Thursday, 14 March 2013

How hard did people work?

Written accounts of working practices during the industrial revolution paint a stark picture of working life. Not just the absence of health and safety, and workers' rights, and not to mention low pay, the working hours were long. But how hard did people actually work? It should be possible to get a sense of this by recreating the working conditions and tools, and comparing output achieved, e.g. coal mined per person per day.

The inevitability of human suffering

We may yet get to a utopian future where war, genocide, discrimination, inequality and other major human-caused sources of human suffering have been eliminated. But was it possible to get from where we started to that endpoint without such human-caused suffering?

The answer to that question can only be "no". Suffering exists throughout nature, and through all of humanities ancestors even before they took a form that resembles modern-days humans.

Do the atrocities of the twentieth century represent humanity's nadir? And hence should they be the focal point of our rememberance? Or should we seek to remember all human-caused human suffering throughout our history?


One of the thingss that concerns me about our inevitable creation of artificial intelligence is that those agents will be equivalently bored in undertaking mundane tasks: it seems to me that there is a broad class of tasks that are difficult enough to require sentience, but not difficult enough to be intellectually stimulating.

So, will this problem arise? There are a couple of reasons for optimism: firstly, boredom is a human concept that we can avoid programming into AIs (however, such a concept may evolve within an AI outside of our control); secondly, my own theory of human boredom is that it arises from our inability to effectively multi-task. We cannot ring-fence the intellectual capacity needed for a certain task, and use the rest for something else, hence we allocate too much intellectual resource to a task that doesn't require it. An AI agent may however be able to do this ring-fencing, and as a result may not be bored.

(I'm sure my concerns are in part attributable to Douglas Adams' Marvin.)