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gardener
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https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/robot-farmers-harvest-barley/

Robot farmers have successfully planted and harvested barley by themselves



Robot-ran farms have the potential to increase efficiency in the agriculture industry.

Humans have been cultivating plants for some 10,000 years and, for much of that time, we’ve used beasts of burden to help tend the fields. Just last century, humans turned from animal strength to machine power, leading to huge leaps in agricultural efficiency and scale. Over the past few years, farms have deployed emerging technologies like drones and autonomous driving systems to make the farmers’ job even less strenuous — but human hands were still needed throughout the process.

Now, researchers at Harper Adams University and agricultural company Precision Decisions have removed humans from the farm entirely in a project called Hands Free Hectare. From planting to tending and harvesting, no human stepped foot on the acre and a half barley farm in rural England. It was all done by robot farmers.


 
pollinator
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If we just wait patiently, Sarah Connor will be along shortly to save us.....






Can we play cards with them during their lunch break?
Terminator.jpg
[Thumbnail for Terminator.jpg]
 
pollinator
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During the beginnings of the industrial revolution, people were convinced that humans would all lose their jobs to machines.  It's no different now.
 
gardener
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One of the best things we can do is vote with our wallets and buy local.
 
pollinator
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Being a welder by trade, we were inundated with robotic welders. I never felt my job was jeopardized because every robot still needed a welder to monitor it. The computerized guys just could not monitor them because they did not know how to weld. When there was a weld quality issue they would instantly think it was a mechanical movement issue with the robot and reprogram the welder making the problem worse. For us welders, we could tell by the sound of the welding process what was wrong. Often times it was just a faulty welding tip that was bad, or the gas was not flowing properly, or the preheat was not right. Soon we were being taught to program the robots and took over the computer programing guys jobs.
 
gardener
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A quote from within the link within the link

Among the tasks assigned to the autonomous vehicles and drones were drilling channels to precise depths for barley seeds to be planted; applying specific amounts of fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers; and, finally, harvesting the crops once they were ready.

 So, not really permaculture by any stretch of the imagination, or even conventional organic for that matter.  I'm sure the inventors are trying to do good, but the thought of this is a bit unnerving.  Maybe it's just my Luddite urges getting the best of me.  I think the only people this will hurt are the ones who practice and are invested heavily in large scale conventional  mechanical chemical ag on their farms.  I don't think smaller hands-on operations which specialize in diversity and soil building will be effected.  

vote with our wallets and buy local.


They are planning to make beer from their barley. It looks like it might be marketed as "hands free".   I'm not planning to buy any.  I support the local brewery, called Three Ranges in Valemount, but I actually prefer the philosophy and the beer of Crannog Ales and Left Fields , who are a micro brewery with their own organic farm about 5 hours from my place, in Salmon Arm, B.C..
 
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Todd Parr wrote:During the beginnings of the industrial revolution, people were convinced that humans would all lose their jobs to machines.  It's no different now.


A sample size of one can not provide a heck of a lot of confidence in any conclusion or interpretation of an event.  It may (and probably will) be very, very different this time.  If western civilisation had gone through 31 Industrial Revolutions, and none had proven to be particularly disruptive, then one could confidently say the next would be unlikely to be any different — but that hasn't happened.

If I recall correctly, people who study this sort of thing as their day job predict that half of the world's jobs will be replaced by 'robots' by mid-century (in a generation and a half).  Given how many jobs have already been replaced in the last 30 years, that target seems pretty reasonable — maybe even conservative.

Regardless of when any arbitrary level of job loss is reached, I think the implications will be — already are — seismic.  Interest rates across the west are at historically low levels — levels that have never, ever been seen before.  The powers that be are frantically trying to eliminate cash and shoehorn currencies into digital forms that can have negative interest rates imposed upon them.  Markets are completely disconnected from fundamentals (aka 'reality').  We're in completely, utterly, uncharted economic territory.

About the only things I am confident of is that the future will be volatile, change will be rapid, and lots of people will be left behind and suffer as a consequence.  Having no debt, owning your own land, producing your own food, and generating your own energy, will position folks well to survive (and perhaps even prosper in) that sort of future.
 
gardener
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There certainly seems to be a lack of regulation/control over the digital realm. Which results in significant growth in the field. AI perception and learning is a significant area that once unlocked, will really get the ball rolling whether we are in control of it or not.

Will we see a collapse into a Terminator dystopia? Or a Star Trek-like world where people can focus their energy towards life-fulfilling goals because the simpler/menial tasks are taken care of by machines that we fully control?

Will sentient AI result in us facing a Wall-E form of control that most just glide along, from cradle to grave, or maybe a Brave New World where most are taught their place and just accept it, with a few permaculture enthusiasts living out in THE WILD, hoping to not get pulled back into the trap? Or even worse, AI decides to evolve beyond the need for this planet altogether, and irreparably damage it as they leave in some Childhood's End sort of way?

The sad/scary thing is, we will have no idea what will happen, until it is already upon us and likely too late to complain.

Gulp.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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Tim Pasanen wrote:

Todd Parr wrote:During the beginnings of the industrial revolution, people were convinced that humans would all lose their jobs to machines.  It's no different now.


A sample size of 1 can not provide a heck of a lot of confidence in any conclusion or interpretation of an event.  



You can call it a sample size of one if you like.  I call it a sample size in the 10's of millions, which is the number of people affected.  Even then, there were several major events that caused the same reaction.

Any kind of significant change to society brings doom-and-gloom people out of the woodwork.  If machines start farming, people will be needed to build the machines, to obtain the materials to make the machines, to maintain the machines, to deliver the machines, and on and on and on.  The industrial revolution was going to be the end of humans, then the computer revolution, then robotics (which are already used extensively in manufacturing), then AI.  
 
gardener
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Imagine what you could do with a robot the size of a lawn mower that could do basic farm tasks. Specialization is the key at large scale, flexibility is key at the small scale. You can currently only do dense biointensive planting by hand. What if you had a basic robot that could snake a planting tool in between a dense thicket of tomatoes and plant basil seedlings. You sort of can get rid of the concept of "turning over" a bed to plant a new crop. You also don't need a tool to blanket your garden with compost. A robot with a bucket and a trowel could spot-apply compost around any plant you think needs it. If you had a $2000-$5000 yard robot, it would let you manage 1-2 acres intensively instead of 1/4 acre. That's a hell of a lot of potential for the home(small scale) producer.

Any level of automation at a large scale of production can usually be scaled down to a smaller level for tools. Especially since most of it isn't robotics, but software. You will embrace your new robot overlords when you come home from work and your yard robot tells you that 7 peaches, 3 tomatoes, and 1/4lb of lettuce are ready for harvest today. "Would you like me to harvest them? Yes/No"
 
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Will recommend consuming media, "The Truth about Killer Robots."

Or settle for a more family friendly and not quite so rapidly encroaching dystopia, Wall-E.

Imagine, a world so convenient you never have to get up from your hovering lazy-boy in order to exist!  

Too bad some kind of technophile culture seems to be strongly present and propelling people to this end.  And too bad almost all of them will end up as bummed out and hallow as the average person who spends 40 hours a week in an office space, 30 hours a week otherwise in front of screens, 10 per week commuting and waiting to be transported places, hardly making a thing besides money from the massive lifeless machine in which they are a cog in, etc etc...

I think the health/mental health epidemics consuming many populations are a result of this bankrupt consumer culture.  For this reason I don't think the robot-butler fantasy will last long under lived experience, if there isn't some drone-soldier Zero-Dawn Skynet Michael Chrichton-Prey result that ultimately makes an extremely capable robot much more trouble than its worth.  Come on now, the Matrix is just silly!

Like say some mad genius builds a robot that can do what any successful permaculture designer/rigorously and efficiently active farmhand can do.  After mass production,  the best food is cheaper than industrial corn and otherwise requires zero of your focus, energy or time if it isn't robot maintenance.

I'm like, there's a reason why cooking is a thing which is not the means to its end.  Maybe that talk about dwelling on the action itself and not the fruit of action went to my head, or maybe it's just my luddite propensities.  

Yea.  I should get a higher paying job, and hire a personal chef.  That'll suck the life out of me real good.  HA!
 
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I have run across a lot of different attempts to further mechanize food production, up to and including this type of complete automation of agriculture.

You could ask a lot of questions about the quality of product created by these systems and the shear quantity of toxic gick that is used in the process, but those questions go down a lot of rabbit holes for the people who are working to create them. So I have trimmed it back to asking the folks designing this stuff a single question.

"Does this system create soil or destroy it?"

It sometimes takes a little explanation to get them to understand the question fully, but after that they have to admit that they are actually destroying soil instead of creating it. They are reducing the fertility of the land they are using instead of increasing it.

At this point you have to go in one of two directions. You either have to double down on the chemical cultivation model and insist that you don't really need soil and can grow everything you want through chemical fertilization of plants on a sterile dirt substrate. Or you have to decide to move over to a biological cultivation model where you feed the soil and let it feed the plants.

In other words, are you manufacturing a food-like product outdoors using dirt just to keep the plants from falling over, or are you working with the natural ecosystem to grow crops that are healthy and that express the full range of their phytochemical potential. It seems clear to me that the first is not sustainable while the second is.

Normal large-scale agricultural techniques loose several tons of topsoil for each ton of food produced. It would be interesting to see an analysis of how much soil is lost using these more highly automated systems.
 
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John Weiland wrote:If we just wait patiently, Sarah Connor will be along shortly to save us.....



Hahahaha!  The idea of terminators in overalls makes quite an interesting mental picture!

Having a little fun with the idea I went ahead and photoshopped this up (though all of a sudden I feel less threatened by their farming ability)

green_terminators.jpg
[Thumbnail for green_terminators.jpg]
 
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Todd Parr wrote:During the beginnings of the industrial revolution, people were convinced that humans would all lose their jobs to machines.  It's no different now.



I'd say it's different in that the only thing that makes humans "special" right now, and in their past, is their ability to think at a level not seen in other animals.  Once a machine/computer that can think is created, enhanced, and then perfected over maybe the next hundred years or so (probably less), there will be nothing special a human can do except maybe have emotions.  Emotions tend to hinder man more than help him from what I've seen.

All I know is that my phone/the internet is about a zillion times smarter than any single human.  It didn't take that long to go from machines having zero intelligence to all machines with internet connections being the most intelligent thing on the planet.  
Currently all of that information those machines connected to the internet know isn't really able to be processed into thoughts/actions.  Right now it's just useless information that can't be utilized.  
Once/if they figure out how to get it to think for itself, man is obsolete in so far as trying to keep up in a work force competing against it.  

Machines will repair machines, machines will invent more efficient methods of production, machines will work for free, machines will work without breaks or lunches or health care...............Machines/computers will rule the world.

Machines/computers are the next step in evolution.  Hopefully they're kind to us for spawning their kind.





 
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John Hutter wrote: I think the health/mental health epidemics consuming many populations are a result of this bankrupt consumer culture.



 
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S Tenorman wrote:

Todd Parr wrote:All I know is that my phone/the internet is about a zillion times smarter than any single human.  It didn't take that long to go from machines having zero intelligence to all machines with internet connections being the most intelligent thing on the planet.  



I recall an experiment where they had an AI study the whole internet and all the collected knowledge and try to learn and develop a personality from it. As I recall, it became a Nazi.

True AI, imo, is not possible. No AI can go outside the bounds of its programming, and no human can replicate the level of sophisticated "programming" done by evolution on the human, mostly because we are unaware of all the aspects of our own psyche, mental capacities, etc. Essentially, as nonobjective subjects of the natural world, we cannot "step outside" of those bounds to create something that is like us or surpasses us.

True, an AI can collect much more information and store it much quicker than a human brain, but an AI lacks the sophisticated ability to make ethical, moral, or social judgements about that information. Knowledge without wisdom is another form of foolishness.

We can create some frighteningly foolish, powerful machines, capable of replicating much of what we do. But I don't think the human imagination is sophisticated, nor the mental capacities advanced enough to program an AI that is more subjective in its ability to apply knowledge than humans.

Also, biological systems arising out of natural evolution are regenerative and are the only thing capable of stalling or "reversing" entropy through increased abundance and fecundity of life. Mechanical systems, by their nature, are subject to breakdown and entropy, and are not inherently regenerative or increasingly subjective. No mechanical society can sustain itself indefinitely. A more likely scenario than "robots taking over," is certain humans will augment themselves with machines and slowly combine to create a cyborg-like form of life. I personally have no interest in that sort of existence, but I'm sure some will choose it, should our modern industrial society advance that far before the strains it is placing on the planet force a counter-punch that forces a less technologically dependent/complex form of human life.

 
George Bastion
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I messed up that post above somehow . . . Todd's quote is actually Tenorman's and Tenorman's is mine. . . . Post-ception.
 
pollinator
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I've seen a few Terminator references. Terminator and especially Terminator 2, are amongst my favorite movies. But there's a huge glaring flaw. Because they were giving us a war movie, there are bullets flying and explosions. But all the machines would really have to do is formulate a general pesticide, and spray the whole planet with it. This would eliminate biological life and there would be no need to shoot us. This scenario wouldn't have made much of a movie.


Much of the financial disparity in the world is the result of some people having machines while others do not. There are people farming with giant tractors and there are people planting rice one by one. I use a machine for every cut that I make, when building and to drive every screw that holds things together. I think I drove a nail 2 months ago. So although I am not a true cyborg, my production is still vastly greater than someone doing my job in a third world country with hand saws and handheld screwdrivers. One of my co-workers has failed to invest in useful machines. So he is a first world man, who experiences the cost of living here, yet his toolkit is much less efficient. This reduces his ability to earn a living and to me he is obsolete. He has many electrical machines, but always worn out and outdated ones. Adapt or die, is something that I've heard before. I decide whether this person is called out on future jobs. Last week, I told him that this would not happen if he continues to be the poorest equipped carpenter around. So I'm giving him a push in the direction that I believe he should go. I may use a carrot and a stick. I'm thinking of getting the company to buy a few top quality tools for him to use, but with the proviso that he get rid of much of his junk and replace them with good quality stuff.
 
Tim Bermaw
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S Tenorman wrote:Currently all of that information those machines connected to the internet know isn't really able to be processed into thoughts/actions.  Right now it's just useless information that can't be utilized.


In 2018 over 50% of global stock market trades were conducted by algorithms that scan tickers, media feeds, news articles, and social media.  In the USA that was around 85%.  In certain specialist markets it was over 95%.  These trades — and the machines making them — determine the value of corporations, the performance of pension funds, and the exchange rates of currencies.  They effectively force reserve banks to change interest rates — something that determines the size of your mortgage payments.

The global financial system has, since the 1980s, become increasingly controlled by machines with a single purpose: To transfer wealth from the rest of the planet to the very small number of individuals that own and operate the machines.  They are working extremely well.  The middle class is shrinking in pretty-much all 'developed' nations as their wealth is systematically transferred by machines to the 0.1%.  The negative social consequences of this transfer are evident everywhere.

"The machines" have been exerting dominant control over the West's financial system — and hence strongly and increasingly influencing our lives — for over a decade and a half.  Information from the Internet is their data.  Calculations are their thoughts.  Trades are their actions.

Our robot overlords are already here, but most people cannot recognise them.  They don't look like this:



They look more like this:

 
Tim Bermaw
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George Bastion wrote:True AI, imo, is not possible. No AI can go outside the bounds of its programming


Already happened.  Self-programming code has existed for several decades.  IBM's SSEC was the first computer to self-modify its code and exceed the bounds of its initial programming.  It did that in 1948.

Couple self-programming code with fast processors and "the Internet" as a data source — which is where we've been for a while — and you have rapid evolution with 'unpredictable' results.  Unpredictable, self-programming AIs are being terminated every second of the day because the motivations/desires of the people that initially created them aren't being met by what has evolved from the initial code.  "They don't do what I want them to do" is not the same as "they don't exist".

an AI lacks the sophisticated ability to make ethical, moral, or social judgements about that information.


I think the vast majority of political, corporate and technology 'leaders' lack that ability as well — yet the bulk of humanity seem willing to trust them and grant them power.  Western culture doesn't seem to value ethics, morals or good social judgement — so the lack of such traits in AIs probably won't be an obstacle to their acceptance.  If anything, their indifference/neutrality on such matters may be viewed positively.

We can create some frighteningly foolish, powerful machines, capable of replicating much of what we do. But I don't think the human imagination is sophisticated, nor the mental capacities advanced enough to program an AI that is more subjective in its ability to apply knowledge than humans.


One doesn't need to completely replace something to relegate it to historical obscurity.  Pens replaced quills.  Cars replaced horses.  Calculators replaced in-brain math.  SMS replaced grammatically correct sentences and good spelling.  The Internet replaced books and libraries.  If 95% of "what humans do" can be automated, it will be.  Imaginative humans can be preserved in a museum or zoo — for amusement or study by our robot overlords, as they please.

History is littered with the corpses of those that thought themselves 'irreplacable'.
 
George Bastion
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Tim Bermaw wrote:
One doesn't need to completely replace something to relegate it to historical obscurity.  Pens replaced quills.  Cars replaced horses.  Calculators replaced in-brain math.  SMS replaced grammatically correct sentences and good spelling.  The Internet replaced books and libraries.  If 95% of "what humans do" can be automated, it will be.  Imaginative humans can be preserved in a museum or zoo — for amusement or study by our robot overlords, as they please.

History is littered with the corpses of those that thought themselves 'irreplacable'.



I agree on that point. There's no doubt that we could program high sophisticated machines to replace a lot of the labor of humans, and also a form of machine that ultimately decided to destroy us. My argument is that, even in that instance, it would not be true AI.

Humans are irreplaceable in that we are a unique branch of an evolutionary line that has never, as far as we know, been replicated. We are also, ourselves, incapable of replicating it for the reasons I mentioned. The limiting factor, even in the IBM example you provided and others, is that, yes, we can program a program to program, but can we program a program to break out of the fundamental barriers that we've designed (not just the programmatic ones, but the fundamentals like language, intent, etc)? Can we give a program a code that mimics the human genetic code in its subjectivity and ability to make judgements? No - we cannot develop a digital language that matches the complexity and adaptability of the genetic code. At least, not yet. I guess this is semantics, because even though we couldn't make true AI imo, we can make AI that has the same effect of wiping out humans or rendering us irrelevant in a lot of ways.

But just like a horse will always be a horse, and be able to replicate itself and adapt without artificial inputs, humans are too. Machines are not like this. Remove peak oil, cheap electricity, rare mineral mining, and years of wear and tear on machines, and they will crumble into dust while biological systems carry on.

 
Tim Bermaw
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George Bastion wrote:The limiting factor, even in the IBM example you provided and others, is that, yes, we can program a program to program, but can we program a program to break out of the fundamental barriers that we've designed (not just the programmatic ones, but the fundamentals like language, intent, etc)?


I'm pretty sure Facebook pulled the plug on a couple of AIs in 2017 that started communicating between themselves in a non-English language that the AIs developed between themselves.  The developers didn't teach the AIs how to develop a new language, nor did they incentivise the AIs to develop a new language — they just didn't prohibit the AIs from developing a new language.

Had the developers not pulled the plug on the AIs at that point, they would have lost the ability to meaningfully monitor their evolution.  Who knows what else the AIs may have taught themselves beyond that point?
 
pollinator
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Dale Hodgins wrote:But all the machines would really have to do is formulate a general pesticide, and spray the whole planet with it. This would eliminate biological life and there would be no need to shoot us. This scenario wouldn't have made much of a movie.



There's an even simpler method to achieve this and everything is already in place. Information could simply be manipulated in such a way to create conflict and let the Humans do all the work. We are perfectly capable of annihilating ourselves (history shows it). Machines are about efficiency.

Also, AI is not programmed to do any given task, it's programmed to learn. There is nothing in biology that isn't mechanical at it's root.
 
master pollinator
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The simplest method is, I think, the middle road. Why wait for humans to get up the gumption to destroy themselves?

Also, why formulate anything? The infrastructure exists to launch a nuclear attack that would cause automatic reprisal. All that would need to occur is for the AI in question to make those humans in charge of pressing the buttons, or turning the keys, or whatever, think that an attack is imminent. Perhaps either a selective information blackout, or the outright falsification of incoming data, like a training scenario swapped in for a live satellite feed, would do it. Sounds very much like Francis' method.

But that's short-term thinking. The technology involved is designed to have human minders and tenders. If all the builders die without humanoid avatars to replace them, the (figurative) gears of the machine that houses the AI will, sooner or later, grind to a halt.

We need to stop moving towards the WALL-E model, whereby we never leave our floating armchairs. If we design the machine to require a human component, we retain control.

I think we also need to stop the slide towards ingrained laziness. We should all be doing math in our heads. It's faster when you don't have to break out the calculator app. Besides, use it or lose it. I would wager quite heavily that those who engage in activities like mental tabulation/calculation of figures are more mentally capable for longer in their lives.

Math used to take me longer to do in my head than it does now, and it all has to do with doing digital calculation of measurements taken in inches and converting fractions out to three decimal points, in the course of my work in print finishing. If you just do it, it becomes easy.

The problem isn't necessarily AI. It's humans being lazy and willfully stupid. What are serfs to do? Stop being fucking serfs. Pursue education in whatever field you're working in, or living in. If your concern is soil, become a civilian soil scientist, and learn as much as possible about the subject. But fucking read and learn. Let's stop being so ready to dumb everything down so it's easier.

What happens if you stop exercising? What happens if you only do the bare minimum? Obviously, the bare minimum becomes harder to do, because you stop being as capable.

If the field you're active in is embracing technology, decide if you think it's being done in the most effective way possible, and then decide how you can use technology to make your operation more efficient. If it requires coding, maybe you need to look into that.

Hypothetically speaking, if effective permaculture eventually involved sensor nets with real-time temperature, light, soil and humidity information, in order to map out microclimates and head-off problems, why would such a system be designed to provide conclusions and specific direction to people who should be able to come to such themselves?

It isn't necessary to descend to the mental level of historical peons, serfs, and peasants in order to homestead and do permaculture. We can all be soil scientists, and food scientists, and study whatever we feel like putting the effort to. If we can learn basic animal husbandry, why can't we extend that to veterinary skills? The internet, and technology, needn't be a crutch that promotes atrophy.

-CK
 
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George Bastion wrote:
Humans are irreplaceable in that we are a unique branch of an evolutionary line that has never, as far as we know, been replicated.  



That applies to every species, living or extinct.  Humans just aren't that special.

 
Francis Mallet
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What I find ironic is that these people design such complex robotic systems and yet they have an incredibly naive view of the biological systems they want to control. Always more of the same...
 
Chris Kott
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Francis Mallet wrote:What I find ironic is that these people design such complex robotic systems and yet they have an incredibly naive view of the biological systems they want to control. Always more of the same...



Of course. They're engineers, not biologists. "...Specialisation is for insects."

-CK
 
George Bastion
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Trace Oswald wrote:

George Bastion wrote:
Humans are irreplaceable in that we are a unique branch of an evolutionary line that has never, as far as we know, been replicated.  



That applies to every species, living or extinct.  Humans just aren't that special.




Yes it does apply, and every species is special.

But humans are definitely special in a way no other beings are (just like some beings are special in ways we aren't). The logic of some ecologists to say humans beings are the same as mosquitoes, are the same as buffalo, are the same as squid is reductionist and problematic in my view, because it does not account for or value the ways in which all creatures, including humans, are utterly unique. Humans possess reasoning abilities that allow us to have a greater conscious and intentional (and of course unintentional) impact on our environment than any other species that has yet existed through the use of that intellect. This is just obvious.

As for AI, I don't think I'm communicating my point as effectively as I could, so I'll say it as simply as possible. Human intelligence was shaped by the external forces of objective reality, in all their complexities. AI intelligence can only ever be shaped by humans in all their limitations, not reflecting the full external forces of reality. That AI can create a language means only that the AI is replicating the human concept of language. Humans precede language in the sense we are discussing. As humans, we aren't even aware of all the aspects of our own intellect and possibility, so we cannot impart that to machines.

I guess it is moot though, because whether true AI can exist or not, technology that is not beneficial to us or the ecosystem can and does. I think Chris hit the nail on the head that what matters is how we use technology. What ethics, principles, and values are we infusing in technology. Is our technology liberatory? Is it regenerative? Is it healthy? I think it can be. Technology is not inherently dystopian or a threat to human life, so long as this technology is constrained by more than "make money, work more efficiently, be cheaper." The values we infuse into technology determine the technology that arises.

I would have a question for all the folks in this thread who are essentially proposing that AI is going to render humans irrelevant, already has, etc. What do you propose ought to be done? Or do you just see yourself as the person explaining the obvious, and there is no solution - we are all just doomed to obscurity and extinction, notwithstanding a few human pets in the future apparently.
 
pollinator
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I worry a lot less about new artificial intelligence than I fret over old fashioned human stupidity.
 
pollinator
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Tim Bermaw wrote:History is littered with the corpses of those that thought themselves 'irreplacable'.

Actually history is littered evenly with corpses of good productive and ingenious people as well as the lazy ones and all those in between, a fact that continually annoys me.
I believe it is good to remember that machines can greatly increase productivity in trained hands, that doesn't mean everyone with a high quality machine at their disposal will be productive. A strong and fit human with a good sharp hoe or shovel can be highly productive over his or her lifetime.
Every placement of the shovel is thought-out and calculated with any number of factors depending on what nature has provided via terrain, his or her personal health, sharpness of the tool as well as the care and maintenance provided to the tool over the years and it all comes down to that moment the blade hits the earth.
We could also remember that many humans love working in the soil and fuss less over those alleged lazy people.  
Brian  
 
K Eilander
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Shower thought I just had:


I know what I said before, and like you guys I'm generally reluctant to treat technology as our savior.  (Solve one problem.  Cause three more.)
Yet... What if this could actually be a net good thing for the ideals of permaculture?  

Why!??  Let me explain.  Consider what a lot of our present problems are: crop monoculture, pesticide (ab)use, pollution, GMO's, micronutrient deficiency, spoilage/waste, transportation energy costs... and the root cause of them all, the industrio-agriculture system and their ever-present tractored row-crops.

Well, what if we regard our robotic pal as the alternative to that?

First off, he's like the ultimate unpaid apprentice.  Sit him down next to your plant and say, "Hey stupid,  See this?  This is an aphid.  Now pick 'em all off, squash 'em, and feed 'em to the chickens."  It may take hours, but he doesn't mind.  The tool has actually been employed to solve a problem that I'd go crackers working on.

That kind of thing alone could streamline things.

But as things develop, consider how he doesn't need to walk along straight rows of only one crop like a tractor does, but could instead navigate within a food forest!  
(Thought: Less of a terminator and more of a tractor??)

Finally, a correct design is (as you know) already sustainable indefinitely with less expensive and polluting inputs than the flawed one.  The trouble is, requiring substantial human care, the system as it presently stands, remains too small to be much of a threat to the establishment.  Well, with the use of more versatile machines like these helping to do the right things at a competitive scale... all of a sudden the proper solution actually becomes MORE economically viable than doing the wrong ones!
(Could this be the boost we need to help push us past the tipping-point??)

Of course there are issues with the idea.  I'm not saying there's not.  But even on the risk side of the equation I've begun to reconsider my earlier stance.  After all, is the suspected threat of a runaway robot any more or less dangerous to life and the future of humanity than the demonstrated threat of a runaway Monsanto?  You tell me, I guess.
 
Mark Brunnr
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This reminds me of a quote Paul had from Sepp a while back, where a person told Sepp they didn't want pigs in their setup, and Sepp said "then you must be the pig!" or something along those lines. This is in reference to fighting aphids with an android which is taught what aphids are and picking away at them, while also not compacting the soil or damaging plants as it moved around... it sure seems easier to let the aphids show up for a week or two, which will draw in more lady bugs and parasitic wasps or whatever else eats aphids.

Once the natural predator population catches up, the aphids will become a minor issue, perhaps targeting the weaker plants which you'd want to fail anyways, leaving only the strongest aphid-resistent plants to return the next year either through regrowth or seed. If we let nature do what it's been doing for millions of years already, it will probably find a pretty stable balance. Our goal is to mainly try to stay out of the way and learn without forcing our limited human concepts of agriculture/horticulture/permaculture into the equation so much that we break things.
 
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Too many aphids are telling you the plant is stressed in some way - wrong balance of nutrients, too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, etc.  "Pests" are indicators pointing out that the plant is not happy.

 
gardener
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"so what are us serfs going to do now?"

I refuse to participate in serfdom so I will grow more of our own food.
 
pollinator
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A couple of general thoughts in response to this thread.  I've got a love/hate perspective on AI and machine learning.  To the positive:

1.  Machines that can plant, care for, and ultimately harvest barley will also be capable of planting a multi-species cover-crop between the rows, leave weeds to grow for the optimum amount of time before they pull them and compost them, plant companion plants along-side of commercial crops . . . it's just a matter of programming the machine and getting it to do what you design.  Since permaculture is a design science, the use of more and more automation isn't the enemy.  Bad design is.  

2.  I use technology all the time, but it's just not integrated into a singular system.  The examples are endless: I check the weather on my computer, I look at accumulated rainfall or chill hours, and I even log onto a message board called Permies.com; Electric poly-wire has transformed the capacity of farmers to mob-graze their livestock; plastic drip tubing has been transformative in my garden in saving water and using it only where it's needed, etc.  Technology will only continue to get more sophisticated.  There is nothing noble about digging in the soil with a sharp stick if steel is available.   In the same way, the goal is to harvest the good of AI for the sake of healthy food production, not to fight the inevitable future.

But negatively:

3.  I read recently that once computers figure out how to bypass the firewalls we've created to isolate them and begin to harness the power of linking millions of computers together and cranking up their autonomous AI sharing of data and knowledge, it will be virtually impossible to stop them.  They will "learn" in 3 months what it took all of human history to learn.  From then on, all knowledge derived from AI will be new knowledge and much of it will increasingly be beyond the mental range of human beings to understand.  The pace of AI knowledge growth will amplify and accelerate: it will get larger and happen faster, with every passing day.  Once computers figure out how to lie and manipulate, which is really just another potential outcome that AI will explore ("What if we tell the programmers this or that, even though it isn't true, how will they respond?"), then there will be no way of knowing if they are acting autonomous from human controllers.  In other words, the computer will realize that the human doesn't like that degree of autonomy and will learn to hide it from the human.  In essence, it will teach itself to be deceptive.  Cool thought, huh.
 
pollinator
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It's interesting seeing what people have to say on this topic. I can't speak for other regions of the country, but in my district of Hawaii, the "serfs" who lose jobs due to mechanization have zero opportunity to find another job.

Two large macadamia farms switched to mechanized harvesting, causing dozens and dozens of people to lose jobs. The local coffee farms are talking about going to mechanized harvesting and robots & machines to do the rest. Dozens and dozens of jobs will disappear. The country bought a street cleaning machine and also now uses herbacide for weed control along the roadsides. Thus street cleaning and weedwacking jobs disappeared. A local business that use to hire unskilled workers is shutting down and moving to Hilo.....thus the loss of over a dozen low level jobs. These "serfs" have no jobs to move to.

My area has no vocational training or adult education. "Serfs" have no opportunity to acquire new skills so that they could qualify for some other job. Add to that, county regulations that make it quite difficult, complicated, expensive, and sometimes plain impossible to start your own small business. So what happens next? The area gets more and more people just hanging around. Theft increases. Some people resort to selling drugs to make some money, thus drug use increases, and the crime that goes along with it. More people go on food stamps. They can't afford rent, moving in with relatives or squatting on vacant land in tents or garden sheds. Thus local landlords start finding their houses empty, and thus switch to vacation rentals. But alas, the county in its wisdom just passed new laws making those rentals illegal or expensive to register.

While business benefits by mechanization and robots, and consumers might see prices stay acceptable, the "serfs" lose big time. This loss trickles down to hurting the community. I'm seeing Walmart and other big stores switching to robot floor cleaners. I see most big stores switching to self check outs. This all means loss of untrained jobs.

In my area, the public schooling adds to the cascading problem. Kids graduate with zero marketable skills. Zero. So unless they move out of the area, they join the unemployable population.

Personally I'd like to see lots of small businesses start up that hire the unskilled worker. But alas, Hawaii's regulations make that unrealistic. I'd also like to see a vocational training school here, but that's not about to happen either. So as the established businesses mechanize and incorporate robots, I see the serfs losing.....at least where I live. Face it, there are only so many Walmart greeter jobs or supermarket bagger positions available anymore.
 
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During Australia’s mining boom a decade ago, truck drivers were earning a minimum $10,000 a month just to drive dump trucks very slowly up and down the mine.

Now new mines use automatic, driverless trucks. I never thought of robot farmers but it makes perfect sense. I don’t have large-scale farming experience but from what snipets I’ve seen a lot of it is just driving in straight lines over immense paddocks with specialist vehicles. Robots could surely do such a mundane time-consuming task.
 
Su Ba
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I agree that they easily could do it.  But is it permaculture?
 
Tim Kivi
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Maybe innovative robots could make permaculture more competitive by innovative methods?
 
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