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

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Sat Apr 23 20:36:43 UTC 2005

On Apr 22, 2005, at 3:37 PM, Adrian Tymes wrote:

> 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.)

To begin to address this I think the following must be answered.

1) what is the financial situation of the average 50 yr old in say the 
2) does "average" here mean of average intelligence?
3) for what areas do the new jobs exist that the retraining would be 

If for (3) we assume relatively high tech areas (service industry jobs 
don't require so much training) then the situation looks bleak that 
someone of average intelligence can master the skills and master them 
well enough to compete with bright people much younger and with far 
less financial overhead.   Average intelligence people do not succeed 
in being educated into these fields even when young.

On (1) the average American 50 year old has little savings and massive 
debt.  After the recent bankruptcy law changes our 50 yr old would be 
required to continue to pay off the debts as long as s/he made over the 
median income.   So the re-schooling hurdle is much higher than for a 
20 year old.

So no, I don't believe ti is simply a question of motivation and I find 
the suggestion that it is quite callous and baseless.

> 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:
> http://jimmy.qmuc.ac.uk/jisew/ewv22n1/PART3.HTM
>> 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.

Without the ability to upgrade intelligence and/or magic training 
technology I do not see how this can be achieved.  So I will file it 
under wishful thinking.

> Thus,
> for instance, while a college education is necessary to become a good
> programmer, in practice some of those wishing to transition to said

Nope.  I am a world class programmer and I left college early to go 
build systems.    Our educational institutions are a very large part of 
the problem.  They are still geared to full-time programs requiring 
years of investment to even get to the graduate level training.  Nor is 
the training focused enough to easily accommodate adults seeking to 
retrain.   Many times I have looked into going back for a degree only 
to be told my considerable self taught knowledge and decades of 
experience mean almost nothing and that I would have to spend a couple 
of years taking courses I neither wanted or needed just to get out of 
undergraduate hell.    No thanks.  I will continue to learn and dance 
without the paper.  But then I am not exactly "average".

> 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.

We need very different educational programs than the general college 
faire today, especially at the entry to a program level but also in 
tuning the program to each individual to a much greater extent than is 
currently done.

> 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.

Almost everyone (yes, including you and I)  at some point will become 
economically non-viable as technology advances and machines and cheaper 
foreign labor and younger more energetic workers come online.  That 
there is not an economic niche for a person does not have to men that 
they are obsolete, crippled or miserable unless we allow that to be the 
case.  If we can truly achieve an abundant society then an adequate 
living can be available for all whether or not they are employed.

BTW, the majority of humanity is untrainable while still young.

If we want people to embrace ultra high tech then we must show that 
there is a workable way they and theirs will be able to live reasonably 
well as the world changes.  If people see that obsolescence comes ever 
sooner and that there is no plan for them to be ok when they are no 
longer employable then count on real and quite rational fear and push 

> 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.

You assume that it is just a matter of the individual trying.  This is 
unjustified.   You don't seem to be addressing the real problem.

- samantha

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list