The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Never mind the wall that President Trump said Mexico must pay for but then Congress must pay for; either that or much of the working class loses its health coverage. Oh, he’s dropped that? Well, it made for a lively 24 hours.

Bubbling beneath today’s comic-book politics are threats to American workers that have nothing to do with people or things coming over the border. Robots and artificial intelligence are nipping at the heels of not only blue-collar workers but also white-collar professionals who assumed that a degree would keep them several steps ahead of the machines.

Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, recently opined that this peril for employment is, “like, so far away” that it’s not even on his “radar screen.” Guess he hasn’t read about MillerCoors’ plan to offer a beer service called Miller Lite On-Demand.

It works like this: A beer drinker watching the game at home comes to the startling realization that he’s out of Miller Lite. Without having to take his rear end off the couch, he uses a voice-activated command (or pushes a programmed button on the phone) to order more beer. A truck arrives with reinforcements within an hour.

There’s no going to a store that has to employ salespeople. Technology for self-driving trucks is well on its way, so truck drivers will soon not be needed.

Here’s the glitch. With jobs like these gone, how will the beer drinker make the money needed to buy the beverage? Such questions are gathering dust in an administration intent on distracting ordinary folk with entertainment as it marshals its deep thinking for such matters as how to slash taxes for real estate empires.

Actually, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently published a study on the advances in automation and artificial intelligence and posed some not insignificant questions related to them. For instance:

Who gets to choose the technological future? How does this change us as a society? And what will it mean to be human?

The president would no doubt have read all 184 pages had he not been busy that day signing a law to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and flying off to Palm Beach. But as his supporters say, give him a chance. Give him a chance.

Artificial intelligence goes way beyond the elementary programming of robots to tighten screws. Simplistically put, it teaches machines to think, to learn the way toddlers do. With traditional robots, at least you needed humans to do the programming. Technology is now being developed that would let the machines program themselves.

Artificial intelligence can already do some things that lawyers or their human assistants had to do. For example, it uses “natural language processing” to go through documents and find passages that may be relevant to a case.

This technology has let BlackRock, the giant investment company, do away with some of its human stock pickers. Marry big data to algorithms and computer models and you have fund managers who never take vacations, loyal machines who won’t skip off to a competitor.

Six years ago, IBM’s Watson rampaged through “Jeopardy!” with the smart responses. Watson now helps doctors diagnose cancer and H&R Block do tax returns.

Well-planned, this technology could deliver a glorious future of leisure and creativity to the masses. Or it could relegate them to misery under the thumbs of a few masterminds pulling the levers. Sadly, our current leadership seems determined to avoid thought unrelated to today’s appetites.

As Groucho Marx put it: “Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?”

IMAGE: Visitors watch different sized industrial robots by KUKA at the Hanover Messe in Hanover, Germany, April 8, 2013.  REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Viktor Orban

Youtube Screenshot

Nobody should still pretend to be shocked that the Conservative Political Action Conference, an entity no longer "conservative" in any meaningful sense, would feature an appearance by an authoritarian leader like Viktor Orban. The Hungarian autocrat is the idol of the international far Right. He has repeatedly enjoyed the bootlicking attentions of Tucker Carlson on Fox News and indeed, CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp led his gang to celebrate Orban in Budapest earlier this year.

What makes Orban so alluring to the American far rightists is his example as an illiberal politician who, unlike their idol former President Donald Trump, has managed to corrupt Hungarian democracy so thoroughly as to guarantee his own continuing rule.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}