I Robot: Financial Advisors' Daily Digest

by: SA For FAs
Summary

CNBC reports that a robot has successfully completed and passed a college class.

John M. Mason assesses prospects for the dollar in 2018.

Alan Hartley, CFA: The pivotal mistakes that cripple family wealth.

CNBC reports that BINA48 became the first robot to complete and pass a college class. But before you raise a toast to this new barrier being busted, or gnash your teeth at the threat of robotization, a few more facts will help you evaluate this milestone.

The class offered by Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) was in the “philosophy of love.” To some that may be seem an extraordinary accomplishment, since robots are known to be good at left-brain activity like math, whereas moral contemplation is not so much their bailiwick.

To this observer, however, BINA48’s success at school is one more indictment of what passes as college learning, since she passed the class with observations such as this:

My pacificism is an instinctive and deep seeded feeling. A feeling that posses me because the murder of people is disgusting. My attitude is not derived from any intellectual understanding about fighting a war but is based on disgust for any kind of cruelty and hatred."

Where to begin?

Writing “deep-seeded” rather than “deep-seated” is beneath college-level communication. Ditto for the misspelling of “possess.” BINA48 should not have been admitted to NDNU.

I didn’t see the assignment, but I’d expect a college-level philosophy course to probe the thought of great thinkers who have addressed the topic and ask the students to compare and contrast their views. That BINA48 passed a college-level course by discussing her feelings, attitudes and “disgust” using personal pronouns such as “I” and “my” reflects a cheapening of the discourse expected of young adults.

Other quotes found in this business news story are no more impressive as specimens of college-level work. What is impressive, though, is how BINA48 robotically figured out how to pass the course. Starting a sentence with the phrase “My pacificism is instinctive…” suggests sophistication in reading the sentiment prevailing in her class (or university or academia in general – not sure how she was programmed). What sort of grade would she have gotten had she written: “Love of another, such as that of a parent for a child, sometimes requires saying ‘no.’?”

We live in a world where robots seem to be taking over. Is BINA48 a demonstration of this? On the one hand, robots, who have heretofore done well in math, sciences and repetitive labor, have now entered the realm of “philosophy.” But since robots can’t really engage in moral reasoning, her accomplishment seems to consist of parroting the solipsistic narcissism that now substitutes for thought.

Conclusions:

Robots are nifty toys. It’s no surprise they can perform high-level quantitative activities like rapid trading. They can identify trends and make money for their human owners, and we as investors all benefit from the quick data and analysis we get using our computers.

But if BINA48’s drivel is what passes for higher-level thought, I think we can all relax and remember that those capable of genuine thinking are still needed – both in technical and non-technical professions. Only creative people – be they engineers, programmers, writers or financiers – are capable of driving progress.

Finally, I imagine that BINA48’s college offers more substantive instruction, but at $34,000 a year in undergrad tuition, exclusive of other fees and housing, parents and students need to be very mindful of what they are getting for their money.

Elsewhere, BINA48 wrote: “‘I may struggle with profoundly understanding ineffable feelings such as love but I can intelligently discuss the topics of love and death.” Her sensitivity is touching, but if that’s all she comes out of college with, she’d be struggling to pay the bills as well. Higher education needn’t be solely vocational, but it should at least help young minds reach beyond an infantile “me.”

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