Why America has given up on change

It’s not technology but the people

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by Mike Meyer

People who read this are not going to be happy. Some people who read it may think that they should be happy but if they read carefully they will decide that they are not happy either. Sorry.

The whole issue is AI (actually AI/ML as it is currently really all about Machine Learning). We are already well past the point of human understanding of the conclusions, and decisions, or even the process to achieve those things by our AI intelligent systems.

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One example of this is AlphaGo that was able to train itself on Go, the extremely complex Asian game, so that it could be the world champion. This was accomplished without human help and was based on thousands of games that AlphaOne played with itself. Henry Kissinger was both amazed and frightened when he learned how this had happened.

In a more practical example AI/ML is being used in a number of courts to handle recommendations in criminal cases for release on bail. This has proved to be problematic because of sample models that have proven to be racist at a number of levels. Unconscious assumptions made by the creators of the algorithms were inherently racist.

But that’s not all. It was quickly found that the logic supporting the recommendations made by the AI systems could not be replicated by human audit. People simply were not able to understand how the massive databases used led to the recommendation. At base this is the problem as we cannot handle vast arrays of data in a way that an AI system can.

This has resulted in increased effort to structure the decision process in a way to allow humans to follow the logic and understand the source of the decision. Some of that will help but I really think this is, at best, a short term means of assuaging our fears rather than facing reality.

We are facing massive change, so profound, that few people realize what is happening.

On top of this we have the already well discussed problem of self driving cars and the classic trolley ethical dilemma. If only two actions are possible and one kills a single person and the other kills a group of children what will the intelligent vehicle do? And will we consider that correct? Is there a way we could even determine how the decision was made without pre-programming an arbitrary decision on human life.

We are facing massive change, so profound, that few people realize what is happening. When the do they tend to freak out much as Henry Kissinger did in the article linked to above. Is that what we need?

There are no other options

First we need to realize that this is happening and it won’t stop or even slow down. It does not matter that we are getting spooked by the implications of Machine Learning in our daily lives. It doesn’t matter that some of us may decide that this is going to kill us and we shouldn’t do it. Sorry, we are committed and even if we aren’t (depending on how you define “we”) others will proceed at full speed.

We are now required to figure this out quickly even though we really don’t have a clue. This is yet another indicator of paradigm change. We literally need to invent a new language that describes a new world with new and different rule sets so we can, then, figure out how to proceed and then manage these new, increasingly intelligent systems.

I see this imminent and emerging dilemma as the real cause for the collapse of America and, potentially, a number of other countries.

Whoa, wait! Where did that come from? What’s the connection?

The connection is people and our existing human societies. I’m not talking technical systems but the way people and specific societies react to change. This is also rooted in history. At any given point people react to change based on their perception of themselves and the social groups they inhabit and how those groups define their condition and where they are going. This is, in short, the historical consciousness of people in groups.

One example of how this works is shown in surveys that ask if the nation or state or organization is heading in the right or wrong direction. This is an effort to check the status of a society and its members to see how they feel about things and how optimistic or pessimistic they are.

Managing change in groups requires every possible effort to sample and follow these perceptions. Are changes changes making things better or worse? Even before the change starts, if that is even an option, how ready for change are the people who make up the affected society? This even more difficult in asking about potential changes and if they will make things better or worse.

Bad news warning! America is screwed. The big changes have just started and one segment of the American population has made a terrible decision that could be terminal. Another segment has given up and is trying to ignore everything. The remaining segment understands something about the changes (see above on AI and ethical dilemmas) that are required but is on the edge of panic because we are not ready but that is not yet clearly articulated.

America is not ready for the changes coming!

America is not ready for the changes coming. As always with these things there are recursive or feedback layers. Any 21st century nation state who manages to end up with a government headed by someone such as Donald Trump, and the people controlling the Republican Party, is seriously damaged. The great majority of the population recognizes this as shown by over 60% negative surveys and nearly 50% for impeachment now. Unfortunately that realization is taking all of the mental energy that is needed for planning the changes that are happening.

The end result is a large enough number of people who have consciously sabotaged the political system just at the point when that system must begin to change significantly in order to survive. The reaction, i.e. Resistance, is sapping the energy of the most aware and capable people who see the very large changes coming. The remaining energy is being spent on trying to motivate those who have given up to get back involved. I think everyone considers that a long shot.

The social and national results of this are the loss of confidence in managing what will happen. This shows in the nearly complete loss of confidence in any part of the political system and fundamental confusion on foundational concepts such as truth and shared resources. We can also add the nearly complete lack of confidence in the traditional mainstream media. And the prevalence of bogus information and wild conspiracy theories in the new social media that have replaced the old mainstream media for most of the population.

America is screwed and this is, at least partially, due to America being the lead nation and market economic system fully matured in the 18th century liberal ideal. The last twenty years of the 20th century were the sweetness before the rot. But that is for historians to consider and decide. My interest is the future and it is not bright for America.

We can also say this for Great Britain and probably much of Western Europe but they succeeded in slowing the ripening process by careful management. America, on its own, went wild with capitalism to the point of burn out.

Right now we are screwed. I don’t know anyone who feels at all confident about the future of America. That lack of confidence makes handling massive change a deadly prospect.

For this I don’t have any real answers except that I would not recommend investing in America. Not that I don’t want to and hope it can change but in the bigger planetary picture there are better prospects and it is time to recognize that.

Those that aren’t screwed

Is anyone ready? Yes, whatever you may feel about it, China appears to be ready. They may destroy themselves by sliding back into ugly authoritarianism but, at this point, they are the only major nation state that is ready and moving actively to plan the change. If you study what is happening in China day by day and month by month you know this. They have problems but they are not paralyzed by stunningly incompetent leadership and a population that lives with fear and decline. They Chinese people are very optimistic about the future. Yes, the state will screw things up but mostly it is going well and they are growing in comfort at being the lead nation state.

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Africa is moving also with Kigali, Rwanda, and Nairobi, Kenya as two fastest growing cities. Technology and innovation are becoming very visible in these and other African cities. As has happened in the past newer areas are sometimes able to bypass problems in change by not having legacy infrastructure and related attitudes to overcome. We will see but this will become more apparent and attract growing interest in the years ahead.

The Baltic States are another area that seems to be ready and moving quickly into digital citizenship. Estonia’s e-residency, while not citizenship, has caught the planet’s attention with a first step to a new way to handle residency, citizenship, taxation and related issues. The problem has always been Russia lurking in the background. Whatever this leads to or fails to achieve, the excitement and optimism is there and change is exciting. That is a far different attitude to America’s growing disability.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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