Neoliberals exaggerate tech success in 2016.

I have researched the claims of neoliberals about tech improvements and found their claims to lack a firm foundation in reality.  There are three areas that I will debunk: first, the claim that genetics will cure disease or cancer in the near future is a false claim; second, the claim that AI or artificial intelligence is already here is a gross falsehood; third, the claim that self driving cars are ready for the road is also untrue.

Here’s my first example: the claim that genetic tools will enormously advance medicine is probably not true in the near future.  On April 14th, 2003, the National Human Genome Research Institute announced that the human genome had been fully sequenced (1).  Please notice that it’s already been 13 years since then.  And medicine hasn’t been revolutionized yet.  Our DNA sequence is important knowledge but it’s only part of the picture of how our DNA works within us to become the proteins that we need to build structures in our bodies and to regulate the body’s systems.  Epigenetics is the newest frontier in genetics.

Epigenetics is the process by which our DNA’s genes are regulated.  That means that epigenetic mechanisms can turn genes off and on.  Epigenetics can be affected by our environment.  That explains how DNA containing organisms can genetically adapt to their environment without changing their DNA sequence.  One of my old textbooks (2) says that 50% of disease is caused genetically.  So it would be really great if we could understand how genes cause disease.  But epigenetics makes it enormously more complicated.  Although scientists can show a link between a gene and a health problem, they still don’t know what causes most health problems.  Correlation isn’t causality.  Some genetic testing companies have gotten into trouble recently because they have claimed that they can determine the genetic cause or the genetic risk for diseases when they can’t really do that (3),(4).

Here’s my second example: the claim that AI is here now is a false claim.  According to Wikipedia (5), the discipline of Artificial Intelligence was founded by five men in 1956.  They were John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, Arthur Samuel and Herbert Simon.  All of these founders have lived out their lives making enormous advancements in AI and all of them have died without meeting the goal of actually accomplishing AI.  Many people have seen the recent movie, The Imitation Game, which reminded the public of an important figure in computer science named Alan Turing (6).

In order for a computer to be considered intelligent, it has to pass the Turing test.   The Turing Test is conducted by a tester who makes queries on a keyboard and tries to determine if he is interviewing a machine or a person.  If the tester can’t tell that a machine isn’t a person, the machine passes the Turing test.  So far, no machines have passed.  Apparently language is a difficult screen for a computer to get beyond.  What we do have right now is “big data”.  Big data represents the huge amount of data that a computer can process as compared to a person.  But analysing data and sorting it into categories is different from understanding it.  According to Jaron Lanier in his book, Who Owns the Future? big data has caused changes in finance, for example, that have been destabilizing to financial markets (7).  Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates have issued a statement that they think that AI could become a threat to humanity if it were ever realized.  But for now, AI remains an achievement that waits in the future.

Cars are getting more expensive and part of that expense is regulations that cause cars to evolve into more expensive machines.  A lot of cars don’t sell at the end of every model year.  Whereas China has some cities that are beautiful but mostly empty of residents, the U.S. has car lots full of cars that aren’t ever going to sell.  This is a sign of neoliberal malinvestment.  In order to maintain the high cost of cars which are moving beyond the ability of people to easily afford, some have thought that sharing a car among more people would make it affordable.  And of course, centralizing and controlling the car market with machine driven cars would be a boon to some.

Hence the argument for self-driving cars.  Several computer companies have been working on this goal of making cars that can drive themselves.  In theory, self driving cars would get rid of parking lots.  Some say that a computer would control them perfectly and reduce the number of accidents.  The trouble is that self driving cars don’t do well in bad weather because their sensors stop working.  And if the computer makes an analysis error, there isn’t an easy way to replace the computer quickly with a competent driver.  That’s a problem that has already been studied in planes which use autopilot.  Autopilot ruins the helpful practice that a good pilot would get from flying the plane himself. (8)

Isn’t it time for neoliberals to confess that their policies have made a mess of our current economy?  The policy package that accompanies neoliberalism, globalization and financialization isn’t one that delivers prosperity to most Americans.  Isn’t it time for neoliberals to stop bragging about fantasy accomplishments that aren’t really just around the corner and wouldn’t you like bad neoliberal policies to change?  If you would like to understand how the world has become burdened with the neoliberal model, if you would like to better understand its shortcomings, buy Political Catsup with Economy Fries at Amazon.com.

sources: (1) “Human Genome Project,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia,org/wiki/Human_Genome_Project, accessed, 07-26-2016.

(2) Thomas D. Gelehrter and Francis S. Collins, Principles of Medical Genetics, (Williams and Wilkins, Maryland, 1990), 2.

(3)  Helen Wallace, “Misleading Marketing of Genetic Tests: Will the Genome Become the source of Diagnostic Miracles or Potential Scams?”, http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/ViewPage.aspx?pageId=88#, accessed 27 July 2016.

(4)  Reed Abelson, Julie Cresell, The New York Times, “Pursuit of Cash Taints Promise of Gene Tests,” June 24, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/technology/genetic-testing-case-highlights-the-fields-of-hope-and-hype.html?_r=0, accessed 27 July 2016.

(5)  “Artificial Intelligence,” Wikipedia, enwikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence, accessed Mar 2016.

(6)  Reingold, “The Turing Test: Alan Turing and the Imitation Game,” psych.utoronto.ca/users/courses/ai/turing.html, accessed Mar 2016.

(7)  Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future?, (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, NY, 2014).

(8)  Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, (W.W.Norton and Co, NY, 2014).

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