kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
[personal profile] kortirion_among_the_trees
I find the conjunction of this, dating from the year I was born:

(In particular the lines: 'We've got a machine can learn the knack / Of doing your job, so don't come back ... Watch out for the man with the silicon chip')

With this: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/john-lanchester/the-robots-are-coming (to be read in full)

Utterly fascinating.  MacColl as a prophet of the socio-economic consequences of 'machine learning' (!!) - who'd have thunk it?

P. S. It's also just occurred to me that the LRB is the only present-day equivalent in this country of a 19th c. толстый журнал.

Date: 2016-09-28 09:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
Amusing but not that prophetic. Silicon chips date from the 1950s before even I was born. Samuel Butler's 'Darwin among the machines' - 1863! - wins my spooky prescience award.

Date: 2016-09-28 10:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
The Wikipedia article is very good


Is this too early for your specialist period?

Date: 2016-09-28 11:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
Oh no, I know all about Butler and 'Darwin among the Machines' - remember that my initial specialist area was 19th c. utopias/dystopias :) But this is about something else - the usual Victorian view is that humanity will be enslaved by the machine, as an extrapolation of the 'humans tending machines' status quo that they could see in every factory around them. What I was referring to was the opposite - that automation means the economy can dispense with human work altogether, human labour becomes redundant. It's the process that Lanchester talks about that has been happening again and again since the first industrial revolution and the Luddites - every time machines improve, humans lose their jobs, whole areas of skilled and unskilled labour disappear. The point about the 'silicon chip' is that it looks likely to send that process into hyperdrive. I absolutely loved his reference to Morris at the end - because the utopia of creative labour that automation in theory finally makes possible is of course the last thing that's likely to happen.

Date: 2016-09-28 10:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
Robin Prior's comment at the end of the piece you reference perfectly links Lanchester and Butler: humans are already not really in control of the 'progress', but the forces of economic and technological competition. If Robin Prior is really the person's name it's beautifully appropriate.

Date: 2016-09-28 11:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
Yes, and the whole point of Victorian socialist utopias was to 'take back control' - so that, to put it crudely, the machines do everything that humans don't want to, and humans have leisure time to do what is truly meaningful. The fact that the productivity gains resulting from automation are turned into profit for the few (and unemployed misery for the many) rather than distributed to make life better for everyone is, according to this view, essentially a political choice.

Date: 2016-09-28 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wellinghall.livejournal.com
Could you translate the last two words into English? - Google suggests "thick log", which I suspect is missing something.

Date: 2016-09-28 07:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
That is a funny image! It means 'thick journal': https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thick_journal The parallel is by no means exact, I was just thinking of a periodical publication for a general readership containing high quality in-depth long analytical essays. The thick journals were much more than that, but the British periodical landscape is so poor nowadays that the LRB's the closest we've got.

Date: 2016-09-28 08:06 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-09-29 06:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
I only just realised that 'Darwin Among The Machines' (1863) came only four years after 'The Origin Of Species' (1859)!

Although of course Patrick Matthew had really published 'Darwin's' theory decades earlier, in 1831. In the appendix to a best-selling book. And getting right a key thing Darwin got wrong.

Allocation of intellectual credit is such a curious business.

Date: 2016-09-29 07:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
I've never heard of Patrick Matthew - just goes to show the truth of your last point! It's always Wallace you think of when considering the unfairness of Darwin's deification.

What was the key thing?

Date: 2016-09-29 12:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
There's a good wiki article on him, or google 'patrick matthew project' for the evidence that Darwin and Wallace deliberately stole the idea from him, To me the circumstantial evidence seems strong.

Darwin's prejudice was that evolution must always be gradual. PM realised that once a species was optimal for its environment it might change little, but when the environment changed it would change fast.

Darwin's error still gives false comfort to creationists today: 'Where are the missing links, the transitional forms'? We've found some now of course, but PM's reasoning that they'd be relatively rare was absolutely correct.


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