Screenshot from The Singularity is Near

Humblebrag: I won an award for my feature writing

I’m delighted to report that I won a 2018 Azbee Award of Excellence in the category of Web Feature Article. (Azbees are awarded by the American Society of Business Publication Editors). My winning article is titled Artificial Intelligence: When Will the Robots Rebel? It’s a deep dive into the evolving technology of AI, its relationship to human consciousness, and its likely future disruptive role in society.

Researching the article, I interviewed numerous experts, including Adam Coates, Director of the Silicon Valley AI Lab at Baidu, and Pieter Abbeel, director of UC-Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab. Visiting the Robot Learning Lab was a blast – I got to see how BRETT, a robot, actually “learns” how to do things like fold towels and tie knots.

The article ties together many themes, from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to 2001: a Space Odyssey. I work in Ray Kurzweil and the singularity, and discuss Facebook’s highly-responsive AI algorithm.

Toward the end, I delve into how artificial intelligence will displace workers in the years ahead; automation has already killed countless jobs. One doesn’t have to be a pessimist to see that massive job losses will result from AI. Some disagree with me, and take a cheerier view of this – this is a core debate in AI. But I think it’s clear that machine learning and AI will displace not just legions of unskilled jobs, but the jobs of knowledge workers as well.

There will surely be plenty of new jobs, but these will require sophisticated education and training. The problem is that public education is woefully under-equipped to educate people at the level required to keep up with future technology. Of course I want to be wrong about this — hopefully a greater premium will be placed on education. The human race has always adapted to historic shifts in technology, but the emergence of AI poses its greatest challenge yet.

(The image above is a screenshot from the film, The Singularity is Near.) 
electric piano in a music store

My Tribe in the Music Store

I like stopping into the music store now and then. There’s a Yamaha electric piano I have a crush on, but for $800 my love is better off unrequited.

It’s always good to check in with the tribe in the music store. They’re my people, the people who really love music. They are – and I speak affectionately – a mangy bunch. Their hair tends to be bad, and their complexions are nothing to write home about either. They seem a little “apart,” as if they could converse with you if need be, but it’s not their first choice.

There are always a few standard humans in the music store. There’s the young woman who – I apologize for this – might be charitably described as plain. She might even – okay, I’m very sorry about this – be dressed in a style called tasteful Goodwill. She typically has red or strawberry blonde hair, and she sings and plays the guitar. If you listen to her for a few minutes, you’ll hear some distant place, some place where poetry matters, some place where the human heart feels like it should. There are no words for that place. She never has once, nor will she ever, consider giving up music.

Then there’s the old guy in the guitar section, strumming an electric as if he’s going to buy it, but really, he just wants to sit there and strum. He usually wears a Harley T-shirt and has a beer gut and shaggy gray hair. Often a pair of wire-rim glasses that need a cleaning. He had those three great years in the band in his twenties, and things haven’t been the same since. In fact things have mostly drifted downward ever since, what with Sheila gone and left, and the music that kids like these days — just noise. Plus his damn left knee just aches when he lifts an amp on to the truck. But here he sits with his Gibson Firebird. A damn sweet guitar, God it’s so pure.

Then there’s an assortment of people, mostly dudes, who have a slightly hard look to their face. Like a life focused on music means they’ve endured something. Gotten used to enduring it, and don’t think they won’t be enduring it anytime soon. It’s like a very light version of heroin addiction, much less painful and not nearly as ruinous, though not fantastically better. They’ve hunkered down and resigned themselves to a life in music, with its dubious career options and marginal pay levels.

It’s kind of funny. I once saw Jack DeJohnette – yeah, Jack DeJohnette – in a parking lot in St. Louis, and 45 people were there, and he played (I’m assuming) for free or close to it. I guess he just loves it so bad. Then again, he’s Jack DeJohnette, so he’s made it to the Promised Land.

I do get why those music store types are from another place. A lovely place, maybe, sometimes, but not a place you want to be if you don’t really love it. On the other hand, if you really do love it, there is no better place.