Friday, March 8, 2019

#67 / The Globots Are Coming

I really like Jill Lepore. She is a historian, who teaches at Harvard. She also writes articles (frequently) for The New Yorker. She also writes books!

I greatly enjoyed The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and I have now become entranced by Lepore's latest book, These Truths, a one-volume history of the United States, from Christopher Columbus to Donald J. Trump. Definitely recommended! You can click right here to listen to a book talk by Lepore, discussing These Truths.

As I noted, Lepore writes articles, as well as books. The March 4, 2019, edition of The New Yorker has an article by Lepore on automation, artificial intelligence, and the forecasted invasion of robots. If you're worried about robots, this would be a good place to find relief from some of the near-hysterical analysis that is now predicting what amounts to the almost complete elimination of all things human from our economy and workplaces. The hard-copy version of Lepore's article is called "The Robot Caravan." The article is five pages long, and just one click away.

I'll cut to the chase and let you know why I am recommending you read "Are Robots Competing  For Your Job?," the title of Lepore's article in its online iteration. Lepore is a historian. In other words, she studies what human beings have done in the past. She does not believe that there is some historical "law of gravity" that makes all things fall to the worst possible place. Lepore, having studied history, has figured out what makes history happen. Based on her extensive knowledge of history - and of historiography - Lepore provides some cautionary words about prediction: "Futurists foretell inevitable outcomes by conjuring up inevitable pasts. People who are in the business of selling predictions need to present the past as predictable - the ground truth, the test case." 

The quotation below is what I think of as the bottom line for Lepore as she thinks about history and possibility. This is an approach I suggest we extend to all our ruminations about what is (or, as we may think, is not) politically possible: 

Machines don't drive history; people do. History is not a smart car. 

Hopefully, we will be smart enough, ourselves, to figure this out, and act accordingly. We face lots of challenges, and the hypothesized robot invasion only one of them. As we confront the truly daunting challenges ahead, we need to remember this lesson from Lepore. 

History is not the story of what happens to us. It is the story of what we do! Every day, instead of succumbing to the momentum of past choices, we can do something new, something totally unexpected, something that brings into the world of reality a possibility that no one had ever thought of before, that no one would ever have predicted could be achieved.

That kind of thing happens when we start driving the car!

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