Author of Team Human, Present Shock, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast http://medium.com/team-human

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Even if the candidates weren’t shouting over each other, did we really gain anything?

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Almost everyone seems to think last night’s debate was so much better than the first. To me, that’s a bit like saying having a stroke is much better than suffering a heart attack. It’s not. Even if it’s less painfully dramatic to watch, the damage is the same — or, in this case, actually worse.

A less unhinged president speaking lies in a calm voice is not fundamentally an improvement over a totally unhinged president shouting lies out of turn. It simply camouflages the inadequacy of his arguments under the veneer of a well-established format. Indeed, the debate structure itself enables and legitimizes the untethering of civic discourse from on-the-ground reality. …


A.I.s will evolve to use techniques that no one — not even they — understand

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Image: Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

A future where we’re all replaced by artificial intelligence may be further off than experts currently predict, but the readiness with which we accept the notion of our own obsolescence says a lot about how much we value ourselves. The long-term danger is not that we will lose our jobs to robots. We can contend with joblessness if it happens. The real threat is that we’ll lose our humanity to the value system we embed in our robots, and that they in turn impose on us.

Computer scientists once dreamed of enhancing the human mind through technology, a field of research known as intelligence augmentation. But this pursuit has been largely surrendered to the goal of creating artificial intelligence — machines that can think for themselves. All we’re really training them to do is manipulate our behavior and engineer our compliance. …


Employment as we know it has only existed since the late Middle Ages

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Image: Artur Debat/Getty Images

Losing one’s job to a robot is no fun.

Without a new social compact through which to distribute the potential bounty of the digital age, competition with our machines is a losing proposition. Most jobs as we currently understand them are repetitive enough to be approached computationally. Even brain surgery is, in most respects, a mechanical task with a limited number of novel scenarios.

While we humans can eventually shift, en masse, to “high-touch” occupations like nursing, teaching, psychology, or the arts, the readiness of machines to replace human labor should force us to reevaluate the whole premise of having jobs in the first place. …

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