The Beggars and The Billionaires. This is apparently what the future of humanity can look forward to. I use the word humanity as this world I describe is also “co-inhabited” by robots, artificial intelligence, cyborgs, machines, whatever you want to call them – a mixed bunch I imagine they’ll be. Where there is no middle class, as this is now consumed by robots, and we therefore take the role of master or puppet.
Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have gone one step further by suggesting that Artificial Intelligence is a threat to not only our jobs, but the entire human race.
Ok, this doesn’t sound fun at all. What actually is A.I?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is usually defined as the science of making computers do things that require intelligence when done by humans.
Mainstream thinking in psychology regards human intelligence not as a single ability or cognitive process but rather as an array of separate components. Research in AI has focussed chiefly on the following components of intelligence: learning, reasoning, problem-solving, perception, and language-understanding.
Whats the difference between a (plain vanilla) robot and AI?
I’m glad you asked. The most popularised method for determining the difference between a human and a robot is the Turing Test (by famed British Mathematician, Alan Turing). In the test, a human and robot have to answer a series of on screen questions, with a panel of people having to judge which of the two is a robot. The key to the test is the knowledge that one is not human.
The other concept to be aware of is that of Singularity, a hypothesis that there will be a single point in time where AI will exceed human intellectual capacity and control. This is the key concept for most concern by the intellectual elite. But more on that later.
The current situation in 2015
The first ever computer programme has just passed the Turing test. Engineered by a team from Russia, the programme was pretending to be a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (hashtag creepy) and managed to convince 33% of the panel that it was human.
The have been huge steps, leaps and jumps with relevance to Driverless cars: Uber announced that it planned to eventually replace all of its drivers with self driving cars
And google, who have been very publicly testing and trialling their driverless cars around San Francisco for a year now, mustered up all of its Gooleyness to post this video. It shows their driverless car in action, helping Steve Mahon, someone who suffers from 95% vision loss. It really is amazing. So please do watch it
Rethink Robotics have developed a friendly robot, Baxter, who can be taught by human movements in a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ type scenario, which it can then repeat.
So where’s all this doomsday-end-of-humanity chat coming from?
The Future of Life Institute have released an open letter on their concerns that AI has the potential to become a power for destruction and needs to be handled in the right way.
This letter was then signed by several public figures including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.
The SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder even went one step further on the hype curve with a $10 million donation to the Future of Life Institute for the creation of a grant program that will look into how to keep AI friendly.
Applying Musks own theory of Superlatives and Precedents to garner the interest of journalists and media outlets as to what was meant by such ambiguous claims.
Ray Kurzweil (probably the worlds greatest living futurist) then added fuel to the fire by predicting that 2029 is the year when technological advances will irreversibly transform people as they augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil says that machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. At this stage there is no turning back, momentum is with the machine, and we will be left in the wake of accelerating returns, unable to grasp the concepts and intellectual power that is being developed by this new species. Afterwards, he predicts intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.
What I think it will enable
The area people are naturally most worried about is jobs, how they make money and therefore live. Makes sense. Robots will replace nearly all of our current jobs.
As Standard Life was recently quoted, man has to deal with fear and greed, intellectual constraint and fatigue, whereas a machine is agnostic, tireless and has no bias in decision making.
However, I think we are at the start of a new frontier of what we even consider to be a job or work. I predict that we will all be focussing our attention and efforts into what we now consider to be interests, hobbies or pursuits.
I predict the word ‘job’ will be deleted from our vocabulary similar to how the word technology is due to be deleted from our lexicons due to its ubiquity. Every company is (or needs to be) a technology company.
And so what, we hate these jobs anyway, right?
According to Gallup, only 13% of employees are engaged at work. Pathetic. What a waste of life, of time, our most precious resource.
By having robots replacing humans in the completion of repetitive menial tasks, would it in fact allow the creativity of the human mind to flourish. Could it motivate and empower humanity to move away from the stigma of ‘jobs’, ‘work’, ‘pay cheques’, ‘monday blues’, ‘living for the weekend’ and allow them to flourish in solving bigger problems in the world, problems that robots can’t commodotize.
White colour is the new blue collar. The offices of today, are the factories of the 19th century.
When the industrial revolution brought automation to factories. Machinery created efficiencies that humans couldn’t. At the time workers rioted against machines, they didn’t want the change. Fear of the unknown is a natural human reaction. However automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Jobs that no one could of predicted. And looking back on it now, we can all agree the world is better for it.
However, Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm.
The change from domestic industry to the factory system meant a loss of independence to the worker. The home laborer could work whenever he pleased. They had been independent masters, capitalists in a small way, and managers of their own businesses. He took pride in his skill.
I think AI and robotics will bring a global awakening from the regulated thinking of the industrial revolution.
We are heading to an era of the No Collar worker.
Business 101 is supply and demand. If there’s mass unemployment due to consolidation of labor productivity from automation, positive demand would crater as tons of people permanently lose their incomes and earning power. Where are the capitalists going to find paying customers when those customers are obsolete and broke?
In my future, goods and services built by robots are done to an incredibly high standard and become commoditized, causing a race to the bottom for pricing. Value is instead created from the intangible; vision, creativity, skill, craft, talent.
If everyone in the developed world had 50% more free time, and the other 50% of their ‘working’ time was put into activities that inspired and motivated them. We could create a new entrepreneurial civilisation, where people think for themselves and develop their skills in areas where they excel.
We will all be attached to networks, but essentially much more entrepreneurial. People excel at the things they are most interested in, because they are motivated, because they care.
What we need to do now
To start with we need to embrace robotics and AI. Speak positively about it, be excited for it to unlock and enable this new future and livelihoods.
Enabling new technologies has always posed inherent risks: machinery during the industrial revolution, automotive cars, nuclear power and then weaponry. All were potentially dangerous innovations that in the wrong hands could have been destructive to civilisation, but there was the belief and understanding that in the right hands, they would enhance the human race.
But it’s not just AI developments that can enable this, it’s a cultural one as well, the hang-over from the industrial revolution is strong and deeply ingrained in societies fabric.
Starting with education and it’s limiting opportunity for self discovery, through to work and organisations who measure employee value by hours worked, just so we can have some ‘free time’ at the weekends to pursue our hobbies, interests and interact with the ones we care about.
Our collective minds have been shaped to believe that this is what life has to be and the only way it can change is through sheer luck, or that someday it will all be better.
It won’t be a smooth transition, like with a financial cycle, there will be casualties, but I for one am excited. Excited and inspired enough to want to write this post.
I think it’s going to be an enlightened period of development and innovation, but also one that is inhabited by happier people. Pure and simple.
Remember, the best way to predict the future is to create it.