Friday, February 18, 2011

jobs policy and what it says about human intelligence

In January, I posted the following to a discussion list on intelligent systems:


A few weeks ago, Lotfi posted a message arguing that excess obsession with money has become
a real problem in US society, and -- ironically -- may help explain why China is growing faster than the US.

This is not a small matter or a simple one.

In general I agree -- but at this moment I am worried that lack of clarity and intelligence in HOW
people think about money may be the greatest immediate threat here. Of course, these are all
just expressions of personal feelings, and not an official position of NSF.

It looks to me as if major fateful decision have been made in the past few months and months to come.
As we worry about economic growth and keeping up with China, what do we do? Reallocate
a huge amount of limited funds away from K-12 schools and universities to the purchase of yachts.
More concretely -- the tax decisions made last month have resulted in a great surge of yacht sales,
quite literally, and some similar purchases, with immediate benefits to employment. But they also
do nothing to alleviate the coming fiscal crunch in states all across the US (a lead headline in the Financial Times
just a few days ago), which already fired teachers and created furloughs in the previous, smaller crunch.
And I have read this morning of plans to cut back all federal agencies to
FY06 levels -- zeroing out the increase from then to now which was enough to keep this division funding as many as 12%
of normal unsolicited proposals in regular panels.

Does anyone believe that yachts are a more powerful factor of production than education and research?
is that the secret of China's economic growth, a secret fleet of yachts we have not heard about?
Of course, there are all kinds of complex systems which led to this outcome, but in the end, a great value
judgment has been made.

Without getting into more detail -- this is something of a challenge to our efforts to understand intelligent systems.
If the brains of mice and humans were evolved to find an optimal strategy of action, based on some kind
of inborn systems of feelings or utility or reinforcement which aims at survival of some kind of reference group,
how to explain this kind of behavior? Some old style Freudians would say -- "You see, Paul, this proves that
your version of the theory is inherently incomplete. There is not only the survival or life instinct. There is also
Thanatos, the death wish, just as fundamental in the human mind."

Am tempted to say more, but we have a word limit here.

My view is... that what's really going on... is basically just a sign of limited intelligence, lack of evolution of human
brains in certain directions. Above all, it points to different kinds of intelligence, as we evaluate humans
in action today. One kind -- more like IQ -- represents something more like HOW MANY neurons,
operating at what level of intelligence, the mouse part of the brain is exhibiting. I would guess that the folks
making these grossly stupid decisions are every bit as good as I am on many measures of intelligence, such as
vocabulary and agility in solving problems in front of them, let alone winning elections and making money,
which are not trivial challenges. Yet there is a kind of sense of reality that they seem to lack.
It reminds me of the time when NASA worked hard to build an airplane without an engine...

The "sense of reality" has something to do with how humans USE words. It probably has wiring aspects
(as in the NRT gate which John Taylor once discussed a lot), but a major part may be a motivational kind of thing,
such as a tendency to cross-check words and reality... the kinds of features which are relatively new
in humans, and hence not fully evolved. (It's not as if mice make farseeing decisions, after all.)
Two types of intelligence -- how big is your mouse brain, versus how human are you really...

FIRST follow-on:

On Jan 26, 2011, at 7:55 PM, Lotfi A. Zadeh wrote:
There are many people, including myself, who feel that making a living in the United States is much more of a problem today than it was in the past. The good old times are a memory. What is the cause?

I said:

This week, I have heard four important questions relevant to what I posted here on "money and intelligence."

(1) Lotfi's question is one of them. Right now, leaders of both political parties understand that the two variables "jobs" and "deficit"
have terrified the American public, and that those two variables are what really drove the last elections. Since the financial collapse of September 2008,
unemployment has been far worse than it was before, going all the way back to the Great Depression. (With apologies to sports fans, I hope we will
call this collapse "Black September," and engrave it deeply in our memories. Many more people died from this event than from the earlier one.)

This being a tricky question, I will first mention the other three:

(2) "What about the President's State of the Union speech? Doesn't he address your points rather perfectly?"

(3) How do those two measures of intelligence you mentioned -- having a bigger, faster mouse brain versus being more human -- connect with
other measures and work in psychology?

(4) How can systems theory and computational intelligence help us do a better job of managing the world economy?

#2 is the easiest for me to talk about. (Please remember that everything I post here is my own personal opinion, not reflecting anyone I work with or for.)
When a friend here asked me this question, I replied: "Certainly. I would agree with 90% of it. That's unusually high for me; the speech was very encouraging
and reassuring, at many levels. Usually in matters of real policy and difficult choices, I get really excited when people score as high as 50%
in laying out what needs to be done next, at the level they are working at. Lately, it tends to be a huge struggle to get as much as 10%,
and people have a right to feel proud if they get as much as that. I just hope that people really follow through on what he said."
(Caveat: I went off to bed somewhere in the Iraq/Afghanistan discussion, so I can't comment on that part one way or another.)

My friend then asked: "So what is the ten percent?" I replied: "It would be obscene to dwell too much on that 10%. In 2009 and 2010,
I remember how many times I wished that Congress could have just voted in Obama's simple, earlier proposal for climate change legislation,
which I would have scored at only 70%. It was so much better than anything in the mess which followed, and so much better than where we are now."
(OK, I oversimplified. The Cantwell CLEAR Act was not so bad. And a few of the missing details could have become real problems.)

The ten percent: the speech was a bit on the optimistic side in describing where we are now. We DO have great new opportunities before us now,
but that's not the essence of our situation. I heard some right-wing commentators say: "Hey, our K-12 education system is already
failing, despite all the money we've been putting into it. Is this really the time to expand government spending for education?"

The essence of the situation -- as those of you in California know quite well -- is that state and local governments all over the country
are now facing a day of reckoning. This has already resulted in the firings of teachers and cutbacks in universities all over the
nation, but the reckoning we face now is much worse than that.

In December 2010, we all knew that the US has limited resources now. We simply can't do everything.
Back when Bush became president, and the US was running a surplus, it seemed reasonable to give
a one-time Christmas present of big tax breaks for people getting over $250,000 per year, to share in the general prosperity --
but things do change when we are fighting for our very survival. How can we say we do not have enough money to avoid firing all those
teachers and cutting back on all those universities, and then turn around and say we have enough to give a vast Christmas present
to folks who then go out and buy yachts? (Yacht sales really did go up markedly after that was passed in December, and now some
people are pumping out hype about "green yachts.") What ever happened to Thomas Jefferson's points about free public education,
a great cornerstone of America's special situation for the past several centuries?

The issue is NOT whether to put MORE money into K-12 or university education. The issue is whether we will have enough
sense of reality to understand that we are on the brink of a vast liquidation of what we already had, and to understand how
important it is that we make the efforts and sacrifices needed to prevent it. Even if that means sacrificing a few yachts we
thought we had as a special Christmas present. Christmas presents won't mean much if the US economy really goes down the tubes.
The President said :"The worst of the recession is over." I say "Maybe, I hope so, but right now we are on track for
a deep double dip." (Not if we really do what he proposed, however, or if we do the kind of tuning which helps more than it hurts or waters down.)
Of course, many economists would have urged the President to encourage optimism and positive thinking, for good reason; yet
perhaps we need more of a sense of reality here to motivate the necessary actions.


That leads naturally to Lotfi's question. GIven the word limit, I may have to postpone getting into details.
In a way, we are addressing a four-variable multicriterion optimization challenge here -- jobs, deficits, growth
and sustainability. Picking school preservation over yachts (just one piece of the situation) is a different way of spending the money,
with no net effect on the deficit in the short term, probably a net improvement in the job situation (because teachers are more stimulating than yachts),
essential to continuing growth, but not a solution to the larger dilemma all by itself. The larger dilemma requires more,
and does require some technical systems thinking, but I have probably exhausted the word limit,
and need to wait until there is more discussion to comment on.

Best of luck,



Probably I should post more on the technical aspects of jobs,
on market design in the electric power, communications and financial sector,
and the link to the way that Europe seems still stuck in a deep "Nash equilibrium"
far inferior to the Pareto optimum it could get to in balancing deficits, jobs, growth and sustainability. But that's for later.

No comments:

Post a Comment