WHAT KIND OF A WORLD DO WE WANT TO LIVE IN?

Should the market and the continuing advances in science and technology be the ultimate arbiters of where we are headed? Neither are experiencing controls, and politicians are most reluctant to intervene in the innovations in robotics or the internet. As a writer, the internet has proven to be both a great assistant and a serious enemy: It distracts me from concentrated attention, steals my time and space to think, degrades my memory, and tends to attack my eyes, my spinal column and even my social life. I know I am not alone in these observations. I have not joined Facebook nor do I spend my nights tweeting, like the US President, but the younger generation will simply say that I am out of touch. I counter this by pointing out that technology is undermining bookshops, printed newspapers and human touch.

So where are we headed? Do we really want to transform human nature so that in the 21st century consciousness will be uncoupled from intelligence? Yuval Noah Harari, the popular new writer/philosopher, suggests three more mundane developments in the 21st Century which are likely to overwhelm our human experience on this planet:

  1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness. This will lower their value in economic and political terms.
  2. The human collective will retain its values, but not unique individuals.
  3. A new elite of upgraded humans will arise.1

Harari suggests that “The most important question in 21st Century economics may well be what to do with all the superfluous people?” Contending that humans have both physical and cognitive abilities, he points out that taxi drivers are likely to go the way horses did during the Industrial Revolution. He asks, “What will happen once algorithms outperform us in remembering, analyzing and recognizing patterns?” I tend to agree with him that in the dystopian world which may be facing us, real jobs and full-time employment will be reserved for an educated, technology literate elite. The new wave of top corporations such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft simply are not mass employers like Ford, General Electric, GM or Kodak used to be.

The progression of humans on this earth, from tilling the soil in 5000 BC to toiling in an Amazon warehouse, is not always obvious. Early in the 20th Century, Frederick Taylor in his celebrated book, Principles of Scientific Management, regarded workers as cogs in the industrial mass production machine. A century later we are asking why turn workers into machines when robots can do their jobs at a lower cost? Technology has produced ever more efficient ways of monitoring human capabilities and comparing these with the costs and greater profits from robots. Alas, money and profits in the capitalist system are becoming more important than human labor.

Some seventy millennia ago the improved capacity of the Homo sapiens mind started the revolution in which the DNA of one living species was able to dominate the planet. Now a second revolution may be on hand in which the scientific and technological advances of artificial intelligence will triumph over the genetic. Indeed such progress will succeed because of the collaboration between people and algorithms suggests Demis Hassabis the co-founder and CEO of DeepMind. He stated that “If we want computers to discover new knowledge, then we must give them the ability to truly learn for themselves.”2 Please note the personification of the computers!

Harrari adds that “high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimizes the authority of algorithms and Big Data.” Just as free-market capitalists believe in the invisible hand of the market so Dataists believe in the invisible hand of the data flow. As the global data processing system becomes all-knowing and all powerful, so connecting to the system will become the source of all meaning. I hesitatingly accept Harrari’s proposal that “We are already becoming tiny chips inside a giant system that nobody really understands.”3

We are now at the stage of accepting that neurons, genes and hormones all obey the same physical and chemical laws of life on earth. However, it will take transcranial stimulators to enable us to decode the electrochemical brain process which determine our perspective, because the two separate brain hemispheres are not always in touch with each other. It is the left hemisphere which is the seat of our verbal abilities including our power to interpret the information that makes sense of our thoughts and experiences. it controls the right hand. The right side is more creative and is crucial in the areas of music, imagination, and intention as well as control of the left hand.

I suspect that ultimately spending untold billions on exploring the brain might be more productive than trillions invested in space exploration. The motivation which underpins the competitive advance of this new technology is in large measure an economic one, as evidenced by the market for shares in high tech. Of course there is also the drive of scientists rushing to publish their pioneering breakthroughs and getting these patented. The growth of technology in many ways resembles that of the market. The market is as blind as it is invisible. However, supply and demand cannot guide all of society. Neither can technology. If everything was determined by the market, the courts, the police, and the army would vanish. So would the entire economy. Mark O’Connell, who had studied this proposition, recognized that growth was mediated by corporations whose real interest was to make eventual profits out of reducing human life into data.4

The efforts of a future in which human minds might be uploaded to computers, is one aspect of Carbon Copies, a “nonprofit organization with a goal of advancing the reverse engineering of neural tissue and complete brains …creating what we call Substrate Independent Minds.” This non-profit group is funded by a number of adventurous millionaire investors who are seeking scientists who work “towards quantum leap discoveries that might rewrite the operating systems of life.”

Somehow I feel human cognition is demeaned when we reduce it to mechanic operations and along computational lines. The internet is proving to be the single most powerful mind-affecting technology ever. As it is the overwhelming flood of new data is extraordinarily disruptive. Many acquaintances suffer from neural addiction to Facebook, Twitter, the latest news and stock market results on top of the steady flow of emails. Studies have shown that cognitive losses from multi-tasking are higher than the cognitive losses from smoking pot. Aided by our smart phones and computers, we are able to multi-task. Apps on our smart phones serve as a calendar, a watch, voice recorder, alarm clock, GPS, camera, flashlight and news headliner. However, there is a cognitive cost for every time we are rapidly switching from one task to the next.5

Surveys show that almost a third of every working day is lost to keeping up with the information flow. The impact on the brain is barely understood and nobody knows how it will affect us socially. What seems certain is that it will transform our existence as homo sapiens has thusfar experienced it. Attention deficit disorders are affecting more and more children. Part of this is ascribed to the swift sequencing of images on the internet. The result is that 3 seconds is about as much time as will hold the attention of kids. How will this affect them in later years?

The universal change of pace already has had extraordinary effects in terms of consumption, obsolescence, renewal, inequality and lots of other conditions. I don’t believe the brain was built for the swift and continuing change that we are currently experiencing. The brain is adaptable and can accommodate small changes here and there, but not the continuity of alterations which are changing the face of the earth, employment, wages, round-the-clock news, ringing mobiles, blogs, and communications. Cyberspace has invaded our public and private lives, our economy and our security as well. While everything is changing, politicians have not appreciated nor understood the social revolution taking place. Few can accept the fundamental and rapid shifts in power. Currently there is no comprehension of who and how would control the new constructs as these arose. AI is certainly going to transform the lives of architects, lawyers and medical professionals. Indeed, it threatens to overwhelm us all. Because we have no idea what the job market will be in 2030 or 2040, we have few notions of what to teach our kids today.

Such realities are far from what may come next: The founder of the 2045 Initiative, Dmitry Itskov, a Russian high tech multimillionaire operating in Silicon Valley, wants “to create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual’s personality to a more advanced nonbiological carrier and extending life, including to the point of immortality.” One of the projects of the 2045 initiative is to create artificial humanoid bodies that would be controlled through brain-computer interface.

A conference in New York by Global Futures 2045 was focused on “a new evolutionary strategy for humanity.” The organizer, Randall Koene, a “trans-humanist,” sees the mind as a piece of software, an application running on the platform of human flesh. The complex transformation starts with the scanning of the pertinent information stored in the neurons of a person’s brain. Although incredibly complicated because of the seemingly endless connections between the neurons, the scan becomes a blueprint for the reconstruction of neural networks which are then transformed into a computational model.” Ultimately this would allow scientists to create any material form which technology permits. The human could choose to become large or small, with feet or with wings, like a tiger or a tree. The prospects may challenge the human imagination, but such projections of AI advances overfill me with forebodings of ultimate horror.

Ultimately, it is the arts that may become our human sanctuary when AI and robots will have replaced teachers, doctors, lawyers and policemen. Creating new jobs will not be the challenge, it will be creating ones where humans can outperform robots. The world we want will be one advancing direct experience, such as all the arts: music, dance, singing, painting, sculpting, writing , and acting . It would also endorse all the sports, running, swimming, , hiking, climbing, walking, and exercising as well as cooking, gardening, keeping pets, caring, loving, and travelling . The joys of all these activities will go far beyond the speculations of Alan Turing and his successors on the connections between randomness and creative intelligence. There is an urgent need for a re-evaluation of our relationship with the wonders of the new technology. *

Currently there is a widespread belief that the advances of technology, the internet and science are both unstoppable and to a large extent, desirable. Silicon Valley’s most prominent figures hold self-serving views that anything which slows scientific innovation is an attack on the public good.6

I liked Rutger Bregman’s outlook in, Utopia for Realists. This young Dutchman suggests that we can construct a society with visionary ideas that could be implemented, like the plans for a universal basic income. As an aging Utopian,
I have always endorsed building castles in the sky. Shocking ideas which are usually rejected out of hand, often return to become popular and even accepted. The questions of ethics in a world that will be so different are daunting. Optimistically, crises- real or perceived- can spark genuine change. Sometimes this can be mind-blowing: As Harari cautioned, human nature is likely to be transformed in the 21st Century because intelligence is uncoupling from consciousness. The countering encouragement he provides is that ultimately” It is our free will that imbues the universe with meaning.”7
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1Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus, (2016)p.356
2Demis Hassabis, “The Mind in the Machine,” The Financial Times Magazine, April 22, 2017
3Yuval Noah Harari, “In Big Data We Trust,” The FT Magazine,August 27, 2016, p.14
4Mark O’Connell, “Goodbye Body, Hello Posthuman Machine,” The Observer, March 26, 2017
5Daniel J. Levitin, “Why the Modern World Is Bad for Your Brain,” The Observer, January 18, 2015.
6“Computer Security,” The Economist, April 8, 2017, p.75
7Homo Deus, op.cit

* Regulating the internet would require a change in the political mindset in both Europe and the United States. The invasions of privacy and security as well as the massive tax evasion by the largest internet companies have not sufficed to bring about the essential changes. The two prime decisions made by the creates of the internet and principally by Tim Berners-Lee were that there would be no central control or ownership and that the network could not be dominated by any particular application.

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NEW TRENDS IN APPRENTICESHIPS AND INTERNSHIPS IN THE ARTS

This blog is an attempt to deal with my deep concern for the millions of youths globally who cannot find jobs and who are not only angry but are also bewildered about what to do, where to turn to. Meanwhile our profit-focused planet is steadily introducing robots and new technology further challenging the employment of humans. The challenges are daunting.

In the past, an agricultural life did not require formal education. For the minority that lived in cities, most young men followed their father’s occupation or that of family members. Apprenticeship was viewed as the natural next step for those who did not go to school or who finished only the first level of education. The training they received provided them with skills that made them useful to society at large. The industrial revolution rapidly changed this with many youths entering large mills, coal mines and other industries, (as well as the military) while only a select few of the better-off went to university. The second half of the 20th century saw ever increasing numbers go on to higher education as society came to regard a college diploma as a kind of white-collar job guarantee.

In the 21st century many of the enormous numbers of college graduates who had not majored in the sciences, engineering or the law suddenly faced the reality that genuine jobs were few and far between and that they had not been trained or given skills that would enable them to find work. Temporary service jobs were just that. In some countries apprenticeships were one way forward, in others internships (the new socially acceptable nomenclature for apprenticeships) became more marketable.

Internships now are flourishing, but are still restricted in a large extent to those who have the means of travel or enjoy the support and housing of their parents. Most internship are supported by the state and large corporations. They also are focused on industries rather than on commercial arts or crafts. Art college can prepare those at the end of their teens for a great many things, but once they complete their education, they need to develop the skills that will prepare them for the real world. One way to gain an advantage over other students in the field is to land an art internship which is likely to provide the tools and experiences necessary to develop their talent and optimistically land them with jobs.

Many art galleries hire interns to fill the gaps at little cost. Those seeking a “hands on” experience, can try to attain an internship under an art director, a graphic designer, or even an art auctioneer. An internship will help provide a better idea of where one fits in, what technologies and processes one needs to learn and what specific types of projects one might like to work on as a creative professional. With so many internship programs now available in a wide variety of creative organizations it is possible for applicants to choose the specific internship experience that could propel them into a career in the arts. It’s no secret that internships are one of the best ways to land a steady job offer. Becoming a high-performing intern is a superior way to improve one’s employment prospects, so many students tend to focus on the status and nature of the company to which they are applying as crucial to their internship search.

Apprenticeships, which existed for over two millennia, are another way to enter the arts, but they mostly have been in decline over the past few decades. The intimacy of this kind of learning is no longer respected as it was in previous eras. In the world of industry, apprenticeship has generally become less common. Fortunately apprenticeship is still flourishing in much of the service industry ranging from the culinary domain to such varied professions as hairdressing, massage, and design. Of course, in the arts and crafts such as pottery and sculpting, it remains essential.

I should like to see more art-connected artisans entering the work place and furthering this historic tradition. I deeply appreciate the way potters are taking clay into different spheres. The craft and the art are separate, but the truly fine art ceramicists are becoming recognized for their creative talent. As one curator, Sara Matson, explained: “There is an engagement with materials again, a sense of rejecting the digital and getting back to the visceral, and there’s nothing more visceral than clay.”1

Personally, I admire the way Italy’s celebrated foundries, where many of the artisans who work on making molds, polishing etc, started as apprentices at the age of 14. As these young people develop their skills they tend to enter deeply gratifying lives. The same opportunities arise in the media and publishing, in photography, design, furniture, glass-blowing and even the performing arts. However, in Italy a large portion of apprenticeships demanding individual skills and passions are still restricted to a family setting in smaller social communities such as towns and villages. But for how much longer can this last as the big cities in the north focus on specialized skills and the rest enter menial service jobs? Blacksmiths, rope-makers, saddlers, tanners, weavers and wheelwrights have all but disappeared. On the other hand, artisanal bakers, beer-makers and cheese-makers are gaining popularity.

Apprenticeships are now generally focused on helping those who are at the beginning or crossroads of their careers to earn while they learn. They gain occupational skills as they contribute to and participate in the production process. Often they combine work-based learning and classroom instruction over a two- to four-year period leading to steady employments as well as recognized and valued credentials. Unlike the part time jobs frequently held by high school and college students, apprenticeship improves such employability skills as teamwork, communication and responsibility. Mentoring components, which I accentuated in my second blog three years ago, serve to increase the motivation of the young apprentices whose training primarily revolves around supervised work. Such apprenticeship gives “graduates” pride as well a sense of occupational identity so important to a minority.

Developing the necessary support system for apprenticeship programs demands action from various levels of financial support at local, state, and national levels. I find the ways apprenticeships vary from country to country fascinating. In the United States the federal subsidies to encourage apprenticeship programs are far lower than those of other countries. US apprentices make up only a tenth of the comparable work forces in apprenticeship of Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany and Switzerland. Shamefully, the total annual US government funding for apprenticeship is less than $400 per participant. This compares to the much higher annual national spending for students attending two-year public colleges which is around $12,000 per participant. This low contribution to apprenticeship can partially be attributed to a lack of public and political support. However, it must be noted that only a minority of firms actually go on to hire apprentices in the US. The “academic only” college focus of policymakers in Washington deprives many young people of access to alternative pathways towards rewarding careers. Apprenticeship could narrow the post-secondary school achievement gaps in both race and gender. Providing participants with wages while they learn has proven to be particularly beneficial. Mentors and supervisors of those in apprenticeships provide the close monitoring and feedback which ultimately help a focus on good performance both in the classroom and while at work.

Prof Robert Lerman, who has been an expert on apprenticeship programs in the US, has pointed out that interest was increasing in Washington because of the recent successes of Britain and Switzerland which have been copied by training groups in South Carolina, Colorado and Wisconsin. (Before the arrival of Donald Trump, that is.) Prof Lerman declared that: “A robust apprenticeship system is especially attractive because of its potential to reduce youth unemployment, improve the transition from school to career, upgrade skills, raise wages of young adults, strengthen a young worker’s identity, increase US productivity, achieve positive returns for employers and workers, and use limited federal resources more effectively.”2 In the various American state programs, the course work of the apprentices is usually equivalent to one year of community college. If they complete their training they receive a valuable credential attesting to their mastery of a skill or skills required in their field.

The experience of apprenticeships in the United Kingdom contrasts dramatically with that of the United States. More than 800,000 apprentices now make up close to 3 percent of the national work force. With public spending of close to $2.5 billion per year, apprenticeship has moved into the social mainstream. National branding, marketing and PR by private training organizations, firm-based initiatives as well as Further Education Colleges have been remarkably successful: apprenticeship positions rose from about 150,000 in 2007 to close to a million a decade later. The result is that over half the young population chooses not to follow an academic path. Being career-focused, almost a third of these English teenagers know what they want to do in the future. Perhaps that is why there are now over 1,500 different apprenticeships being offered by 170 national industries. Starting this April, all UK employers with a payroll of £3 million are required to pay into the Apprenticeship Levy which was set up by the government to fund apprenticeship training including new digital training vouchers.

I truly admire The National Skills Academy for the Creative and Cultural, a charity which focuses on apprenticeships with the support of the Arts Council of the UK. In cooperation with the Skills Academy network, a program designed to improve training in the creative and cultural industries has been established. Creative Choices is a resource for anyone wanting to work in a creative career. Job listings are spread by employers across the country and all the jobs, internships, and apprenticeships now must meet the National Minimum Wage requirements.

Creative Choice events give 13- to 16-year-olds in the UK the opportunity to learn about working in music, theater, design and cultural heritage. At Production Days, aspiring backstage crews are given the opportunity to work at some of the biggest music festivals. And in the Technical Masterclasses, bespoke training is provided for young aspiring professionals with some of the leading directors, producers, and theatrical stage managers in the world.

The Backstage Centre has been built, as part of a major regeneration project in London’s Thames Gateway, to provide a training and rehearsal facility to meet the demand of the industry for over 6,500 new jobs in the live music and theater industries this year. This Centre is being used by the international music, film and theater industries as a performance, rehearsal and filming venue. Any profits made through commercial activities directly fund the charitable work to help the future creative workforce. The Center has been part of the program “Building a Creative Nation” which was launched four years ago to ensure that the next generation can continue to access creative careers in what is widely hailed as the world’s foremost national creative sector.

I have been surprised that in Switzerland, whose Helvetian apprenticeship program is much prized and acclaimed, private companies spend around $5 billion a year to ensure that the workforce pipeline is filled with young, passionate, talented people who exude hope and belief in their future. Many of the higher level executives in Switzerland have participated in the program and appreciate its rigors and quality. These executives would not hire those who had not completed the national apprenticeships. The result is that a very high proportion of parents of all socioeconomic backgrounds encourage their children to enroll in apprenticeships. As a consequence, Swiss youth unemployment is below 2.5 percent – as compared to over 12 percent in the US.

Particular importance is attached in the Swiss program to both hope and to personalization in which students are urged to learn not only specific task-based skills, but also how to be self-directed, self-sufficient, planning their time and work effectively. Moreover, 30 percent of graduates of the apprenticeship program are likely during their lifetimes to earn a third more than their equivalent non-graduates. It is important to note here that the Swiss system is not rigid. It enables students to move freely back and forth between the academic path and the vocational. Upon graduation they can continue working in their field then switch to a different one, or pursue advanced professional degrees. All are encouraged to continue their personal and professional development throughout their lives.

“After studying and visiting the Swiss apprenticeship system, I realized that our current system of career and technical education will not sustain the needs of our business and the state of Colorado,” stated John Kinning, the head of RK Mechanical. A group president of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Donna Lynne, added that the Swiss system has “de-stigmatized young people who choose a post-secondary career versus going to college.” She also noted that the program might help to lower school dropout rates, a huge problem in many districts of Colorado. Because young people get to build job skills and get paid while going to school part-time, they are less likely to quit. Only a few other states, such as Georgia and Wisconsin, now provide apprenticeships to youths aged sixteen to nineteen. This offers an alternative to the “academic only” college focus of US policy makers which fails to narrow the achievement gaps in both gender and race.

I do want to point out, however, that the reforms inspired by the Swiss and the German apprenticeship programs generally fail to cover the arts. In the United States art colleges can give students the background and prepare them for many things, but once they have completed that education they need to develop skills that will prepare them for the real world by then landing an art internship. Those looking for such an internship at a particular company can begin their search at Internships.com or Chegg.com where they can find art related opportunities with highly different organizations. Many art galleries exploit young interns to hang their shows and to run errands, however such internships can help neophytes to get a better notion of where they might fit in, what specific kinds of project they might like to work on as creative professionals and what technologies and processes they need to master.

Ultimately, the young hopefuls in the arts everywhere face the same challenge: How can I earn enough to enable me to create the way I want to, the way I need to? They may have learned some of their skills in schools, but they want to let their imaginations produce works to be appreciated for their emotional power or, perhaps, just for their beauty. Wherever they may find themselves — as cartoonist, dancer, illustrator, jeweler, photographer, sculptor, or creator in one of the many genres of the arts, they will want to assert their vision, their drive, their needs, their individual skills and their passions. For them to achieve this support is crucial, irrespective of whether it be from family, friends, art groups, local, state or private funding, apprenticeships or even the increasingly popular internships. I believe the importance of such new social formats has to be promoted and celebrated not only for the younger generation but to sustain the creative futures of all our global societies.

1Curator of the exhibition now running in St Ives, “That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio, 1920 to Today,” see Tom Morris, “Behind the Veneer” The Financial Times, March 25, 2017.

2Robert Lerman, “Expanding Apprenticeships in the United States,” Brookings, June 19, 2015