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article imageOp-Ed: Robots and economics; the next trade war and real war?

By Paul Wallis     Aug 1, 2017 in Technology
Sydney - The theory goes that the U.S. must be able to manufacture everything required by the military for a future war. That means robots, and a reworked economy.
The method of doing this is likely to be through AI and robots. The latest information coming out of Clown Central is that production will be enhanced by robots. That’s not a new thing; it’s already happening. It will, however, completely reconfigure mass production, and change the nature of manufacturing forever.
There are more than a few issues with this concept in terms of practical realities:
1. How will “dehumanized” production work in the economy?
2. Where does the money go?
3. Who benefits in the economy, if the economy is dehumanized to a really large extent?
4. Is it militarily practical, able to deliver what’s required to fight a war?
You’ll note that “survival” in human terms isn’t an issue. The survival of the workforce, and humans in wars dictated by robotics, aren’t even being mentioned at this point.
Core economics
The effect on the global economy of super-mass-production by robots is likely to be horrific. Trade would be completely reconfigured. The “cheap labour” markets, and their economies, would be wiped out. The ensuing poverty would be a natural breeding ground for ISIS-like organizations. (Add to this the impending global water, population numbers, and food crises, and you’ve got a huge part of the world’s population in physical, as well as economic, meltdown.)
Global trade could be bent out of shape, fast. That’s unlikely to benefit the U.S. at all. Huge amounts of U.S. capital are sunk in to mainstream economic models and operations. Take them out of the equation, and you’re holding useless stock in obsolete companies and businesses.
Note the logic here: A basic idea with almost endless ramifications could send the world’s current economy in to a death spiral.
Starship Technologies
A trade war would be a mere symptom compared to the permanent damage to the old, pre-robot global economics. How realistic is this? Very. Full automation is coming, and coming fast. That’s the last nail in the coffin of old economics, social models, and human lifestyles derived from the Industrial Revolution.
A robot war?
It’s unlikely to add much military advantage for the U.S. China has already been automating its huge production lines for some years, and that level of automation is currently increasing drastically. If you can make an iPhone or iPad, and something that can deliver weapons, you can make most of the basics of a modern high tech military infrastructure. The U.S. is not currently in the same league, in terms of depth and scope of robotics production.
Nor has the U.S. military become fully “robotized” on a global scale. Can such a large organization, and all its infrastructure, simply take up a new generation of robotic weapons, production, and combat roles? On a global scale? Not in a hurry. Introducing whole new tiers of new technologies and logistics, however efficient, takes time.
With this production, like the first fully industrialized war production of World War 1, comes a less obvious risk – Nobody will fully understand the potential horrors of what will be basically a machine-fought war. The murderous epics of World War 1 could be repeated, fought by roughly equivalent robotic and AI systems. All humans would have to do to participate is die, and they would.
That level of unknown factors also makes the risk of war more likely. World War 1 didn’t need to happen at all. There was no reason for it. It was the mindset of the leaderships and their incomprehension of the risks that caused it, and the horrors which came after it. A “misunderstood war” using modern weapons could only be a disaster for all involved.
The high level production and advanced weaponry now arriving in military inventories is another factor. It instantly makes the potential for global devastation more likely. Old-style nukes and ICBMs will be replaced with AI-guided and robot-made weapons probably using different delivery systems. Other types of weapons, notably the new powerful combat lasers, are also likely to proliferate. That means most current systems, and their strategies and tactics, will be obsolete. It’s a huge potential trail of obsolescence, all the way down to grunt level.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle  or OTV  is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies ...
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.
There could be space combat, for the first time in history, like the old World War 1 air war, but fought by robots which are made by robots. There’s no way of knowing how that will pan out, but “space superiority” is likely to become a new buzzword in the process.
The other inevitable factor is that robot production centres will become targets, like the manufacturing cities in World War 2. That’s likely to mean major casualties, and trashed infrastructure on a massive scale.
“Trashed” means collapse and chaos on the ground. Given the currently overloaded social support systems like health care and basic economic needs, destroying the infrastructure would instantly trash whole societies. Big economies like the US and China could be maimed in a few days.
Political control, policing, and basic governance could be impossible. Military communications and control may also be instantly compromised with units and organizations fragmented. Communities might have to survive on their own, and not many modern communities could do that. Starvation and lack of health care could do more damage than even the most clinical “nice” war. Planetary contamination, too, could sabotage recovery efforts.
The AI factor
With robotics inevitably comes artificial intelligence. AI is seen as a major potential threat and/or blessing to humanity by people in a position to know. The irony of humanity in its current stupor inventing machines smarter than itself shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
AI can do a lot, even in this obviously very basic stage of development. It’s not currently so much “intelligent” as “inquisitive”. There are many things it can’t currently do. Neural nets are the first, LEGO-like, step to much more advanced processing, still a few years off, but predictable in terms of major future developments.
The synthesis of mass robot automation and AI is also inevitable. It’ll be up and running soon enough, with or without xenophobic governments. That means even higher levels of production, and more military applications. In theory, you could produce a whole robot air force, or other advanced systems, very quickly. This is another risk factor, yet to be realized, but quite possible.
The future? Maybe.
The most obvious, and least impressive, takeaway from the idea of robotic economics is that nobody’s really looking too far ahead. The current justification for automation is to save money for manufacturers. This ultra-myopic view, enhanced by an equally thoughtless range of military options, is asking for trouble.
The problem is that a new initiative to jump off the nearest economic cliff could have the same effect as a war. Nobody really knows what full automation will do. How do people earn a living, and find food and shelter? This type of mindless pseudo-economics could lead humanity literally straight back to the caves.
Societies aren’t at all prepared for automation. There are no economic models for human life in this sort of environment. You could wind up with 9 billion people with nothing to do and no reason to tolerate that situation. Any step to global scale automation will have permanent consequences. The world would be well advised to think long and hard before jumping off this cliff.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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