An Economic System Designed To Push People Beyond Their Limits
OPINION 10/06/2039 12:27 AM ET
An Economic System Designed To Push People Beyond Their Limits
by Bill Feneger

CC0 1.0 Untitled by 1820796 | Writer image: CC0 1.0 Untitled by eliasfalla | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only. Image changes released under the same license as the original.
More and more people are being closed off from a chance at a reasonable life.
I have a friend, we'll call him Jersey.

Jersey's a good guy with a nice family. Husband and three kids, 9, 7, and 4. They have lived in suburban Dallas for the past 10 years.

Unfortunately, Jersey is a visual effects specialist, focusing on video games. Which means he's now unemployed.

In July, IBM made available its fabulously twee-sounding Pencils n' Pens artistry corollary to Phariax, which is mark II in its attempts to create true AI cognition.

PnP costs an undisclosed amount, but rumor has's not cheap. Nor should it be, because apparently it allows Phariax-ed machines to learn digital artistry. Put simply, they taught Phariax to learn to draw and animate. Then they marketed the corollary to major players in the entertainment industry.

A friend of mine at Paramount tells me it learns continuously when it works - and remains connected to IBM's central servers at Armonk, NY, so everything it learns is passed back to every other copy of Phariax running PnP. IBM calls this "community co-operative development" or CCD. So in essence, Phariax will continue to get better and better at visual design.

It's so good it works hand-in-hand with Contemplate, Phariax's interpretive corollary. Let's say you want Phariax to draw you a tree. You can ask it to draw you one and it'll ask you for details, or if you don't want to give details, Contemplate will guess what you want and PnP will draw you a tree. You can refine the tree - bigger, older, fall leaves, something carved in the trunk, whatever, and Phariax will draw it for you. Want it swaying? It'll simulate it swaying for you.

It can create images and animation in 15K. That's life-like. It can even take existing imagery, adapt it and sharpen it to 15K standards. So if you want to see the first Clark Gable movie in almost 80 years, it could deliver you one (the rights to Mr Gable's likeness and a good script notwithstanding).

What this means is Jersey is completely, totally, and unequivocally screwed. As are a few million professional animators around the world. Jersey's job can be done better, quicker, and cheaper by a piece of software.

You may be old enough - I know I am - to remember when people were told they were going to have to reskill. Retail jobs were going, they said. You're all going to have to reskill for the new economy, they said. Well that economy is well and truly here, and people reskilled, and now they're redundant anyway.

There's this idea on the right that the left wants firms like IBM to stop innovating, but that's false. No one wants that. But, we're not in a sustainable place right now; every job which is swallowed up by machines takes money away from workers and delivers that to corporations who benefit by being able to cut costs.

Sure, those corporations have shareholders and those shareholders reap the rewards through dividends, but how many poor people have stock in IBM or Boeing? The point is, capital continues flowing through middle-class and elite hands. Unless Jersey can reskill as an orthopedic surgeon, that is. But what happens when Phariax, or IBM's 3rd or 4th-gen AI, learns orthopedic surgery? The surgeon - now terminated and receiving benefits - sells his shares in XYZ firm, which are then bought by a physics professor, and wealth becomes concentrated in an even tighter circle.

How many people can we deprive of wealth before we have a serious problem?

As it turns out, we are finding out.

Last summer's riots gave us a taste as we hit 15% unemployment. Rolling unrest through this year offered up more dissent. Then August hit and 8,000 people were killed as protests all over the country morphed into riots.

Note to politicians: this is what desperate people do - riot.

We are travelling at high speed headfirst into a near future where rioting will become a feature of life. We are now above 17% unemployment. The federal government pays more than $6.5 trillion in benefits each year for which it must borrow enormous amounts of capital. And less than half of all working age Americans are employed or searching for a job. Not that there are many left: the economy only added 11,500 jobs last month.

The signs are ominous. Collectively has already vowed to hack every major financial institution while its troops in the street do battle with police and Guardsmen and women.

Philadelphia's Collectively Vanguard tried to assassinate Mayor Tye Barberhorn in June. A month later, Collectively Hollywood hacked a LAPD drone armed with missiles in order to spearhead an assault on California GOP headquarters in Burbank.

Other grassroots organizations are taking shape in an effort to communicate with the establishment. There is talk that New York's Collectively Titanic is negotiating with newly formed The Queens Fist in order to maximize its punching potential.

Perhaps most dangerously, National Guard units in Georgia and Alabama have been approached by other grassroots organizations in those states for support. You can see where this is going.

The point is - this is what happens when people are systematically shut out of society's flow of capital. Like it or not, with money comes a home, food, and security - hope. Without these things a large enough group of people will look to take them by force.

We are seeing large numbers of people whose fundamental human rights have been stripped away begin to take them back, and a teetering edifice which can't hold back the tide.

When even highly trained visual effects professionals can't remain employed, what are they to do?
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