Friday, December 22, 2017

Getting cozy with computer overlords: the astrology of a new Industrial Revolution

On Valentine’s Day, 2011, record-breaking Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter—both super-intelligent humans, by any standard—met their match in IBM’s “Watson,” an artificial intelligence-enabled computer. 

After coming in second in the 3-day Jeopardy “IBM Challenge” exhibition match, Jennings wrote on his final answer board, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords." Clearly, Jennings—still claiming the longest winning streak on Jeopardy!—saw longer-term implications for that match. 

Today, the longer-term implications for artificial intelligence technologies (AI) are coming to pass, whether humanity is ready for them or not. Wikipedia describes IBM’s purposes and “Watson’s” abilities better than I can, so getting this right is worth an extended quote:

“Watson was created as a question answering (QA) computing system that IBM built to apply advanced natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and machine learning technologies to the field of open domain question answering.[2]
The key difference between QA technology and document search is that document search takes a keyword query and returns a list of documents, ranked in order of relevance to the query (often based on popularity and page ranking), while QA technology takes a question expressed in natural language, seeks to understand it in much greater detail, and returns a precise answer to the question.[16]
When created, IBM stated that, ‘more than 100 different techniques are used to analyze natural language, identify sources, find and generate hypotheses, find and score evidence, and merge and rank hypotheses.’[17]
In recent years, the Watson capabilities have been extended and the way in which Watson works has been changed to take advantage of new deployment models (Watson on IBM Cloud) and evolved machine learning capabilities and optimised hardware available to developers and researchers. It is no longer purely a question answering (QA) computing system designed from Q&A pairs but can now 'see', 'hear', 'read', 'talk', 'taste', 'understand', 'reason', 'interpret', 'learn' and 'recommend'.”

Hence, we see IBM’s recent “Ask the New Guy” series of ads, touting “Watson” as the “go-to guy” with all the answers for many work forces—agriculture operations, manufacturing, energy technologies—in any field, basically, where appropriately analyzed information is helpful for solving a problem or monitoring a situation. So basically every field.

In one ad, “Watson” even emulates the Aussie accent of the human he’s replacing. That particular ad flits almost imperceptibly over the replacement issue, but doesn’t the whole “New Guy” concept suggest that there might be an “Old Guy” who is being replaced? How many companies are going to invest in pricey AI systems so the systems can play the role of “temps?”

The key here is the extent to which human workers will be replaced by AI technologies—including, but not limited to computers, robots, microchips and endless variations thereof. In fact, the future is looking tougher and tougher for human workers because AI now enables computers to, like “Watson,” “hear, read, talk, taste, understand, reason, interpret, learn and recommend.” reports on the latest McKinsey study that puts things into perspective:

“In a new study that is optimistic about automation yet stark in its appraisal of the challenge ahead, McKinsey says massive government intervention will be required to hold societies together against the ravages of labor disruption over the next 13 years. Up to 800 million people—including a third of the work force in the U.S. and Germany—will be made jobless by 2030, the study says.”

Jobs performed by humans have been progressively automated out of existence for centuries already, ever since the late 18th century Industrial Revolution. No doubt, the use of machines for many repetitive, labor-intensive tasks did increase productivity; it probably even opened new avenues for human workers to explore. These avenues included less manual, “grunt” labor, and more opportunities to work in education-driven fields that employ that distinctive human trait, higher-level cognitive functioning.

Today’s new AI- and digitized data-driven revolution feels qualitatively different, however: our highly-evolved, opposable thumbs, command of language, and large-brained intelligence have always been our “ace in the hole” in the work place, but the truth is, we’re rapidly acquiring competition from AI-driven devices of all types. Sci-Fi fans who have been waiting for something like an “alien invasion” need wait no more—we’ve created the aliens and ready or not, they’re among us! 

Drones will replace delivery drivers, photographers and cinematographers, police and security professionals; autonomous vehicles will replace professional drivers of all types, and technicians (many of them robotic) will replace mechanics; algorithm-fueled apps will replace a host of information professionals, from researchers to legal teams. Surgeons will be replaced as robots fine tune their delicate suturing skills. Will they develop an appealing bed-side manner, I wonder?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine a field in which humans—even self-employed humans—will be entirely shielded from the onslaught. Even astrologers are going to be competing against algorithms for certain types of services, if they aren’t already! Even so, we shouldn’t overestimate the power of these so-called “smart technologies,” either. Writing for a compilation entitled Megatech: Technology in 2050, published by The Economist, Luciano Floridi argues that AI-enabled technologies may be (or become) “better at accomplishing tasks” than human counterparts, however he doesn’t see the big picture as an unavoidable ethical nightmare, or a way of making human contributions irrelevant:

“Digital technologies do not think, let alone think better than us, but they can do more and more things better than us, by processing increasing amounts of data and improving their performance by analyzing their own output as input for the next operations, so-called machine learning…The serious risk is not the appearance of some ultra-intelligence, but that we may misuse our digital technologies, to the detriment of a large percentage of humanity and the whole planet.”[1]  [emphasis added]

This would be a good point to pause and consider the astrological backdrop we’re dealing with here. Because of its symbolic importance as a turning point in the Technology v. Human narrative, we’ll consider what the cosmic picture was when “Watson” beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the February, 2011 Jeopardy! championship. This chart, analyzed along with the planetary cycles in play then and now, should lend some insight into what lies ahead.  

Chart #1: Jeopardy! “Watson” Championship, February 14, 2011, 7:30 p.m. ST, New York, NY. Tropical Equal Houses, True Node.

First, a couple general observations: there’s a notable explosion of Aquarius energy in this chart that speaks volumes about what tech leader IBM had at stake in that night’s contest: decades of research and development into artificial intelligence! It’s also of related, astrological note that this 3-day contest transpired during the final month of the 8-year-long Uranus-Neptune mutual reception (each planet occupying the other’s ruling sign)—all 6 points in Aquarius are ruled by a Neptune-infused Uranus here, forming the backdrop for the tsunami-like trend in technology we’ve seen since that time. 

Once Uranus entered Aries in March 2011, the mutual reception itself dissolved, but world events turned an aggressive corner, fueled by that 8-year, high-tech/globalization-friendly mutual reception period (2003-2011). In retrospect, we can see how that period laid the groundwork for a lot of the instability we’ve faced in the past decade, not to mention the “Megatech” world that seems to be overtaking us. In that sense, the synchronicity with the Jeopardy! challenge is stunning. 

The power of this Uranus-Neptune mutual reception was expressed beautifully in the event chart we’ll consider below, in fact, yet it’s interesting that the most dignified point in the chart was Lady Luna, elevated in the chart and at home in her ruling sign of Cancer. She rules “the People”—in this case, represented by Jennings and Rutter, as they opposed IBM’s computer. As we’ll see, the Moon was tied into a tense configuration that speaks very well to the stakes humanity had in that contest. 

 In fact, two mutual receptions grace this chart: between Uranus and Neptune and between Capricorn Venus and Libra Saturn. Very determined, very “connected” political, technological and economic forces were coordinating the global winds of change of that period.   

So let’s consider a few highlights from the championship’s inception chart.

Mercury (exalted in the 5th h., Aquarius) rules Virgo ASC and conjoins Ceres, Mars and Sun (all Aquarius). The importance and placement of Mercury as the ruler of this chart (Virgo ASC) is a great reminder that, after all, Jeopardy! is a game (5th h.). As light-hearted and entertaining as the tournament may have been, however, its conclusion had far-reaching implications: AI technology made a grand public relations debut on the world stage, and it was here to stay. 

Not to mention that those 3 nights must have been quite difficult for the human contestants: an exalted Mercury in Aquarius speaks to the mental rigor involved (better suited to a machine, perhaps).  Uranus disposing that exalted Mercury (as the ruler of Aquarius) spoke to the “artificial intelligence” technology involved. 

Cardinal T-Square #1: Moon (Cancer) opposes Venus (Capricorn); this axis squares Saturn (Libra). This configuration reflected the tension between human interests and corporate business interests represented by that tournament. Lady Luna is both dignified and elevated in this chart, which highlighted the human interest side of the story, but with Venus and Saturn in mutual reception (Capricorn-Libra), the pressures driving business interests (IBM and possibly others) were also quite real. 

What would have happened to “Watson’s” developers had the human contestants won in the end? Was the competition even fair? Even brilliant humans like Jennings and Rutter could hardly absorb the complete contents of Wikipedia, as “Watson” was set up to do. 

The role Saturn plays here is interesting—it’s dignified in Libra, which is certainly reflected in the engineering success that IBM could celebrate when “Watson” won the tournament. According to Wikipedia accounts, efforts were made by Jeopardy! and IBM to impose an even-handed (Libra) structure on the tournament, and to make sure—diplomatically—that several charities benefitted from the proceeds, but it’s likely that “Watson’s” victory was a foregone conclusion from beginning to end. 

Saturn co-rules Aquarius with Uranus, and it is also trine the Aquarius stellium (from Ceres through Mars and even the Sun, if we stretch the orb a bit) here, so the tech-happy Aquarian forces gathered in this chart were pretty certain to prevail. This was only reinforced by the Uranus-Neptune mutual reception (Saturn co-disposing Neptune)—“Watson” was riding an electric tsunami!

In fact, this mutual reception was characterized by a strong sense of inevitability—about globalization in general, and certainly about the technological developments that made it possible, like the Internet. The views about AI and so-called “Smart Technologies” were no different—these developments just took longer to reach today’s critical threshold. In 2011, society wasn’t quite primed for the full onslaught of robotics and AI-enhanced tech, but “Watson’s” Jeopardy! win was an important preparatory step. 

Robots and AI are making rapid inroads, hiding in plain view in a host of devices we’re starting to take for granted, but I would predict that we won’t feel the full impact until the new Aquarius Jupiter-Saturn cycle begins in late 2020. For an in-depth look at that cycle and more on this technology issue, please see the April/May 2017 edition of The Mountain Astrologer (pp. 28-36, 75-76). 

Cardinal T-Square #2: Moon (Cancer) opposes Pluto (Capricorn); this axis squares Jupiter (Aries). This aggressive configuration added fiery resolve to the powerful investors (Pluto) supporting the technology wave. Aries Jupiter is disposed by a staunch Aquarius Mars, sandwiched next to the Sun in that amazing 6-point stellium, so again, IBM and others weren’t taking “no” for an answer (Jupiter-Pluto square). 

Human interests are, again, a secondary and somewhat ill-fated (Pluto-Moon opposition) consideration here, although the tournament certainly highlighted what humans had to lose from technological developments. 

Jennings teased out the full irony in that situation with his concession: "I for one welcome our new computer overlords." This Aquarius/Uranus-enhanced Jupiter, square Capricorn/Saturn-enhanced Pluto certainly fits the bill. 

It should be noted that Pluto was only two years into its still-current transit of Capricorn when this tournament took place, so it’s worth recalling what was going on in early 2008 when it first ingressed: Wall Street was about to crumble and we were heading into the worst recession we’ve seen since the 1930s Great Depression. In fact, the entire globe was about to suffer the consequences of Wall Street’s reckless excesses under Pluto in late Sagittarius.  

Impact on the U.S.

Finally, to gauge how the tech onslaught represented by “Watson’s” victory on Jeopardy! has been, is and will continue to impact the U.S., let’s take a quick look at the biwheel for this chart with the U.S. Sibly chart. As might be expected, the connections are intense.

Biwheel #1: (inner wheel) US Sibly Chart, July 4, 1776, 5:10 p.m. LMT, Philadelphia, PA; (outer wheel) Jeopardy! “Watson” Championship, February 14, 2011, 7:30 p.m. ST, New York, NY. Tropical Equal Houses, True Node.

First, a couple general observations. The first stunning feature of this biwheel that we can’t miss is how the Jeopardy! Aquarius stellium crowds over the Sibly 3rd house (of all things Mercurial—communications, transportation, etc.) and conjoins our technology-friendly Aquarius Sibly Moon. As P.R. events go, this tournament was well-targeted for maximum effect. 

It wasn’t really that difficult to gain a receptive audience: so-called “smartphones” were already considered essential accessories, and “apps” were being developed for everything imaginable, so we were definitely primed for accepting more AI-enhanced devices in our lives. Stage it all on a wildly popular game show, and you’re home free!

Sibly Uranus rules that 3rd house from the 6th: IBM’s brave new world promised tech jobs, which is always an easy sell in American society. What may have been less obvious were the military (6th house) applications of these smart technologies—robot- and drone-powered warfare is no longer "Sci-Fi."

Let’s consider a few highlights from the charts.

Cardinal Grand Square #1: “Watson” Jupiter (Aries) opposes Sibly MC; this axis squares Sibly Jupiter-Venus (Cancer) opposite “Watson” Pluto (Capricorn). This lively cardinal stand-off between aggressive, ambitious energies is less confrontational than simply pressurized. In fact, it feels like a corral full of highly energized horses, chomping at their bits and waiting to romp in the rodeo. 

The Cancer-Capricorn axis reflects the stake Wall Street had (and continues to have) in all this; the Aries-Libra axis—enhanced by “Watson” Pisces Uranus conjunct Jupiter and also opposed Sibly MC—speaks to the ambitious plans for, and the national/global scope of those stakes. 

In fact, the strident feel of this grand square suggests that U.S. strategic interests—economic as well as geo-political—were likely at stake in the technologies “Watson” represented. Around that same time, there was mounting concern that Chinese tech-pirates were stealing U.S. technologies and not playing by global “rules.”  This piracy had deep economic implications, of course—Sibly Venus-Jupiter did not approve!

 Cardinal Grand Square #2: “Watson” Moon-Sibly Sun (Cancer) opposes “Watson” Venus (Capricorn); this axis squares “Watson” Saturn (Libra) opposite Sibly Chiron (Aries). This configuration points to an important evolutionary threshold (Pluto) for the nation, expressed in one fleeting event (Sibly Sun-“Watson” Moon). As Pluto closed in on its opposition to Sibly Sun (still within orb from the far side), the high stakes represented in this tournament took on broader, deeper implications. That tournament wasn’t just about man v. machine in the end: it was about a whole new, AI-enhanced world order on the horizon.

A critical transformation in American power has been at stake ever since Pluto edged into orb of this opposition, and it’s not all sweetness and light (Sibly Chiron). What will American power (both within and beyond our borders) look like once the opposition moves out of orb? What role will the technologies in question play in the new order?

Obviously, the presence of Donald Trump in the White House is part of this story (Sibly Sun = president), however, he wasn’t the issue in 2011 as “Watson” racked up a victory against human players. Trump came into office after Pluto had exactly opposed Sibly Sun three distinct times (not counting Rx hits…in Mar. 2014, Jan. 2015, Nov. 2015) and then moved on. A transformation in the presidency and in the “vital signs” of the nation itself has been in the works over these years, and it would be naïve to think that technological advances wouldn’t be used to some advantage in that process.

This is a story for another day, but it’s probably no coincidence that the Russian Federation’s 1995 radix chart features Capricorn Uranus-Neptune tightly opposite Sibly Sun and directly impacted by Pluto’s current Capricorn transit. They, too, are redefining their power on the global stage, and are weaponizing technologies as they do, and as we've witnessed in the past year, the U.S. is a big part of the story!

In retrospect, we can appreciate that the Jeopardy! match was the “soft-power” prelude to a much more existential (Sibly Chiron) saga about American power and its role in the world. Flashing forward, we can see how the wound represented in this 2011 chart burst open this past week (12/21) in the U.N., as Nikki Haley delivered Trump's defensive, bullying threat to withdraw funding to that body over the Jerusalem vote.

To its credit, the U.N. soundly rebuked the Trump administration for its threat by voting overwhelmingly against the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, thus undermining any hope for two-state negotiations between Israel and Palestine. "The world is not for sale," one dignitary said to criticize Trump's threat. It will be interesting to watch how Trump now justifies humiliating us all in front of the world by pulling out of the U.N. (a body we helped found). As one commentator on MSNBC put it this morning, "When did we become the bad guys?"

Woven into this entire saga is technology, big business and geo-political power--more and more very "bottom line"-driven enterprises, and ones which Trump apparently equates with transactional thuggery. Not surprisingly, Saturn opposite Chiron in the Sibly and "Watson" charts speaks to unhealed wounds inflicted by authority figures of all kinds: in 1776 the culprit was mad King George III; today, there are multiple choices. This probably explains why Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with government.

It’s possible that we may also develop a conflicted relationship with tech corporations, the types represented by “Watson,” because the well-being of We the People is definitely secondary in this new saga being written. Have we all dutifully trotted out to the stores this season to buy the latest AI-enhanced gadget?  I’ve seen normally rational individuals interact with “SIRI”—it isn’t pretty.

So Pluto square Sibly Chiron (an aspect which is now much tighter than it was in 2011) is forcing us to confront our collective wounds and this conflicted relationship we’ve had with authoritative institutions forever. What seems to always get lost in the shuffle is that the government is supposed to be Us—“government of the People, by the People, for the People!” Pluto is forcing us to revisit those ideals and decide if they're keepers or not.


One perennial problem with living these ideals has been imagining our “rugged individual” selves as a collective (Sibly Sun/Mercury square Chiron)…who exactly constitutes the People? Who enjoys the full rights of citizenship and who struggles for the crumbs? You see where this is going…it’s this primal dis-ease that keeps us divided and easily leveraged by those who stand to profit from undermining our institutions (“Watson” Saturn-Sibly Saturn opposite Sibly Chiron).

Saturn, of course, has just ingressed into Capricorn (see 12/11/2017 post), handing Trump and the GOP a victory on their controversial (and viciously greedy) tax bill. Now you see the middle class—five years from now, watch out! Saturn in Capricorn is big on personal responsibility, so unless we dig deep and decide that the well-being of all of us is important to each one of us, personally, the following may now be on their own, with no government support: children who depend upon the CHIP health care program; 13 million dependent upon Obama Care for coverage, and several million Puerto Rican American citizens (the tax bill washes the mainland’s hands of Puerto Rico's problems by deeming it a “foreign country” for tax purposes).

The sense is very real that the GOP is just getting started cutting public programs that benefit average Americans…stay tuned!

Come what may, at least we’ll have our soothing tech devices—our high-tech age “Soma” (remember Brave New World?) designed to keep us “manageable.” recently published an amazingly insightful article that's worth a final consideration here, entitled “Transhumanism and the future of humanity: 7 ways the world will change by 2030.” The article posits that humans will not just benefit from and enjoy the new wave of technological devices—these devices will actually impact what it means to be human.

From the article’s intro:

“Companies today are strategizing about future investments and technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, or growth around new business models. While many of these trends will make for solid investments for the next 5-10 years, fewer companies are considering the revolutionary convergence of disparate trends pulled from technology, behavioral and societal changes, and medical advances to understand how they will converge to transform society.  This transformation will be messy, complex, and sometimes scary, but signals already point to a future of humanity that will blur our identities into ‘transhumanism.’”
Western societies have been obsessing about humanity’s relationship with technology, and with tech-enabled systems of powers forever (even the printing press probably had its naysayers), yet what author Sarwant Singh discusses in this article transcends the usual scenarios. He pinpoints seven key levers that he expects will produce a pervasive social transformation— I’ve listed these below in quotes, with some thoughts of my own following after each one. Importantly, these seven levers are the stuff of Saturn-Pluto cycles, and a new one is beginning soon. Singh’s seven key points include:

“Our bodies will be augmented.” Wearables, implants and gene-based technologies, including IVF that selects for intelligent embryos, CRISPR gene-editing, etc. Elon Musk’s companies are working on the wearables and implants, including “brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that will seriously influence how we communicate.  

“Gamification and behavioral science will increase human productivity.” Singh cites Uber as using such techniques in the graphic interface their drivers use now, and while he’s optimistic these techniques can be used beneficially, he says “they must be monitored to ensure they do not drift into more controlling engagements.” This is probably already happening, depending upon how you define “control.” Consumers will be targeted by these tactics, as well—as if we aren’t played like pianos as it is!

“We will be more empathetic.” Singh points to another potential for BMIs that sounds good on the surface, but it involves understanding another’s point-of-view “straight from their own brain.” If we freely engage in these brain exchanges, this could be hopeful, but what if “free will” is another easily distorted, or "socially engineered" factor?  

“We will see the emergence of extreme personalization and customization.” As appealing as this may sound—a tech-enabled “Me-Centric” Universe of our very own—there will be trade-offs in terms of privacy and intrusiveness. We’ll be seeing lots of products and services spinning out of this pursuit. 

“Business practices will shift significantly.” We’ve been hearing a lot about the coming “robot apocalypse,” and a trend towards robotics- and AI-based automation will certainly drive the shift Singh is speaking of here. However, he also says that “Most employees will have an AI counterpart with which they collaborate or through which their work is amplified.  Some futurists predict that by 2026 companies will have an AI machine as a member of their board of directors[v]” 

We’ve seen hints of this in television commercials for “Watson” devices already—clearly, there are far-reaching implications here that will dramatically transform American workplaces. Will workers be virtually tethered to their collaborating machines? In these human-machine partnerships, which “partner” calls the shots? 

Examples already exist in which the worker’s cell phone is downloaded with a work-related “app,” which drives the person to achieve ridiculous amounts of work in a given hour (or risk losing feedback points and compensation); is a technology-based “whip” any less oppressive than a real one? Companies co-opting their workers’ private cell phones is bad enough, but here we’re also seeing what Singh calls “gamification” techniques. Granted, no one has to agree to work for these companies, but what happens if they’re the only “game in town?”

“Conversations focused on our societal values will gain a great deal of attention.” American values are sharply divided these days, and conversations are certainly needed. Who is being structurally and systemically set up to thrive in the super-enhanced technological landscape ahead, and who isn’t? Will technology be used to create a more equitable playing field—let’s say by creating more and better educational opportunities for everyone—or will it be used to make the rich richer and the poor poorer? 

Final thoughts

It’s naïve to think that companies won’t do everything in their power to cash in on the years of research and development they’ve put into new technologies. It’s up to us, however, to make sure that Big Tech isn’t put to the darkest of uses. Pluto is now transiting opposite its position during the 1930s run-up to World War II—at the same time it’s closing in on our Sibly Pluto—so a lot of unfinished business from that era is coming back for further work.  This will be an ongoing theme for several years ahead, so we’ll see much more on this, as the story unfolds!

We aren’t the only society undergoing a deep transformation right now, but let’s focus inward for a moment: if the New Deal fueled the revolutionary transformation in the 1930s that shaped our society for all these decades since, today’s “Brave New World” for billionaires (i.e., the GOP Tax Bill) seems intent on creating a new plutocratic order on the ashes of that New Deal.

This new GOP/Corporate vision allows the 1% to essentially loot future generations (including their safety net and entitlement programs, no doubt) and has the makings of an oligarchic regime such as Russia’s been operating under with Putin. Needless to say, our boy Trump is eager for us to follow in those footsteps.

The good news is, if we gather our collective will and energies, this Pluto-driven transformation can be channeled in ways that protect and strengthen democracy and the common good. We can heal what divides us, and yes, even the most Sci-Fi technologies looming in our future can be useful tools in that pursuit if we demand as much. And keep demanding. And refuse to take “no” for an answer. A new year looms: let’s make it happen! 

Raye Robertson is a practicing astrologer, writer and former educator. A graduate of the Faculty of Astrological Studies (U.K.), Raye focuses on mundane, collective-oriented astrology, with a particular interest in current affairs, culture and media, the astrology of generations, and public concerns such as education and health. Several of her articles on these topics have been featured in The Mountain Astrologer and other publications over the years. 

Please see the Feb./Mar. issue of The Mountain Astrologer for Raye's article entitled "The Disappearing Personal/Collective Divide: Helping Clients to Navigate Insecure Times."

Raye welcomes new clients for individual chart readings—for more information, contact her at:

© Raye Robertson 2017. All rights reserved. 

[1] Daniel Franklin, ed., Megatech: Technology in 2050, a series of essays published by The Economist, London, UK, 2017, p. 161.

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