat with the type of skills we are talking about for a 21st century economy. These may be people who are loving parents, hard workers, highly knowledgeable about some tasks, good friends and neighbors, generous volunteers, good joke tellers and story tellers, and so on. But what does the future hold for them when so many low skill or menial jobs are being automated and when 24X7 video entertainment is available cheaply? Is it fair that all these people will be disenfranchised from receiving the fruits of the industrial base and larger society they and their ancestors helped create? And to what end, given the possibilities of automation to produce essentially endless material abundance relative to human needs and even most wants?

Marshall Sahlins claims hunter/gathers has a lot of leisure time and did relatively little work by modern standards, and what work they did was skilled and relatively enjoyable (given humans became adapted to a certain niche for a long time):
"Hunter-gatherers consume less energy per capita per year than any other group of human beings. Yet when you come to examine it the original affluent society was none other than the hunter's - in which all the people's material wants were easily satisfied. To accept that hunters are affluent is therefore to recognise that the present human condition of man slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times."

As I see it, the *need* for a lot of work relative the the easier days of our hunter/gatherer past came from a few things. One is rising expectations (which may be a good thing, depending) and that is what you point to for the future demand for work. However, the "voluntary simplicity" movement questions this. Another is humans making work for each other in often pathological ways, generally related to turf wars and social status -- although not entirely questionable depending on how one views group selection vs. individual selection regarding evolution and mate selection. However, the peace movement, cooperative movements (see Alfie Kohn), and other social trends question this level of competition. Another key reason is the need to work harder because of increasing populations relative to the Earth's carrying capacity pushing people onto marginal lands. While a sandy beach in the tropical Caribbean or by an African lake may make for easy living from the water's bounty, there was only so much warm beach front property to go around. Everyone else had to work harder on more marginal lands. However, we've become so potentially good at making food and stuff from so little (even figuring out how to make useful aluminum from otherwise useless rocks). Our population growth is slowing, and in any case, if population grows again, there is the promise of outer space including perhaps living in self-replicating space habitats that can duplicate themselves from sunlight and asteroidal ore like JD Bernal envisioned in the 1920. My OSCOMAK project hoped to help with all that. So, new options in each area are opening up for alternative ways of thinking about all this. Bertrand Russell saw that in 1932. It is only more true now.

Again, perhaps this comes down to different expectations of human nature in different settings. Also, at some point quantitative changes can become qualitative changes. Sure, people can formalize the exchange of social favors in a retirement community using some form of tokens or currency (including a LETS system), especially if they grew up in an exchange-oriented economy. But at some point, such social interactions around exchanging mainly optional services may lend themselves more easily to a "gift economy" approach like common in North American economics several hundred years ago (among the Native Americans, including via "Potlach"). Again, I like James P. Hogan's 1982 novel "Voyage From Yesteryear" for illustrating one possibility of what might happen as a scarcity-based world view encounters an abundance-based worldview. Like Bucky Fuller said, whether it will be utopia or oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race to the very end...

Comment: Also similar to Bucky Fuller's 1930 Dymaxion House (Score 1) 58

by Paul Fernhout (#47701801) Attached to: The Data Dome: A Server Farm In a Geodesic Dome
"The Dymaxion was completed in 1930 after two years of development, and redesigned in 1945. Buckminster Fuller wanted to mass-produce a bathroom and a house. His first "Dymaxion" design was based on the design of a grain bin. ... The Siberian grain-silo house was the first system in which Fuller noted the "dome effect." Many installations have reported that a dome induces a local vertical heat-driven vortex that sucks cooler air downward into a dome if the dome is vented properly (a single overhead vent, and peripheral vents). Fuller adapted the later units of the grain-silo house to use this effect."

Internally, I like the radial design of the server clusters around the central networking core to reduce and make consistent network physical travel paths within the system.

Comment: Re:Vitamin D deficiency; he needs to supplement (Score 1) 288

by Paul Fernhout (#47700387) Attached to: WikiLeaks' Assange Hopes To Exit London Embassy "Soon"

Good question... Maybe the roof is sloped?

BTW, I just saw this old article which suggests Assange has a "sunlamp", but as in my other comments, I can wonder if it is good enough for adequate vitamin D production?
"The fugitive has just a sunlamp, a running machine and internet connection in the threadbare room inside the ground-floor apartment in Knightsbridge."

A comment here suggests Ecuador only rents a few offices from the Columbian embassy, so maybe they don't control enough contiguous space to get Assange to the roof?
"They are saying the Assange hasn't seen light since he got there, so I assume no roof access, and judging from the vehicle traffic, it doesn't even appear to have a garage. He's sleeping on an air mattress in someone's office. I can't find the link, but I read that Ecuador only occupies a couple offices in the building, basically renting space from the Colombian embassy."

"The "B" implies that the embassy occupies one of the floors, not the entirety of number 3. Which floor depends on how they are labelling them. The usual way in the UK would be for the ground floor to be plain "3", then the next floor up "3A" etc. Now, it looks like this building has a mews level, so who knows, it may just be the one floor above ground level, rather than the second."

So, it seems possible the Ecuadoran embassy subpart of the building has no roof access.

Comment: UV-A vs. UV-B (Score 1) 288

by Paul Fernhout (#47700309) Attached to: WikiLeaks' Assange Hopes To Exit London Embassy "Soon"

Perhaps his lamp put out mostly UV-A (which tans and burns) instead of UV-B which produces vitamin D? See my other posts in this thread on the difference. But too much of almost anything can be a bad thing.

As you say, it sounds like, short of being smuggled to another country in a diplomatic courier bag, Assange can't avoid facing charges if he leaves the embassy. I don't see what leverage by Ecuador could cause the UK to relent.

Of course, in "real life", people also may just make up stuff for various reasons:
"In an effort to capture enemy combatants during the War on Terror the United States implemented a bounty program offering monetary rewards for information on, or the surrender of, possible enemy combatants. The bounty system has been beneficial in bringing forward actionable information against enemy combatants because it has functioned as a strong motivator, but that may also have led to the detention of innocent civilians at both Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airbase. Turning over individuals to U.S. troops was a lucrative business venture for bounty hunters, the Pakistani and Afghan governments, and civilian reward seekers who could convince the U.S. that the person they had captured or were making accusations against, was connected to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or another terrorist group."

Here is another article that mentions Vitamin D and Assange:
"It had been reported earlier that he is suffering from arrhythmia (abnormal heart beats), high blood pressure and other health problems associated with a lack of Vitamin D, after his not being exposed to sunlight for that length of time, and that he would need to leave the embassy to go to hospital."

Granted, it might be a "BS" excuse, as you suggest. Nonetheless, I still think it is possible he is not supplementing adequately given a too low RDA and also, perhaps, using the wrong UV sunlamps? There is so much misinformation out there about Vitamin D.

The good news is, more and more people in the UK are coming to understand the connection between Vitamin D deficiency and illness. Could it even contribute to some Middle Eastern (or US/UK) extremism?
"A deficiency in this crucial vitamin, thanks to our increasingly indoor lifestyles, is already blamed for the reappearance of rickets, the painful and deforming bone disease in children, in the UK. But gradually, evidence is emerging that links low vitamin D levels to a rise in a whole host of "modern" diseases, some of which were virtually unheard of in the pre-industrial era. ... Dr John McGrath, international expert in schizophrenia based at the University of Queensland, Australia, says the evidence suggests that sun exposure in pregnancy and early life protects against schizophrenia and "raises the tantalising prospect that optimising vitamin D status during pregnancy may lead to the primary prevention of the disease". ...
      Could lack of vitamin D in pregnancy also explain autism? The latest evidence suggests that a low vitamin D level in the mother's body during pregnancy may induce her immune system to make antibodies which can damage the baby's brain, as well as causing certain genes to malfunction. Last month, Rhonda Patrick and Bruce Ames from the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, in California, published research findings that these genes normally make the chemical serotonin. Too little of this neurotransmitter is associated with abnormal social behaviour while too much in the digestive tract causes sensitivity to foods which may explain some autistic children's difficult eating habits. ...
    At the same time researchers are finding links between vitamin D and chronic disease, the world is facing an epidemic of these same conditions, caused by our indoor lifestyles. Even in the height of summer people in cities often have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D, and so babies born at any time of year may develop these diseases. It's well recognised that multiple sclerosis has become increasingly common in the UK over the last century. Today, in cloudy Orkney, off the north of Scotland, one in 150 women suffer from MS, believed to be the highest prevalence in the world. ... One striking example of the rise in MS is in Iran where, after the Islamic revolution in 1979, women were compelled by law to wear the veil outdoors together with clothing covering most of the body. Between 1989 and 2006, the incidence of MS in Iran increased more than eight fold, from an incidence of about one case in 100,000 to nearly one in 10,000 in the city of Isfahan. "The Islamic revolution can potentially explain the observed increase in MS incidence in Iran in just over 30 years," said Dr Ramagopalan. "Veiled women have lower vitamin D levels compared to unveiled women, giving an increased risk of low vitamin D in pregnancy which can account for the increase in MS. [And autism and schizophrenia...]""

Anyway, whatever issues Assange faces, ill health will just make everything else worse, including perhaps political decisions like you point out.

Comment: Re:Vitamin D deficiency; he needs to supplement (Score 1) 288

by Paul Fernhout (#47700171) Attached to: WikiLeaks' Assange Hopes To Exit London Embassy "Soon"

Neat info, thanks! The weblink did not work for me with a "forbidden" error, BTW, but I get the idea. Interesting about the different spectrums for different areas. I did not realize LED lighting systems were becoming so configurable.

Because we have electric heat, I've also thought about doing indoor agriculture with my own kid during the winter with tomatoes, lettuce, and such -- since the cost of electricity for lighting would be essentially free as it just displaces electric heat. A few things that have stopped me are:
* the space it would take up
* equipment costs
* concerns about indoor humidity and mold
* worries about getting on some list related to indoors growers, as in:
"Apparently Americans who employ hydroponics are the newest targets in an insane "drug war" that has gone from bad to ludicrous since it was first "declared" in the early 1980s."

Instead I sometimes grow bean sprouts which don't take light. But it still bothers me that I could be getting more use out of that electricity before it become heat. I've also though it might be useful to use the electricity to run computers in the winter first and get heat as the byproduct -- too bad I did not mine BitCoin with that power when it was easy.

Comment: "Wow. That Sounds Hard" (Score 1) 369

To support your point:
"In a touching Medium post a few days ago, the writer and programmer Paul Ford shared what he thinks is the secret to his politeness. In conversations with new acquaintances, Ford asks plenty of questions and lets the other person do the talking. He tries not to ask what they do for a living, but if it comes to that, he responds to their job description--whatever it is--with, "Wow. That sounds hard."
"Nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult," he writes. He describes how this process once worked with a woman whose work is not something most people would consider taxing:..."

Also cited here:

Comment: Re:Vitamin D deficiency; he needs to supplement (Score 1) 288

by Paul Fernhout (#47698575) Attached to: WikiLeaks' Assange Hopes To Exit London Embassy "Soon"

Interesting DIY! Do the bulbs you use just put out UV-B and minimize UV-A? Something on the difference regarding vitamin D production vs. skin damage:

One point made by Mercola is that it could take 48 hours for the body to absorb vitamin D produced in skin oils from sun exposure, so bathing with soap become problematical if you want maximum Vitamin D? People in other times and cultures both generally got lots more sunlight and did not bathe very often.

Here is a comment suggesting looking into special UV-B enhanced bulbs available for reptile care, but I wonder if they are enhanced enough to be the best choice for humans, given it seems many reptiles need UV-A to see colors correctly?

Some interesting SAD-and-light-color related comment here:

My wife found vitamin D supplements are more effective than a blue LED SAD light...

Anyway, I've been learning some new stuff while re-exploring this topic. I usually take a vitamin D supplement. I get some sunshine when I can, but since I take a shower every day, I wonder if the sunlight is really that effective for vitamin D production? Still, as above, like Dr. John Cannell talks about, I wonder if there is still something missing that my skin might produce from real sun exposure.

Still, there remain many unknowns about human health, so would getting only UV-B (which makes vitamin D) and no UV-A (which tans the skin) be health promoting for humans? The human body is adapted to a certain environment which includes exercise in the sunlight. When we change our environment to one that seems better but is less natural, it is hard to know what we may lose out on. The same is true when we eat foods that may seem more enjoyable like with lots of sugar, fat, and salt via refined grains, but may leave us missing out on micronutrients and fiber that we need to stay healthy.

Comment: Vitamin D deficiency; he needs to supplement (Score 3, Insightful) 288

by Paul Fernhout (#47697795) Attached to: WikiLeaks' Assange Hopes To Exit London Embassy "Soon"

Assange may well not be around for much longer without access to sunlight or at least supplementing with vitamin D. The article says: "Asked about his health, Assange said anyone would be affected by spending two years in a building with no outside areas or direct sunlight, a complaint he has made several times before."

According to these, he probably needs on the order of 2000-5000 IU Vitamin D3 daily as supplements:

He might need more for a while to catch up if he is already severely vitamin D deficient. The US RDA for vitamin D for most adults is about 5X-10X too low, so generally you don't get enough from food. Many indoor workers are vitamin D deficient these days, given we usually work, play, and commute inside something with windows that block UV-B radiation. Our carpets maybe won't fade from filtered sunlight, but our health will.

However, we don't know all the compounds that the human skin makes in response to sunlight. He might want to look into using special purpose UV-B lamps as well. Mercola talks about that:

There are some rare health conditions like sarcoidosis that make vitamin D supplements problematical, so if he has any special health issues like that, he should talk to a knowledgeable doctor before supplementing.

Comment: Probably all 2 true as an insight; Skunkworks? (Score 1) 160

by Paul Fernhout (#47697189) Attached to: The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA

Great dynamic analysis of engineering social systems! For ways around this via skunkworks development, see William L. Livingston's writings, like "Have Fun At Work":

From a review:
"It is dangerous, and often fruitless, to try and solve problems without considering the underlying social system.
    This is the message of William L. Livingston, a mechanical engineer with over 100 patents and decades of industrial experience. Several books and a newsletter detail his disturbing but important worldview. ...
    ``Have Fun at Work'' (1988, ISBN 0-937063-05-3, $24.95) is the basic work. ...
The book sketches a different social structure that is better equipped to cope with complexity: the Skunkworks. The term comes from a legendary aircraft development shop that produced the U-2 and Blackbird aircraft. In general, a Skunkworks is a small (3--5) team of battle-hardened, generalist engineers equipped with the latest in software tools for simulating the behavior of all the involved systems (mechanical, electrical, software, and social).
    On a purely practical level, this book is an excellent survival manual for results-oriented engineers who have developed attitude problems about the structural barriers to success in their work environments. Livingston discusses how to evaluate your social structure's potential for success, ways to get working projects out the door in spite of these barriers, and how to tell when you're wasting your time even working there.
    Livingston's more recent work, ``Friends in High Places'' (1990, ISBN 0-937063-06-1, $28.50), spends less time discussing organizational pathologies and more time discussing the Skunkworks procedure. It is a somewhat more positive, less bitter work than ``Have Fun at Work.''"

I also think free and open source collaborations via "stigmergy" are another way around this, where people collaborate by adding to a shared digital artifact.
"3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
4. Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is dependent upon stigmergy. "

Even at IBM Research, technologies like the Jikes Java compiler only got picked up by other groups because they were made open source. Otherwise the organizational barriers within a big organization like IBM would be too strong to use the tools. That was something mentioned somewhere by one of the authors as the biggest surprise of open sourcing Jikes, that other IBMers suddenly were using it.

By contrast, back aound the same time Jikes went open source, I desperately wanted to try IBM's embedded Smalltalk (acquired from OTI) in a research project at IBM instead of using VxWorks for the portable IBM Personal Speech Assistant (a handheld speech recognizer and TTS system as a coprocesser to a Palm Pilot, a forerunner in a way to Siri and Google Voice). That other group said I would need to come up with about US$200,000+ worth of funding to their team before they would make their code available for use even just inside IBM, claiming they would have to dedicate a support person to it. Sadly, that was not feasible; I was only a contractor, and this was my own idea because I loved Smalltalk. So that technology did not get used at all in that project. Too bad for that group, because the then IBM chairman Lou Gerstner asked for one of the devices for his office to show people -- and wouldn't it have been nice for that IBM group if their technology had been used instead of or in addition to VxWorks?

If IBM/OTI Embedded Smalltalk had been open source like Jikes, "stigmergy" would have been possible, and I would have tried really hard to make that software part of the project. But that is just not the way things often work within big organizations with several divisions that charge each other for stuff. I did try both Squeak and Python for parts of that project -- which were a pain to get formally approved by IBM Legal back in 1999, but that was easier than finding the money for that other group. My work on "embedded Squeak" comes from around that time -- I made those changes so Squeak could run headless on my own time, but they were originally to support that IBM Research project. Python is even referenced in a related software patent I'm on for the PSA (not that I think software patents are a good thing).

Comment: Hard Fun Simulation Microworld Games (Score 1) 160

by Paul Fernhout (#47694891) Attached to: The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA

Thanks for the amusingly accurate XKCD link and insightful game comparison! I agree. However, it can be tricky to get a good game balance and have a good "microworld" framework for open-ended exploration. KSP pulls it off, whereas, say, our FOSS garden simulator from around 1997 does not.

That gardening simulator was written in part as a first step towards a space habitat simulator -- since you need to grow food even in space. Unfortunately, funding it ourselves for years (much of the living expenses for that work funded crazily on credit cards which took many years of doing unrelated work afterwards to repay), we had to triage out many of the open-ended interesting parts of gardening to get the first version done. We emphasized scientific accuracy as far as we could, which probably was a mistake compared to starting with simpler models. My wife and I both had been in a graduate program in ecology an evolution, so we has an academic bias. After the first version, we did not have time and resources to revisit it. We had hopes and sketches back then for activities like canning your own food, "survival" gardening where you had to grow enough calories or starve, interactions with neighbors, a virtual computer in the simulation where you did garden planning and looked up gardening info, and so on. A few vestiges of those remain, like the simulation being able to provide a calorie count of what you harvest. The open ended parts like designing your own tools, soil amendments, and plants were not that engaging in how they were implemented. By contrast, the "Harvest Moon" video game series emphasized fun parts of gardening for most people (like interactions with neighbors), although they lacked the science. It can be hard to bring that all together.

Here was a related (unfunded) NSF pre-proposal from 1997 for a second version of the garden simulator (never made) emphasizing creating an open-ended FOSS modeling environment for gardening-related models, but even that probably would not have been that much fun for most people even if it might have transformed the field of agricultural simulation:
"The usual outcome of an effort such as ours is a commercially distributed software product with proprietary source code. However, research continues on modeling of soil processes and plant growth, and this product will soon fall out of step. A proprietary program may be a bridge, but no one can walk across it. By making the model source code available, we will bring scientists out from their side of the bridge to interact with the models, while at the other end of the bridge the general public will step out by changing the models themselves."

But that was before I understood "the Big Crunch" like Dr. David Goodstein talks about and how hard it was to get grant money of any sort:
"The period 1950-1970 was a true golden age for American science. Young Ph.D's could choose among excellent jobs, and anyone with a decent scientific idea could be sure of getting funds to pursue it. The impressive successes of scientific projects during the Second World War had paved the way for the federal government to assume responsibility for the support of basic research. ... By now, in the 1990's, the situation has changed dramatically. With the Cold War over, National Security is rapidly losing its appeal as a means of generating support for scientific research. There are those who argue that research is essential for our economic future, but the managers of the economy know better. The great corporations have decided that central research laboratories were not such a good idea after all. Many of the national laboratories have lost their missions and have not found new ones. The economy has gradually transformed from manufacturing to service, and service industries like banking and insurance don't support much scientific research. To make matters worse, the country is almost 5 trillion dollars in debt, and scientific research is among the few items of discretionary spending left in the national budget. There is much wringing of hands about impending shortages of trained scientific talent to ensure the Nation's future competitiveness, especially since by now other countries have been restored to economic and scientific vigor, but in fact, jobs are scarce for recent graduates. Finally, it should be clear by now that with more than half the kids in America already going to college, academic expansion is finished forever."

There was a lot of talk in the 1990s about the importance of STEM, the importance of inspiring a next generation of engineers and scientists, and of getting women involved in science and technology, and so on. Sound familiar to recent slashdot articles? But for all that, there was little funding, and fierce competition for what there was. And very sadly back then, what little funding there was would then be given by places like NASA to subsidize proprietary software and content made by contractors (including universities) which could not be built upon.

The closest we got to writing an open-ended modeling framework was our StoryHarp software for interactive fiction, a project of a few months afterwards, which I primarily wrote while my wife was writing PlantStudio based on the best part of the garden simulator (see below) and we started looking for paying jobs. StoryHarp can be fun to use for authoring and playing choose-your-own adventures which you can even play by just listening and speaking, but it does not have any "science" as part of it:

That is why Kerbal Space Program is so awesome, because they succeeded at bringing together both the science and the sense of fun creative accomplishment. Space Engineers, while less scientific, captures an engineering aspect of space as well, including issues like the value of gyroscopes. Like a form of natural selection, when you think of all the hundreds of other space-related games, there is some statistical sense that eventually someone will find the right balance, and the community will select and praise that while the other efforts fall by the wayside (such as our garden simulator).

Still, I can say for our subsequent PlantStudio software (in large part my wife's effort), is that we pulled out the part of garden simulator people like most (designing plants) and refined that into something people really enjoyed in an open ended exploratory way. And it did combine much of the science of botany with a fun open-ended activity. Here is an example of dozens of statements of praise from PlantStudio users:
"I have been very happy with Plant Studio, and the improvements are most welcome. Of all the 3D programs I own, Plant Studio is the only one my wife will touch. She loves it, but not as much as I do."

And another on the science aspect: "Wanted to let you know that I've thoroughly enjoyed using PlantStudio since downloading & registering it... It's really been a botanical education. You've obviously put an enormous amount of work into its creation & into the development of some remarkably comprehensive help files. I'm very impressed by the flexibility of the program, by the degree of control the user has over every aspect of plant design."

But alas, we didn't have the energy to build on it further then, like to add support for OpenGL and including textures. We played it safe by continuing to work for pay, other stuff came up, and then we had a kid, and so PlantStudio languished. My wife's career took a new direction into working with stories based on her paying work at IBM Research and elsewhere -- and I'm working on some related software for her right now -- or should be once I send this post. :-)

We put the PlantStudio source here under the GPL, including incomplete efforts to move it from Delphi to Java and Python to be cross-platform:

Lazarus has come so far as a cross-platform Delphi like tool, the porting efforts maybe were misguided compared to just making it run well in Lazarus. Although if we were to do more with the PlantStudio software at this point, we would still be tempted to redo it in JavaScript to run in a web browser so it was easily available.

I had hopes Squeak Smalltalk might provide a platform for open-ended educational simulations. "Scratch" from MIT showed what is possible, and it covers some of the same ground as our NSF pre-proposal idea in terms of making it easy to build and share models. But around 2000 when I had time to do stuff with Squeak, it was still snarled in a non-free license and my efforts to unsnarl the license issue did not make much progress. The license issue has since been fixed, but times have changed. If anything, HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript is probably the platform of choice for making educational simulations today because it is everywhere. Schools can easily use such software in a web browser without needing to "install" anything. One of my wife's sisters who is a teacher said (back around 2000) that she could be fired for installing any software on school computers without formal approval. It's not impossible to get such approval, but it is hard. So, the web is the best way to go for anything educational and collaborative it seems, compared to stand-alone software. Given advances in compiling JavaScript to native code, there is even the potential to run things similar to KSP or Space Engineers in the web browser. It may be a less efficient approach in many ways compared to a native executable you download and install, but for free educational stuff, there is probably nothing as inefficient as software people don't use or can't try for whatever reasons. Voxel.js also shows what is possible in the browser (a Slashdot article I submitted to help support that project by raising awareness of it):

Another related idea is "Hard Fun" by Seymour Papert:
  "I have had a lot of flack from people who read this column (and other things I have written) as advocating taking the hard work and discipline out of learning. I don't blame them. I am a critic of the ways in which traditional school forces kids to learn and most attempts to introduce a more engaging, less coercive curriculum do indeed end up taking the guts out of the learning. But it is not fair to hold me guilty by association. My whole career in education has been devoted to finding kinds of work that will harness the passion of the learner to the hard work needed to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline. But it is not easy to find the right language to explain how I think I am different from the "touchy feely ... make it fun make it easy" approaches to education.
    Way back in the mid-eighties a first grader gave me a nugget of language that helps. The Gardner Academy (an elementary school in an under-privileged neighborhood of San Jose, California) was one of the first schools to own enough computers for students to spend significant time with them every day. Their introduction, for all grades, was learning to program, in the computer language Logo, at an appropriate level. A teacher heard one child using these words to describe the computer work: "It's fun. It's hard. It's Logo." I have no doubt that this kid called the work fun because it was hard rather than in spite of being hard. "

I guess finding the right balance of "Hard Fun" for an educational simulation is itself a "Hard Fun" challenge if you like that sort of thing. :-) I can hope NASA will invest more in that sort of educational research to support its mission.

Comment: Just posted this to Paul Jones #noemail blo (Score 1) 235

by Paul Fernhout (#47689545) Attached to: Email Is Not Going Anywhere

Posted the below to:
For all that, here is a recent Atlantic article and related slashdot discussion on why email is not going anywhere, which makes much the same points as I have here previously (email is decentralized, standards-based, non-proprietary, interoperable, ubiquitous, extensible, mobile-friendly, etc.):

I'd agree it would be good to have something even better than email (a social semantic desktop?), but closed-source proprietary centralized walled garden solutions like you repeatedly profer don't seem like a general improvement. And what do you do if these platforms close up shop? Why notfigure out how to build something better for knowledge exchange on email or other open web standards? Still, WordPress with Akismet is an excellent platform for exchanging knowledge -- but it still relies usually in practice on email for push notifications.

Ultimately, what are your "requirements" for a better platform?

Comment: NASA work == public domain, contractor not (Score 1) 160

by Paul Fernhout (#47688751) Attached to: The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA

Amazing point! And further, work done by NASA is public domain, but work done by hired contractors is generally proprietary. I spoke with someone at NASA at an SSI conference who said NASA had a difficult time making realistic simulations of things like the space shuttle or space station because the contracts specified they would receive blueprints, not CAD files, and the contractors would not release the CAD files, so NASA had to reverse engineer them from blueprints. That is one story that inspired me to write essays like these on why government funded and charitably funded works (even in part) need to be released under free licenses:
"Foundations, other grantmaking agencies handling public tax-exempt dollars, and charitable donors need to consider the implications for their grantmaking or donation policies if they use a now obsolete charitable model of subsidizing proprietary publishing and proprietary research. ..."

Even in the 1980s, I met an ex-NASA person who was somewhat disgusted by the fact that when he worked at NASA, he wanted to design and build stuff, but ended up having to manage contractors instead (and said that was most of what people at NASA did). That is one reason working at NASA sounded like a not so good idea if you actually were interested in creating new technology for supporting human life in space.

I can still dream of working at NASA developing simulations of life in space and releasing all the code and content in the public domain. I talked with Al Globus at NASA about such ideas around 2000 (in relation to my OSCOMAK proposal and his own supervision of NASA's educational efforts related to a space settlement/habitat contest), and he had some good suggestions about game-like aspects for a simulation of living off the land in space, but the ideas went nowhere back then. But at least, a decade later, we now have the proprietary programs of Kerbal Space Program and Space Engineers (and to a lesser extent MineCraft/InfiniMiner). In some ways, those simulation programs may be doing more for the development of space in terms of inspiring the next generation and teaching skills of design and cooperation than the last couple decades of NASA efforts involving real hardware (as important as they may be)?

Still, NASA has supported some educational simulations, like MoonBase Alpha, but is seems proprietary?
"Moonbase Alpha is a video game that provides a realistic simulation of life on a natural satellite based on potential moon base programs. It was made by the Army Game Studio, developers of America's Army, and Virtual Heroes, Inc. in conjunction with NASA Learning Technologies. The game was released on July 6, 2010, as a free download on Steam.[2] At the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in 2010, the games won the top honors in the government category of the Serious Game Showcase & Challenge.[3]"

But it looks proprietary even though NASA funded it, because I don;t see a free license for the source and content, even if it is "free to play"?

Looks like NASA is supporting other stuff, but again, proprietary stuff developed outside of NASA itself by contractors?
"Starlite (formerly associated with Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond) is the title of a multiplayer online game which as of November 25, 2009, is being developed by NASA with Project Whitecard Enterprises Inc. and WisdomTools Enterprises. The game world will be set in the future (2035 or later), with the ability to explore planned and possible near-future moon missions, which is facilitated by the use of NASA Learning Technologies, and Innovative Partnerships programs. Other NASA Learning Technologies programs include Second Life's MOONWORLD [1] and Moonbase Alpha [2] on the STEAM network, as well as a few others on different platforms going all the way back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) system of the 1980s."

Looks like it is still not out though:

Here is another educational simulation on lab safety (also confusingly called Starlite) funded in part bu the US NIH that it would be cool to get the source and content to, under a FOSS license, to build on:

Just wish NASA would do more along that line in a FOSS way and in-house... And that I had the time/resources to help...

Comment: Future economics of most human labor & demand? (Score 1) 303

by Paul Fernhout (#47684961) Attached to: Humans Need Not Apply: a Video About the Robot Revolution and Jobs

tl;dr Employing robots and AIs overall to do almost *anything* may soon be cheaper than employing most humans, similar to how we junk old computers because they use too much power per MIP even when they still "work". Also, the demand for market-supplied goods and services is limited as people move up Maslow's hierarchy of needs and want to do more things for themselves and want to do creative things of a (generally) less materially-intensive nature. Thus mainstream capitalism is about to face divide-by-zero errors.

=== Two key assumptions of mainstream capitalist economics

Your insightful comment really gets at the heart of the controversy (from a mainstream economics viewpoint) and so deserves a significant response. I agree that we can see many of the material aspects of US society today as a "victory for automation". Still, as your post implies, mainstream economics includes two assumptions, and if either of these assumptions becomes false, mainstream economics will falter (although it may press on anyway at the cost of great human suffering).

These two assumptions are:
1. The assumption that most human labor will always have significant exchange value in the market regardless of advances in AI, robotics, and other automation (as well as other trends like voluntary social networks, accumulation of infrastructure and know-how, cheap energy like from fusion power, and so on). Significant means at least enough value to purchase at least the bare minimum to survive (given almost all the land has been privatized or otherwise enclosed preventing subsistence through hunting, gathering, and gardening). Further there is the assumption nowadays that the exchange value of labor in the USA by most people willing and able to work is high enough for more than subsistence to achieve at least a "middle class" US life or better.
2. The assumption that demand for goods and services is infinite for any given population (or at least demand grows faster than supply over the long term), thus ensuring there is always a need for more labor no matter how much automation can meet previous demands. There is also the assumption this excess demand for goods and services beyond supply will be great enough to prevent a race to the bottom in wages through competition regarding supply and demand of human labor. In short, without major government intervention like a basic income, a capitalist system as we know it needs to continually expand to be viable for human survival if most humans require employment to survive.

Let's see if either of those assumptions can be debunked. It only takes debunking one to show how mainstream economics is failing in the 21st century. Debunking either would mean there would be zero wages for most humans or zero new net demand, and some mainstream economic equations will blow up with divide-by-zero errors in such a case.

== Assumption 1: Most human labor will always have market-place value

Debunking the first assumption about human labor always having significant exchange value is what the video is mostly about. And it is enough to invalidate mainstream economics as we know it in the USA. A similar point was made in "The Triple Revolution Memorandum" from 1964, although for various reasons I mention on my site was ahead of its time in its predictions. As an analogy, many Slashdotters have older computer around they don't use anymore. Those older computers are generally turned off because compared to later computers, they are slower, are noisier, consume more power per MIP, can't be updated for newer security threats, have limited memory, may have more complex UIs or maintenance procedures, and so on. It is easier in most cases to just run VirtualBox on a multi-core machine with a task-specific VM or to use small cheap recent dedicated hardware for functions like routing or firewalls or file serving. Or Slashdotters might just do more with cloud computing that others maintain. The CGP Grey video is about the trend towards most humans becoming like old computers as far as employability in a modern economy relative to special-purpose robotics, AIs, and other automation as such get better at mental labor and visual pattern recognition. Yes, perhaps old computers could do the job slowly, but managing old computers could be more trouble than it is worth given the costs and risks and given that the quality of the results may be reduced.

How does that analogy play out for real human workers?

Our current economic system produces a huge amount of goods and services but has trouble distributing them in a healthy way. That is because for most people the right to consume is linked with the exchange value of their labor, which varies widely. An alternative would be to see at least part of the right to consume as being a human right from being a citizen (like talked about by C. H. Douglas and Social Credit or President Franklin D. Roosevelt and "Freedom from Want"). Instead, in the USA, beyond some special cases related to disability of some sort (youth, age, illness), we as a society generally only grant the right to consume without exchanging labor to those few who for some reason can claim financial capital ownership. However, the history behind so much (not all) capital is that it was arbitrary granted centuries ago by some long-dead King as land grants or monopoly patents or similar and passed down through the generations (who, may have done some work deciding on who to trust to employ to decide how to invest it). Capital then grew like a snowball, with the rich getting richer, since it generally takes money to make money. Even with many exceptions (Steve Jobs?), the fairness of the distribution of capital can be questioned. Or, at least, capital could be taxed on that justification -- although generally most of capital isn't taxed.

To obtain goods and services other than via exchange labor such as via government welfare payments (from redistributive taxes, royalties, or inflationary printing money) is looked down on which produces stressful low social status (unless your are "retired" or "disabled" or a "student" -- or "wealthy").

The exchange value of labor for most people in the industrialized world is diminishing relative to the value of capital and the value of some few highly-valued skills (like those of automation engineers). This is shown by flat real wages in the USA for thirty years. Yes, health insurance payments have risen as part of total compensation, but not to much visible benefit for most workers. Other factors diminishing the value of paid labor include volunteer social networks (as have been displacing newspapers and such via web forums like Slashdot) and also potentially cheaper energy (which can brute force some things like recycling otherwise requiring human finesse) and greater collective know-how (which can make products last longer or work better and so reduce demand, like modern rust-proofed cars that last longer with less maintenance). Thus real wages will likely continue to stagnate or even decline for most people because there is no great demand for their labor given these trends, and labor competition ultimately produces a race to the bottom for wages as for any market commodity.

Without minimum wage laws and other public assistance, we are perhaps already at the point where a significant percentage of the US population would not be able to feed themselves from jobs because their labor has little economic value in our competitive economy which included many desperate out-of-work people willing to work for low wages. However, raising the minimum wage just provides more incentives to automate human jobs out of existence faster ultimately as an economic death spiral for most humans (absent strong government intervention such as in much of Western Europe).

Capital-heavy automation tends to concentrate wealth like Marshall Brain talks about. Despite claims about the wealthy as "job creators", in practice, absent proven consumer demand for new goods and services, the wealthy tend to hoard their wealth or play with their cash in a zero-sum casino economy of the "FIRE" sector (like discussed in "Money as Debt II"). This video by Richard Wolff, even just in the preview, talks in depth about flat wages and increasing productivity for the last few decades (although I don't agree with all the proposed remedies there):

As you say, US America is good at producing individual material wealth. So, with many more goods and services to buy and flat wages, there is a cash crisis in the real economy for most people (despite vast amounts of dollars circulating). This caused an economic recession for real goods production and middle class services due to lack of apparent demand from lack of cash (since the market only hears the needs of those with money).

The important point though for this discussion is that if US most workers' labor had really been in demand in a big way, their wages would have risen instead of corporate profits having risen. That is a fact of capitalism. That's the same way we know H1Bs are a scam -- because there has not been a major rise in wages for US tech professionals over the last decade or two as one might expect if there was a major shortage of tech labor. We are then left debating whether weak demand for most US American labor in a growing economy is due to automation, globalization, political trends, or all of the above. Even if automation was not the biggest factor (debatable), the issue is also what will happen going forward?

As radical as the conclusion may seem about the unemployability of most humans, I am merely suggesting that the trends we have been seeing in the US economy for the past three decades are going to continue and spread globally. Mainstream economists, if they admit these trends at all, are IMHO more radically suggesting these multi-decade trends will suddenly reverse themselves by some mysterious natural functioning of markets. To me, that is like the denial-istic discussion between the two horses in the video. Still, as high priests of capitalism, most currently-employed academic mainstream economists will probably have job security for a long time regardless of the reality of what they profess.

Big name Nobel-prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman sometimes flirt with accepting reality, but then back away from championing the implications. For example, from last year:
"I've noted before that the nature of rising inequality in America changed around 2000. Until then, it was all about worker versus worker; the distribution of income between labor and capital -- between wages and profits, if you like -- had been stable for decades. Since then, however, labor's share of the pie has fallen sharply. As it turns out, this is not a uniquely American phenomenon. A new report from the International Labor Organization points out that the same thing has been happening in many other countries, which is what you'd expect to see if global technological trends were turning against workers.
    And some of those turns may well be sudden. The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report on a dozen major new technologies that it considers likely to be "disruptive," upsetting existing market and social arrangements. Even a quick scan of the report's list suggests that some of the victims of disruption will be workers who are currently considered highly skilled, and who invested a lot of time and money in acquiring those skills. For example, the report suggests that we're going to be seeing a lot of "automation of knowledge work," with software doing things that used to require college graduates. Advanced robotics could further diminish employment in manufacturing, but it could also replace some medical professionals.
    So what is the answer? If the picture I've drawn is at all right, the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society -- a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules -- would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too. And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income. I can already hear conservatives shouting about the evils of "redistribution." But what, exactly, would they propose instead?"

Government policy that gives newly created money first to the FIRE sector (banks) does not solve the underlying crisis which continues to unfold in the USA. Real jobs might have been created if the cash had gone to the average US American, who is a real "job creator" via demand, but that is not what happened. As in the video "Capitalism Hits the Fan", that cash crisis had only been kept at bay for so long in the USA by the wealthy loaning cash to workers (rather than paying them). But that approach failed around 2008 as workers overall reached past even the most optimistic (sub-prime) borrowing limits.

We are likely about to see the same thing repeated with student loans, BTW. That is because of the lack of good first jobs that can ultimately repay the opportunity cost of several years out of the work force in college ($100K+?, assuming there were jobs) and then $50K+ or so of loans on top of that for many college kids. However, student loan cash has until now helped prop up spending by young people and kept them out of the workforce. If more young people question the value of college and grad school as an "investment" based on those trends, and instead try to go directly into the workforce and learn on the job (like 18 year olds used to in the 1950s), we would see higher unemployment numbers.

Automation (including computer-supported bureaucracy) supports wealth concentration (like with Walmart or Google or Facebook or Bridgewater and so on). Concentrated wealth in the USA can remake employment laws to be even further against the average worker (short of a big political movement). Concentrated wealth also means the average worker is in an even worse position to bargain for wages. Marshall Brain explains that with diagrams in "Robotic Freedom" here:

At some point, the market-based economic value of most human labor compared to automation may reach the point where it makes no sense for companies to employ humans even if the human labor is free. It might not even make sense to hire humans even if money is paid to the company by the government to hire someone (for "training"). This is because every human hired requires minimum OSHA standards of heat and light and ventilation, which can be more expensive than lights-out factories. That's been a selling point of Kiva robot systems for warehouses -- that they reduce the amount of space that needs to be air-conditioned and lighted for humans. Also, humans employees pose risks of lawsuits (accidents, harassment, discrimination, etc.). Humans are also unreliable (sickness, addiction, psychology, tiredness, boredom) and so may make mistakes causing expensive scrap. Would a big hedge fund like Bridgewater employ humans to draw financial graphs by hand instead of doing that via software plotting data from a database, even if Bridgewater got $100 an hour from the government to employ that human? It's just not worth it to Bridgewater, given limited management attention to supervise people and a need for speed and accuracy. Even FoxConn is bringing in robots because they are cheaper and more reliable than (cheap) Chinese workers. While it is true some workers may make suggestion about how to improve processes (Japanese companies excelled at making the most of that), vast networks of connected AIs may eventually be able to do the same -- and in any case, that's what a small group of thoughtful engineers can do.

== Assumption 2: Overall demand is unlimited in the market place

The second assumption about unlimited demand is not substantially addressed by the video. It is harder to debate, and you make good points about it. Still, I've questioned it on my own website though. Essentially, there is a law of diminishing returns for more goods and services for any *healthy* human. Granted, the needs of unhealthy humans may be different, like illustrated in one of the stories in Frederik Pohl's "Midas World" collection:
""The Man Who Ate the World" (originally published in Galaxy in 1956) tells the story of Anderson Trumie who had a scarring experience in his childhood, before Morey Fry changed the world [with cheap fusion energy]. All he wants is a teddy bear, but his parents' lifestyle of frantic consumption won't allow him to have one anymore. As an adult, he is a compulsive consumer. He has taken over North Guardian Island and he is putting a burden on the local infrastructure. A psychist, Roger Garrick, with the help of Kathryn Pender, find a way to heal Anderson and end his exorbitant consumption."

Like the Raffie song:
"All I really need is a song in my heart
Food in my belly and love in my family
All I really need is a song in my heart
And love in my family
And I need some clean water for drinking
And I need some clean air for breathing
So that I can grow up strong
And take my place where I belong ..."

The limits on human needs (or material demands) is in part due to Maslow's hierarchy of needs (which you indirectly mention) and the need for a certain amount of variety in a healthy life (including a need for non-material things like community and a need to do things and make things for oneself and one's family and community). For example, the first physical full-sized car you own may be very useful and fun, but the 10th such car you own probably won't have nearly as much value to you. A study discussed a couple years ago on Slashdot suggested that in the USA money was closely correlated with happiness -- but only up to around US$75,000 a year. After that, more money did not make much of a difference.

Further, there is even at some point *negative* returns for more goods and services, where the addition costs more of our time and emotion than it is worth. Suniya Luthar has researched problems affluent families have. One is disconnection from community. For example, poorer denser communities may have face-to-face activities like regular barbecues with neighbors, whereas wealthy people living on big plots tend not to interact as much with neighbors. See:
"The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth"
Or, although it mostly relates to problems from a culture of competitiveness:
"In a surprising switch, the offspring of the affluent today are more distressed than other youth. They show disturbingly high rates of substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cheating, and stealing. It gives a whole new meaning to having it all."

Another aspect of affluence is that everything we own also owns us because it has to be maintained and stored and worried about. Many religions talk about a the value of a life of voluntary simplicity to make emotional room for other things that matter. Again, maintaining one car may be a chore but worth it, but maintaining close to 1000 vehicles like Jay Leno does means you are essentially running a private car museum as a full-time job. Or, you have hired someone to do it for you and manage that person (although I guess in the future you might have a robot maintain all the cars). If you like running a car museum, great, and it is good that some few people do such things. It is even better if they do so as a public museum. And to some extent through his videos, that is what Jay Leno does. And he no doubt gets a lot of satisfaction from that. Running a car museum though is a very difference activity than owning a car for basic transportation. And for most people, unless the really love cars, owning 1000 real cars would be considered a hoarding pathology. It would greatly diminish that person's quality of life by taking up time probably more healthfully spent in a variety of other ways. Also, while the USA today probably could benefit from more good car museums (we joined our local one last year to support it), at some point, with too many of such museums, each museum won't have much of an audience. Granted, issues about how individuals want to spend their time and resources versus their responsibilities to family, friends, neighbors, and the rest of society is a complex topic. But if some people need cars (and food) and don't have them because they can't afford them because they can't get a job and otherwise have no income, and other people are running private car museums full of 1000s of cars they never use, there will be great social stress -- even if the car museum owners are willing to employ the carless for US$1 an hour to dust the cars instead of installing HEPA filters in the museum and buying car dusting robots.

That said, my own kid probably owns 1000+ vehicles if I counted toy cars, LEGO models, and cars acquired in racing games or simulations like Gran Turismo, Rigs of Rods, MineCraft, and so on. :-) However, there is also a bag of eight unopened Hot Wheels cars that has been on the kitchen table for several days from a recent trip to the store -- an example of the point about the law of diminishing returns. Or even negative returns, because it would be nice to use the kitchen table for other things. :-) My kid has been recently building space craft in "Space Engineers" while those cars unopened. My kid previously built vehicles in Minecraft, and before that, using LEGO. That illustrates another point related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The needs higher up the pyramid tend to be more about self-actualization and doing. So, making cars or space craft may be more enjoyable than getting them pre-made (if you like that sort of stuff). In general, a lot of the self-actualization needs don't require that many supporting goods and services because they may entail creating stuff from raw materials for a sense of personal satisfaction by doing. The ability to enjoy virtual creations (which take less resources) rather than demand physical creations also does not bode well for creating a future demand for lots of new jobs making stuff (even as it may be good for the environment). Again, my kid and other children my kid plays with are willing to make stuff in these simulations without pay -- just because it is fun or meaningful to them. Dan Pink talks about how material reward is not a good motivator for creative efforts anyways, suggesting how an economy mostly based around though stuff and perhaps artificial scarcity may well have different rules than one based mostly on physical stuff and real scarcity.
"RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us "

There are other deeper issues. A finite Earth has only so much room for stuff, especially if we want to preserve ecosystem museums and biodiversity by letting big parts of the planet remain wilderness. So, we either need to limit production, meet those needs by virtual reality (like for my kid and cars), or we need to expand into outer space. Space is a great and noble challenge, and yes a source of some new jobs -- except space will be even more the domain of robots given environmental challenges and long transit times. Also, once we all have a lot of stuff, having more stuff (like Jay Leno has with 886 vehicles) loses much of its status value in our culture. See James. P. Hogan's 1982 novel "Voyage From Yesteryear" as a good sci-fi example of a culture of scarcity clashing with a culture of abundance. If stuff is cheap, then you might just as well have public libraries of cars (or rental agencies) where you can check one out to try it out and return it when you get bored with it. That greatly reduces the overall demand for stuff, since the production, maintenance, and storage of it is shared. We've seen that with computers, where we moved from mainframes maintained by experts, to personal computers maintained (poorly) by individuals, and now back to the cloud of shared computing maintained by a relatively few people.

=== Conclusion

Still, for all that, because it hinges on controversial expectations of "human nature", the issue of whether demand is limited for goods and services in the next few decades is IMHO much more debatable than whether most humans can compete economically with smarter machines. "The Ballad of John Henry" suggests what happens when humans compete with machines for physical labor. Deep Blue for chess and Watson for Jeopardy suggest what the result may ultimately be when humans try to compete with thinking machines. But if either mainstream economics assumption ultimately proves false, then we will have fewer human jobs as automation gets better (short of "make work" jobs like in Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano" novel) and we will have a huge social crisis in the USA (requiring interventions like a basic income or other big political changes).

To be clear, I think there will always be things for humans to do. Being a good parent, informed citizen, helpful neighbor, or supportive friend can generally take as much time as we have and then some. And people generally like to do things just because (like hobbies). The issue is whether most humans will employable down the road in a capitalistic marketplace compared to robots, AIs, and automation -- or as was suggested in 1964 in The Triple Revolution Memorandum, maybe we are finally reaching the point where: "The continuance of the income-through jobs link as the only major mechanism for distributing effective demand -- for granting the right to consume -- now acts as the main brake on the almost unlimited capacity of a cybernated productive system."

Although maybe putting a brake on endless production is actually sometimes a good thing as long as capitalism still too often ignores externalities like pollution? :-) Or when humans may tend towards addiction given their preferences are adapted for a certain level of material scarcity and our health is adapted for a certain level of exercise? On the other hand, if humans were less stressed out about work and competitiveness and financial worries about precarity, maybe they would not be so prone to addiction?

(BTW, I'm the article submitter, and I appreciate the great discussion here. I'd agree there is lots of room for uncertainty here, especially in the short term. I'm glad to see more and more people understanding the issue in my sig that the greatest challenge of the 21st century issue is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity.)

"Life is a garment we continuously alter, but which never seems to fit." -- David McCord