Symbolic Processing Advances

It seems to me….

When quick results are imperative, the manipulation of the masses through symbols may be the only quick way of having a critical thing done.” ~ John Grierson[1].

Symbolic-analytic services are the problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic thinking that go into the manipulation of symbols – data, words, oral, visual representations….[2] It is estimated that in 1990 symbolic analysts accounted for 20 percent of all American jobs and their share was expected to increase, as would their incomes, as demand for people to fill these positions would exceed the number of people able to do them.

While it was expected this widening disconnect between symbolic-analytic jobs and other major categories of work would be the major force driving widening inequality, it was not anticipated how quickly or how wide the divide would become or how high the cost of inequality and economic insecurity would be; e.g., that life expectancy of an American white woman without a high school degree would decrease by five years between 1990 and 2008.

Employment is now pressured not only by labor-replacing technologies but also by knowledge-replacing technologies. The combination of advanced sensors, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, big data, text-mining, and pattern-recognition algorithms is generating smart robots capable of quickly learning human actions and even learning from one another. Life sciences also are experiencing a revolution where drugs can be tailored to a patient’s specific condition and genome. If the current trend continues, a significant percentage of symbolic analysts will be replaced in coming years. The two largest professionally intensive sectors in the U.S., health care and education, could be particularly affected because of escalating pressures to reduce costs while increasing utilization of advanced technology.

Mobile health applications available on smartphones or wrist devices (smartwatches) are now able to measure everything from calories to blood pressure performing the same functions as costly medical devices along with diagnostic software capable of analyzing the collected data more accurately than human technicians are changing the practice of healthcare. Smartwatches are incorporating multiple functionality; they no longer are only for chronography, they now are general-purpose networked computers incorporating multiple sensors. It is difficult to foresee if smartwatches will evolve into totally independent computing devices or if restricted capabilities resulting from size and computational constraints will limit them to limited-function remote interfaces. While the small screen size obviously limits input/output, smartwatches have an inherent advantage over most other devices in that they have direct body contact and are in a known location facilitating health-factor monitoring and data collection of such information as heartrate and variability, temperature, blood oxygen, and galvanic skin response (physiological arousal)[3].

Schools and universities are experiencing their own revolution in educational methodologies (though faculties continue to resist). Many teachers and university professors are already on the way to being replaced by software, Web-based “MOOCs” (Massive Open Online Courses), and interactive online textbooks along with adjuncts that guide student learning.

The result will be greater economic inequality as income and wealth become even more concentrated than today. Those who create or invest in paradigm-changing advances will earn unprecedented sums and returns in addition to significant political power. Unfortunately, most people will not share in these monetary gains and their political power will disappear – the middle class’s share of the total economic pie will continue to shrink while the share going to the very top will continue to increase.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] John Grierson was a pioneering Scottish documentary maker often considered the father of British and Canadian documentary films.

[2] Reich, Robert. The Nightmarish Future for American Jobs and Incomes Is Here, Bear MarketNews,, 7 May 2015.

[3] Rawassizadeh, Reza, Blaine A. Price, and Marian Petre. Wearables: Has the Age of Smartwatches Finally Arrived?, Communications of the ACM, January 2015, pp45-47.


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Advanced Sensors, AI, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Automation, Chronography, College, Communications, Education, Employment, Health, Healthcare, Information Technology, Middle Class, MOOCs, Pattern-Recognition, Problem-Identifaction, Problem-Solving, Robotics, Services, Smartphones, Smartphones, Strategic Thinking, Symbolic-Analytic, Technology, Text-Mining, voice recognition and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Symbolic Processing Advances

  1. auntyuta says:

    If this trend continues, namely that most people will not share in these monetary gains and their political power will disappear, well, if this continues, is there not some danger, that the masses are going to revolt? “Manipulation of the masses through symbols” where does it lead to? More and more wars? And who is to say that all these ‘modern’ wars are in the end not getting out of hand and destroy all mankind?

  2. lewbornmann says:

    You are correct. While the U.S., as well as the other developed nations, are on the verge of unparalled expansion of technology-enabled symbolic processing that while capable of substantially benefitting the lives of everyone also potentially could result in the elimination of many employment categories. Unless opportunities are provided for those displaced, wealth and power will be concentrated in a smaller segment of the population resulting in increased economic inequality.

    I believe there always will be sufficient work needing to be done that never can be automated. The problem will be convincing conservatives to restructure government funding programs to enable infrastructure maintenance, upgrading and repair of urban areas, caring for those in need…. This is what fear will be the primary threat for social unrest.

    As for the dangers of war, the U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower once said “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” The true tragedy of war is the loss of lives, wealth, and potential for what might have been.

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