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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

His Serene Highness Trumplethinskin Summons Silicon Valley Technocracy Titans to Trump Tower

Props to Recode wag Kara Swisher for the "Trumplethinskin" moniker heads-up.

The Trump Tower High Tech Summit, December 14th, 2016. Summonees:
Founders Fund partner Peter Thiel
Oracle CEO Safra Catz

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich

Google co-founder Larry Page

Former Google CEO and executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. Eric Schmidt

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

IBM CEO Ginni Rommety

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg

Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadell
Palantir CEO Alex Karp
The combined Google search net worth estimate of the foregoing Summonees is roughly $72 billion. Wonder what the #BiglyFakeBillionaire thinks about that? Probably thoroughly enjoying Lording over them.
“I’m here to help you folks do well,” Mr. Trump told 13 tech executives, seated with about a dozen Trump team and family members around a large rectangular table.
Okee-Dokee, then. News to me that they've not been doing well of late.

Not attending, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (net worth $6 billion). Notably not invited? Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (net worth $2.2B). LOL. From the L.A. Times:
...Trump’s favorite social media platform, Twitter, was absent, for example. Politico attributed it to retribution for the company refusing during the campaign to abide Trump’s request to generate a #CrookedHillary emoji.

Twitter’s refusal to create a digital running stick figure holding a money bag is a grievance that his director of digital advertising aired on Medium a few weeks ago.

Trump representatives denied that was why Twitter was left out of the high-tech confab. They said Twitter didn’t make the cut because it wasn’t a big enough company. It has a market capitalization of about $13.8 billion, less than half that of Tesla, which was included in the meeting.

 Trump himself boasted at the top of the meeting about the deluge of requests to attend.

“I won't tell you the hundreds of calls we've had, asking to come to this meeting,” Trump said. He looked to Pay Pal co-founder Peter Thiel, an eccentric billionaire who was among the lone tech giants to back Trump’s campaign — and who now is seen by many tech executives as a potential lifeline in the new administration — as he sent out invitations.

“Peter would sort of say, ‘You know, that company's too small.’”

Those executives that did make the cut, Trump declared, led “monster companies.” They included Tim Cook of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of Tesla, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

“I'm here to help you folks do well,” Trump said, before taking credit for the bump in the stock market that followed his election. “And you're doing well right now and I'm very honored by the bounce. They're all talking about the bounce. So right now everybody in this room has to like me — at least a little bit.”

It was the get-along side of Trump on full display. The meeting was to be a symbol of an administration that would not hew to ideology but the best ideas.

Trump’s representatives spent the hours leading up to the meeting talking to the press about how good Trump is at listening, even to the people who despise him.

Plenty of folks back in Silicon Valley weren’t buying it. The executives who flew to New York found themselves confronted with letters, petitions and public scoldings from colleagues who reminded them that Trump has yet to disavow any parts of his agenda that most appalled Silicon Valley during the election.

“Now, more than ever, tech leaders must stand up for human dignity, and examine their role in public discourse,” EBay founder Pierre Omidyar wrote as he retweeted an article that pilloried tech leaders for going to Trump Tower...
Trump support among top digerati execs begins and ends with the name Peter Thiel. I doubt much of substance will come from this Technocracy Celebrity Apprentice photo-op. Beyond nil federal regulation in general, Silicon Valley wants the continuation of unfettered outsourcing of manufacturing (principally to China), ongoing "insourcing" of high tech (H-1B visa) immigrant talent, and the sheltering of profits overseas. Trump nominally opposes all of that (though he's voiced the usual platitudes about summarily and unilaterally striking down regulations), but it's hard to divine exactly what he truly believes or will try to act upon as Presidential priorities.

This was interesting, too:
The Royal Family.

Speaking of tech (and the future of employment), just in my inbox from The New Yorker:

How long will it be before you lose your job to a robot?

by Elizabeth Kolbert

...How long will it be before you, too, lose your job to a computer? This question is taken up by a number of recent books, with titles that read like variations on a theme: “The Industries of the Future,” “The Future of the Professions,” “Inventing the Future.” Although the authors of these works are employed in disparate fields—law, finance, political theory—they arrive at more or less the same conclusion. How long? Not long.

“Could another person learn to do your job by studying a detailed record of everything you’ve done in the past?” Martin Ford, a software developer, asks early on in “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” (Basic Books). “Or could someone become proficient by repeating the tasks you’ve already completed, in the way that a student might take practice tests to prepare for an exam? If so, then there’s a good chance that an algorithm may someday be able to learn to do much, or all, of your job.”

Later, Ford notes, “A computer doesn’t need to replicate the entire spectrum of your intellectual capability in order to displace you from your job; it only needs to do the specific things you are paid to do.” He cites a 2013 study by researchers at Oxford, which concluded that nearly half of all occupations in the United States are “potentially automatable,” perhaps within “a decade or two.” (“Even the work of software engineers may soon largely be computerisable,” the study observed.)...

Imagine a matrix with two axes, manual versus cognitive and routine versus nonroutine. Jobs can then be arranged into four boxes: manual routine, manual nonroutine, and so on. (Two of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s colleagues at M.I.T., Daron Acemoglu and David Autor, performed a formal version of this analysis in 2010.) Jobs on an assembly line fall into the manual-routine box, jobs in home health care into the manual-nonroutine box. Keeping track of inventory is in the cognitive-routine box; dreaming up an ad campaign is cognitive nonroutine.

The highest-paid jobs are clustered in the last box; managing a hedge fund, litigating a bankruptcy, and producing a TV show are all cognitive and nonroutine. Manual, nonroutine jobs, meanwhile, tend to be among the lowest paid—emptying bedpans, bussing tables, cleaning hotel rooms (and folding towels). Routine jobs on the factory floor or in payroll or accounting departments tend to fall in between. And it’s these middle-class jobs that robots have the easiest time laying their grippers on.

During the recent Presidential campaign, much was said—most of it critical—about trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The argument, made by both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was that these deals have shafted middle-class workers by encouraging companies to move jobs to countries like China and Mexico, where wages are lower. Trump has vowed to renegotiate nafta and to withdraw from the T.P.P., and has threatened to slap tariffs on goods manufactured by American companies overseas. “Under a Trump Presidency, the American worker will finally have a President who will protect them and fight for them,” he has declared.

According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee, such talk misses the point: trying to save jobs by tearing up trade deals is like applying leeches to a head wound. Industries in China are being automated just as fast as, if not faster than, those in the U.S. Foxconn, the world’s largest contract-electronics company, which has become famous for its city-size factories and grim working conditions, plans to automate a third of its positions out of existence by 2020.The South China Morning Post recently reported that, thanks to a significant investment in robots, the company already has succeeded in reducing the workforce at its plant in Kunshan, near Shanghai, from a hundred and ten thousand people to fifty thousand. “More companies are likely to follow suit,” a Kunshan official told the newspaper.

“If you look at the types of tasks that have been offshored in the past twenty years, you see that they tend to be relatively routine,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee write. “These are precisely the tasks that are easiest to automate.” Off-shoring jobs, they argue, is often just a “way station” on the road to eliminating them entirely.

In “Rise of the Robots,” Ford takes this argument one step further. He notes that a “significant ‘reshoring’ trend” is now under way. Reshoring reduces transportation costs and cuts down on the time required to bring new designs to market. But it doesn’t do much for employment, because the operations that are moving back to the U.S. are largely automated. This is the major reason that there is a reshoring trend; salaries are no longer an issue once you get rid of the salaried. Ford cites the example of a factory in Gaffney, South Carolina, that produces 2.5 million pounds of cotton yarn a week with fewer than a hundred and fifty workers. A story about the Gaffney factory in the Times ran under the headline “u.s. textile plants return, with floors largely empty of people.”...

How much technology has contributed to the widening income gap in the U.S. is a matter of debate; some economists treat it as just one factor, others treat it as the determining factor. In either case, the trend line is ominous. Facebook is worth two hundred and seventy billion dollars and employs just thirteen thousand people. In 2014, Facebook acquired Whatsapp for twenty-two billion dollars. At that point, the messaging firm had a grand total of fifty-five employees. When a twenty-two-billion-dollar company can fit its entire workforce into a Greyhound bus, the concept of surplus labor would seem to have run its course. [emphasis mine - BG]

Ford worries that we are headed toward an era of “techno-feudalism.” He imagines a plutocracy shut away “in gated communities or in elite cities, perhaps guarded by autonomous military robots and drones.” Under the old feudalism, the peasants were exploited; under the new arrangement, they’ll merely be superfluous...
Yeah. I've had a good run at these AI/Robotics issues before. See, e.g., my recent post "What might Artificial Intelligence bring to humanity?" and the recursive links therein (pay particular attention to "Four Futures"). I've studied and cited many of the books mentioned in Elizabeth Kolbert's article, along with related others she did not reference.

Interesting how one thing leads to another. Reading more on Elizabeth Kolbert led me to her recent Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which I bought and have begun.

Doesn't nominally have anything to do with health care and health InfoTech, but it certainly goes to the fundamental "upstream" issue of human survival.
Beginnings, it’s said, are apt to be shadowy. So it is with this story, which starts with the emergence of a new species maybe two hundred thousand years ago. The species does not yet have a name— nothing does— but it has the capacity to name things. 

As with any young species, this one’s position is precarious. Its numbers are small, and its range restricted to a slice of eastern Africa. Slowly its population grows, but quite possibly then it contracts again— some would claim nearly fatally— to just a few thousand pairs. 

The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile. They are, however, singularly resourceful. Gradually they push into regions with different climates, different predators, and different prey. None of the usual constraints of habitat or geography seem to check them. They cross rivers, plateaus, mountain ranges. In coastal regions, they gather shellfish; farther inland, they hunt mammals. Everywhere they settle, they adapt and innovate. On reaching Europe, they encounter creatures very much like themselves, but stockier and probably brawnier, who have been living on the continent far longer. They interbreed with these creatures and then, by one means or another, kill them off. 

The end of this affair will turn out to be exemplary. As the species expands its range, it crosses paths with animals twice, ten, and even twenty times its size: huge cats, towering bears, turtles as big as elephants, sloths that stand fifteen feet tall. These species are more powerful and often fiercer. But they are slow to breed and are wiped out. 

Although a land animal, our species— ever inventive— crosses the sea. It reaches islands inhabited by evolution’s outliers: birds that lay foot-long eggs, pig-sized hippos, giant skinks. Accustomed to isolation, these creatures are ill-equipped to deal with the newcomers or their fellow travelers (mostly rats). Many of them, too, succumb. 

The process continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer so new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; then it doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.
Meanwhile, an even stranger and more radical transformation is under way. Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This, in turn, alters the climate and the chemistry of the oceans. Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles. But a great many— at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions— find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes. No creature has ever altered life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred. Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they’re put in their own category: the so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one. When it is still too early to say whether it will reach the proportions of the Big Five, it becomes known as the Sixth Extinction...

Kolbert, Elizabeth (2014-02-11). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (pp. 1-3). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

On a brighter note, the Bald Eagle McNuggets one day soon to be available at the President Donald J. Trump® Yellowstone National Golf Resort and Spa are gonna be pretty yummie. And the Point Barrow Alaskan North Slope Pinot Noir will no doubt be delicious.

BTW: You might find my 2008 post "0.0143%" of interest.


Elizabeth Kolbert NPR interview.


More to come...

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