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Computing Power Dynamics

Is Capitalism Morphing Into Communism?

Capitalist Communism

Under communism you buy everything from a single state outlet, whereas under fully mature capitalism you buy everything from Amazon. Karl Sharro

I once dreamed of a socialist utopia devoid of hate, fear, anxiety, poverty and interpersonal rivalry with common ownership of the means of production. This fantasy comes in two main flavours, idealistic anarcho-communism based on small cooperatives with no central states or organised means of coercion in a tangled maze of hippie communes converging miraculously on a carefree lifestyle of fluid relationships. The other kind of socialism assumes a strong state responsible for regulating every aspect of our communal lives and overseeing our private behaviour, lest we act in an unduly selfish or hateful manner. While anarcho-communism takes a fundamentally Rousseauian view of human nature, assuming that without the oversight of higher authorities, we will revert to our natural state of peace-loving and inherently altruistic creatures, state socialism relies on a complex web of organisations to enforce social conformity and solidarity. Marx foresaw that a workers' state would gradually transform human nature over several generations until the institutions of surveillance and coercion could eventually disappear.

It is easy to dismiss the great socialist experiments of the 20th century in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea and Cuba either as deformed workers' states or state-capitalist. The latest catastrophe is Venezuela that failed to diversify its economy to free itself from the grip of multinationals. These regimes relied on technology developed in advanced capitalist economies and could not deliver their people with the kind of living standards millions of ordinary working class people enjoyed in Western Europe and North America, because state coercion and engineered solidarity failed to motivate creativity and innovation. However, now capitalism is failing too. It cannot survive without subsidised mass consumerism and debt-driven economic growth. Until recently advanced mixed economies relied on the salaries of skilled workers to keep the consumer economy afloat. Now most manufacturing jobs have been either outsourced to low wage regions and/or undergone substantial automation, workers can only aspire to service sector careers that either require a high level of analytical intelligence or exceptional people skills. As the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution progresses, businesses will need to hire fewer and fewer ordinary people with mediocre skillsets. Today large corporations need consumers more than workers. As AI and robots displace monotonous manual and clerical jobs, big business will rely on governments to subsidise their customers. Arguably this has been going on for years in the UK. Most jobs are now involved in people management, social surveillance, retail, entertainment, education, infrastructure inspection or banking.

If big business needed creative, resourceful and independent-minded workers, you can bet they would lobby government to improve academic standards in schools and invest billions in STEM. Alas big business only needs the best and brightest. They may complain that they can't hire enough seasoned programmers or bioscientists and have to import specialists from abroad, but they know only a small minority of graduates have a high enough IQ to be worthwhile employing and rewarding with handsome salaries. Many have criticised modern schooling for focussing too much on socialisation and attitudes than on the practical skills young adults might need in the workplace. Customer relations has suddenly become more important than fixing someone's car or washing machine. While a good mechanic may lose business by insulting his customers, an incompetent mechanic may be blessed with a wonderful sense of humour, but cannot compensate for shoddy workmanship through soft skills, at least not for long. If smart robots supplant human beings in practical jobs like mechanics, plumbers, drivers, bricklayers and farm labourers, people within the median IQ range can only aspire to tasks that require a degree of human authenticity, mainly in the persuasion and care sectors. Persuasion encompasses a very wide range of modern professions, anything from marketing to social work, teaching and charities. I've long argued that schools should refocus on practical skills, but I've not been a lone voice. Every consultation about secondary education in the UK yields similar results. Small businesses and parents alike want smaller class sizes and greater emphasis on vocational skills. There is virtually no grassroots movement calling for more lessons on gender theory or more mental health screening. Such calls inevitably come from well-funded lobbies and spurious charities that pop up from nowhere and suddenly have articulate spokespersons on TV shouting down traditional naysayers.

The left has correctly in my view accused both New Labour from 1997 to 2010 and then three Tory-led governments ever since of colluding with big business. Yet if big business is in the driving seat, why would they support an education system that has clearly failed to train a new generation of conscientious workers able to accomplish all the practical jobs we have traditionally needed. Is it because the government is totally incompetent or driven by ideological concerns at odds with the needs of big business. I'm sorry to admit, but we really have to consider another more disturbing explanation: Large corporations do not need workers. They need consumers.

Outsourcing and smart automation have boosted productivity to such an extent that a few hundred highly skilled technicians can manage a manufacturing facility capable of supplying sophisticated products to tens of millions of consumers. Most of the auxiliary jobs around manufacturing such as shipping, quality assurance and accounting can also be automated. Much of the marketing and sales operation has already moved online, requiring human input only for client-facing roles, but if you've interacted with automated help lines or online sales chat bots, you can see how artificial intelligence is set to transform our lives. Not only do we now have more car sales representatives than automotive production line operatives, we probably have more high street charity awareness raisers than solar panel and wind turbine technicians. More people are employed to persuade others to adapt their lifestyles and embrace new ways in our dynamic interdependent society than to provide the goods and services we really need.

Whether your electricity supply works or you can afford transportation to your places of work, study or socialisation are no longer viewed as mainly technical challenges, but have become human rights issues. However, capitalism can no longer guarantee the minimum living standard to which we have become accustomed without significant state intervention. The political debate has moved on from how to generate wealth to how to persuade big business to share more of its wealth with the advanced welfare states of affluent countries. However, the state will only subsidise your lifestyle if you play by its rules and big business will only be prepared to bankroll the public sector if it grants them special privileges. Let us just consider your typical provincial town in early 21st century UK. The biggest employers are the local council, the National Health Service , the large supermarket chains and increasingly the distribution warehouses of major online retailers, which in practice means mainly Amazon. Other big employers include charities, banks and insurance brokers, whose role is either to manage your indebtedness or raise awareness for various social transformation initiatives. Hard work, as we traditionally understood the concept, seldom reaps substantial rewards. Instead we rely more and more on social networking and delegation of responsibilities to other human or technical resources.

This is perhaps the biggest paradox of the early 21st century. Just as capitalism seems invincible, its most powerful exponents seek to phase it out and replace it with a command economy, managed by global corporations with the illusion of brand choice for the masses and healthy competition only for the professional elites. The ensuing socio-economic model may resemble an amalgamation of Swedish welfarism and Chinese authoritarianism much more than late 20th century North America. The captains of high tech industry have finally realised they do not need many workers, only compliant consumers.

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All in the Mind

Sexual Egalitarianism

Why it will always remain a wild fantasy

Sex, as practiced for the last billion years, has been an awfully competitive and selective affair. Erotic desire drives much of human behaviour. It motivates us to keep fit, take care of our appearance, elevate our status by excelling at school and in our careers and show off our physical prowess and dexterity through sport, dance and music. Heterosexual men and women tend to adopt different strategies, for the inescapable biological fact that only women have babies. Both men and women may well enjoy sex. However, while men seek to satisfy their sexual desires with the most physically desirable partners, women tend to target higher status males better able to look after their children. These dynamics are at play even in advanced societies with low birth rates, extended childhood and adolescence stretching into our thirties with plenty of time for women to pursue careers and explore the world of leisure and intrigue. The trouble is we don't all perform equally well at this game. Not all women are blessed with the same innate beauty and perfect physique, though no doubt a healthy diet and active lifestyle help. Not all men are equally strong, charming, agile, good-humoured, wealthy, reliable, conscientious, agreeable or intelligent, though no doubt a good upbringing and a healthy diet help. Sure, in the real world things balance out and most of us find a partner sooner or later, though recent social trends have led to more and more people choosing to stay single for longer and only commit to more part-time relationships. However, the dynamics of sexual selection mean some of us may not only attract a wider range of affable partners, but can also fulfil our erotic ambitions more easily. Status acts as a powerful aphrodisiac. While some shy beta males struggle to attract the right calibre of young women, high-status alpha males may struggle to fend off unwanted female attention. Feminists have naturally always supported a woman's right to choose with whom to share her body and under what conditions. Bodily self-determination seems to me one of the most basic human rights. However, social biologists have long observed that natural selection proceeds largely through female sexual choice as detailed in William G. Eberhard's 1996 work Female Control: Sexual Selection by Cryptic Female Choice. Fertility clinics seek to emulate this strategy by presenting female customers with a choice of sperm donors, although currently successful males are less motivated to donate their sperm. The harsh reality many beta males would prefer to ignore is self-confident, healthy and attractive young women will always target alpha males. Many women do not even consider 80 to 90% of potential age-appropriate mates. However, when a disheartened young man strikes it lucky with a modestly attractive female, his self-esteem will soar. Women can exert tremendous power over the success of their male partners. Female attention can transform introvert young professionals into confident young men. This works vice-versa, but men and women have different interests. Men seek not just gratification, but validation as a worthy sexual partner. Women may enjoy sex, but focus more on the long term security of their offspring. Today such statements are almost heretical, but as recently as 1992 John Gray wrote a bestseller, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, confirming the truisms of male-female relationships that many would now seek to deny.

Social justice activists promote the concept of equality of outcome through positive discrimination to ensure, for example, that different groups of people are fairly represented in the major professions and decision-making institutions. They bemoan the relative dearth of female programmers or mechanical engineers. In North America and much of Western Europe more females than males now graduate from university and dominate primary and secondary school education, social work and marketing as well as many other caring and people-oriented professions. Men, on the other hand, are more thing-oriented. This is not just based on anecdotal observation, but is supported by voluminous research not least Simon Baron-Cohen's concept of systemisers vs empathisers and his theory that behavioural traits considered on the higher functioning autistic spectrum are due to an extreme male brain. This doesn't mean that gadget-obsessed men cannot socialise and women are not interested in technology, but men are more likely to be concerned with how technology works and what it can do, while women may appreciate an object's appearance as well as it functionality.

So let us just try a thought experiment. What if we applied equality of outcome to mating strategies. Is it fair for a minority of men to receive most female attention and indulge in the most exhilarating intercourse with the sexiest partners just because they are blessed with a superior physique, higher intelligence or greater wealth? If we follow the logic of social justice activists, this reality is grotesquely unfair. Naturally attractive young women should share their bodies and erotic passion with a broad cross-section of age-appropriate heterosexual males, irrespective of their body shape, disability, intelligence, employment status, income, sense of humour, personality or personal hygiene. Some anarcho-communists envisaged our sex life would evolve into free love with open relationships and communal parenting, as practiced in a handful of communes such as the one Otto Muhl founded in Friedrichshof, 80km from Vienna, which sadly exposed bitter personal rivalries over sexual etiquette. I suspect most feminists may disagree, but the free love fantasy may soon drive demand for sex robots.

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All in the Mind Computing

On Social Competitiveness and Human Nature

As a species we combine social solidarity and shared culture with a strong competitive spirit. In a way these variant behaviours represent the true yin and yang of the human psyche, collectivism versus individualism or social cohesion versus self-betterment. One could argue that our social and technological reality would never have progressed without these instincts. Idealists have long envisaged a collectivist society devoid of competition at all levels in which our only motivation in life is to further the greater good of society as a whole and all rewards, both material and spiritual, are shared equally. Yet no modern society has achieved these egalitarian aims. As much as many of us may preach equality, at a personal level we remain highly competitive in our social interactions and choice of partners. All too often we preach social compassion in public, but practice social exclusivity in private.

Our technology inevitably relies on prior art or the acquired body of human knowledge accumulated over successive generations, while our social fabric and mores have evolved through centuries of experimentation and gradual adaptation. Social solidarity starts in the family where mothers and fathers sacrifice their body and soul to ensure the survival of the next generation and care for their living forebears. As societies evolved from small hunter-gatherer communities to larger fiefdoms and eventually nation states after the agrarian revolution, we had to share resources and infrastructure with a wider group of people with a common set of cultural traits and values. Yet societies remained profoundly unequal and riven by strong class chasms that prevented social mobility. If you were born a peasant and had to till the land from an early age with a rudimentary diet that stunted physical growth, you stood little chance of progressing to the professional classes or nobility, except potentially through marriage or adoption. The industrial revolution disrupted the feudal class system and later led to the expansion of state education and growing demand for a new class of literate and technically qualified workers. Much of the political debate since has revolved around two contrasting ideals:

  1. Equality of opportunity: Here we allow healthy but peaceful competition in social interactions and in the labour market, but the state intervenes mainly to ensure a level playing field for all children by funding universal education and providing a social safety net to prevent extreme poverty. However, this principle cannot guarantee equal success, which may depend on inherent aptitudes and biological differences, e.g. success in athletics may depend on training and diet, but also genetically determined physique.
  2. Equality of outcome: Here the state intervenes proactively to ensure everyone can attain the same socio-economic status through positive discrimination and massive investment to help underperformers. This principle identifies the least successful as victims of purported oppression, exclusion or prejudice. Here we should distinguish between giving everyone a fair chance to prove their worth and rewarding incompetence or demotivating excellence.

In truth neither approach has worked. As long as we have vast differences in wealth and culture, it will remain practically impossible to ensure a level playing field. The rich can always buy homes in the most exclusive neighbourhoods, shield their offspring from the worst aspects of today's anti-intellectual hedonism and hire childminders and private tutors. On the other hand the last 50 years of social engineering and positive discrimination in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavia, have failed to yield the results many envisaged in the 1960s. Men and women are not the same, at least according to most recent neurobiological research. Women continue to prefer people-oriented and caring professions rather than more technical or object-oriented professions, as revealed in one of the world's most gender-egalitarian countries, Norway. Likewise not everyone is academically gifted. Many of us are much more hands-on and prefer learning through a mix of practical experience and social osmosis. We can't all swat away for hours on end to pursue a career in engineering or scientific research, because the acquired knowledge would remain too abstract for many. Indeed that's problem with much of academia. They can develop mathematically correct theories and extrapolate internally logical conclusions based on selective facts or epidemiological data. The theoretical approach that drives so much of modern corporate and government policy making has one major flaw. It fails to take into account all factors that are either unknown or considered irrelevant. Back on planet earth simple practical people take such unknown and unforeseen factors for granted. Our daily experiences often defy academic theories, but are still dismissed as mere anecdotal evidence until they appear in an official report. So who's right? Theoreticians or practical laypersons? The answer is both in different ways. An academic may envisage a nanochip with a processing capacity greater than a human brain. A layperson may suggest that analogue human brains do not work in the same way as digital computers and they'd be right, but of our knowledge is fuzzy, i.e. based on a collection of associated concepts. However, cybernetic luddites have repeatedly been proven wrong. Advanced speech recognition, natural language processing, satellite navigation and even self-driving cars have long passed the proof-of-concept stage and promise to transform our lives. Cumbersome desktop computers gave way to more compact laptops, soon superseded by forever more sophisticated and versatile mobile devices in the form of smartphones, tablets, e-readers and watches. Academics may better understand the potential of cybernetic technology, but they fail to get to grips with the disruptive technology's impact on the lives of millions of ordinary people, who may soon be rendered either redundant or completely subservient to corporate control.

Procreative Competition

Few aspects of human nature are as socially competitive as our mating or sexual bonding strategies. Sex is both a social taboo and something we all intimately crave, when we're in the mood and with the right partner. Recreational eroticism has deep biological roots that ultimately seek to maximise our chances of passing on our genes and thus our cultural influence onto the next generation. We can transfer our cultural influence through adoption or through our life's endeavours, but until recently the biological family remained the primary means of preserving one's legacy for posterity. Naturally sexual desire is psychologically complex. Our erotic urges are much more powerful than our need to conceive more offspring than we can reasonably bring up. Such urges, especially among young men, merely satisfy hormonal impulses and boost our sense of self-esteem.

We thus have both sexual selection, a process that affects all sexually reproducing species, and erotic selection, in which we choose to win the affection and favours of the most affable mates to enhance our status or our gratification. Players in this game may vaunt their physical desirability or their socio-economic status. A young woman may delude herself that she has just fallen in love with her affluent married boss, with whom she first slept while attending a business conference together. A sociologist would ask why some women fall for guys 20 or 30 years their senior, who are way beyond their physical prime and have other family commitments, rather than men in their age group. Numerous studies have shown that women actively pursue the most successful men, who are inevitably both a small subset of all adult males and are likely to be older than most attractive women, typically aged between 18 and 30. Believe it or not there is no shortage of heterosexually inclined young men who would like to mate with attractive females in their age group, but not enough females who aspire to mate with low-grade males who have yet to prove their worth. This explains two key differences between male and female mating strategies even in cultures where both promiscuity and contraceptives are socially acceptable. A young man can boost his self-esteem and thus gain a higher status merely by virtue of scoring with a physically attractive female. By contrast young women target high status males, or at least those perceived to have a high status. In other words young men would be happy to score with most younger women, provided they are not grotesquely overweight or suffer from some other hideous bodily imperfection. Indeed some low-status young males are so desperate for sexual encounters they can easily reassess their physical desirability criteria and make do with almost any potential partner available. Young women tend to be much pickier and effectively disregard most men in their age group. As a result a minority of alpha-like males get a disproportionate amount of female attention. Luckily nature does provide some checks and balances. Not all women pursue the high risk strategy of targeting alpha males. If a woman seeks commitment, affection and economic security from a relationship, a mildly successful beta male is more likely to reciprocate, and more important, stay loyal. However, given women and men differing erotic needs, an open sexual market tends to empower females more than males. Men create most of the impulsive demand, while women control the supply. To make matters worse a strong cultural preference for males in much of the Middle East, India and China has led to a growing imbalance of males and females at birth. Worldwide we have 1.06 males under 15 per female of the same age group. In China that ratio rises to 1.2. Indeed male homosexuality may be a reaction to both biological and economic imbalances. Sex may well be more fun when both partners understand each other's erotic needs, do not seek to gain other favours in exchange and need not worry about unwanted pregnancies or potential parental responsibilities.

Attractive women can thus play two games: reproductive selectivity and erotic selectivity. The former is fairly easily to understand in purely sociobiological terms. More successful men are not only better able to provide for their offspring's economic needs, they are also more likely to pass on better genes. By contrast erotic selectivity rewards men who best meet women's other emotional and economic desires. Put another way, we could describe wealth and power as the ultimate aphrodisiacs.

Undoubtedly environmental factors play a significant role in determining available opportunities, cultural outlook and socio-economic success in life, but we'd be foolish to deny natural physiological and indeed neurological differences among human beings. When it comes to partner selection, nature can be very cruel. Culture may affect which attributes are most valued by members of the opposite sex, but some players will always be at a relative advantage in the mating game.

Networking

The old saying goes it's not what you know, but who you know , but at the end of the day some of us do require some hard skills that extend beyond social networking and communication. Many modern professions ranging from marketing, sales, project management, recruitment to psychotherapy, policing, social monitoring, public relations, media presentation and entertainment depend primarily on advanced social skills. These mean our ability not only to interact with people from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds, but identify their weaknesses and predilections in order to modify their behaviour. People managers need enough technical expertise to win the trust of their more practical team members and see their projects to a successful completion, but their main task is to ensure workers not only comply with business requirements, but do not hold the business to ransom. That's why many technical tasks are assigned to teams with multiple layers of management rather than to one to two competent engineers, who may get the job done faster and more efficiently. If business managers can keep engineers focussed on circumscribed fields of endeavour, they can hide the full implications of their projects from well-paid technicians, e.g. technology developed for medical purposes could be adapted for military use.

Ironically as we depend more and more on technology whose inner workings few of us truly understand, the world's major tech companies are busy investing more in psychoanalysis and social engineering than they are in hard science.