[extropy-chat] Retraining (was: Turbulence of obsolesence)

Adrian Tymes wingcat at pacbell.net
Fri Apr 22 22:37:37 UTC 2005

It's been pointed out to me that what I said was misinterpreted, and
contained some errors.

Yes, it appears I was wrong about the amount of traffic that DDOS,
spam, and related things consume, especially if one takes the
impression that these related things are more the ISP's problem than
the end user's (it's the other way around: ISPs mostly just deal with
the traffic, but end users have to clean up the results of that
traffic when certain bad things come over the wire).

But the main point of disagreement is on retraining.  To wit, it has
been asserted that an average 50 year old with a mortgage is
fundamentally untrainable, and therefore must rely exclusively on
skills already obtained for future employment.  I do not believe that
to be true, and in every case of similar nature I have looked at where
someone was sworn to be untrainable, it turned out the person in
question was trainable - if properly motivated.  It seems in little
need of proof that ability to actually obtain a job should usually be
motivation, given as in these cases people do look for jobs.  (Perhaps
some do just to fulfill unemployment benefit conditions.  I wonder how
one could accurately test such a thing, given as said slackers would
have motivation to lie to anyone trying to see if they were just
leeching off what was supposed to be a temporary safety net until they
became employed again.)

If this were true, it would spell out a fundamental problem for life
extension.  (Careers today can already be short.  If you're
unemployable when you're 50, you've 15 years until "normal" retirement
age today in which to struggle through.  But what happens when "normal"
retirement age goes from 65 to 85, or to 205 - even ignoring the
career-shortening effects of accelerating change?)  This doesn't mean
it can't be true - consider one of Alan Turing's cited classes of
false "objections" to artificial intelligence:


> The "Heads in the Sand" Objection  is that:
> The consequences of machines thinking would be too dreadful. Let us
> hope and believe that they cannot do so.

Mr. Turing rightly dismissed this as fear, not a logical objection
that could prevent this from happening.  Likewise, the problem of
untrainability is partly a fear - but that does not, by itself, mean
we can not deal with it.  Rather, it means that it is an important
problem, that we need to come up with a coherent answer to.

I believe and suspect, based upon my personal experiences of being
human and of observing other humans, that the fundamental answer lies
in making sure humans in general remain able to learn new skills and
adapt to new situations, even when their resources are limited.  Thus,
for instance, while a college education is necessary to become a good
programmer, in practice some of those wishing to transition to said
career must find a way without the expense of college - or, maybe, by
finding ways to finance college other than from their own pocket (or
from funding sources, like student loans, that are largely not
available to older students already in debt).  This is probably true of
many other careers enabled by new technologies.  It would benefit us to
develop and promote a general alternative approach to these kinds of
situations, so that people may see our aims not as putting them
personally out to pasture, but rather as helping them become richer
(or, at least, helping them pay off their debts) through enabling
better use of their own efforts.

My choice of words here is deliberate.  I know I do not have a solid
answer to this question.  There is even a possibility I may be wrong,
and that most of humanity (the portion that becomes untrainable in
older years) is doomed by the technologies we advocate to become
obsolete, crippled, and miserable.  But that fate is far from a sure
thing, unless people in general give up without trying (in which case
it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy).  I do know that, if there is
any chance to save most of humanity from that fate, the only way is for
people to try.

(There were also concerns about the specific new technologies that
people can transition to.  I could attempt to list them, but that would
be self-defeating.  Anyone who has concerns about them can google
around; there are more than any one of us knows, and each person will
find different careers more appealing.  Any attempt to promote one or a
few specific technologies or careers as the solution to everyone's
problems will probably fail for more people.)

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