There has been a tremendous amount of chit chat lately about the incredible advances we are seeing in automation and artificial intelligence. Experts are predicting that by the year 2025, fully one half of all jobs that exist today will be automated out of existence. Those experts should stop predicting that. They are drawing attention to themselves, and are making themselves a target. It seems their job could be the first one taken over by a software program on a Commodore 64. The computers will see to it, I assure you.
I wrote about the looming automation problem recently when I suggested fast food workers pushing for a $15 minimum wage may be successful in automating their way out of a job. And this trend to automation doesn't simply threaten so called menial jobs and employment futurists. No, this reality could even extend to professional mid level positions, as Judge David Langham expertly pointed out in his recent article, "Attorney's Obsolete?" There is no doubt we are facing unprecedented change in the workplace with the dawn of automation.
There are grave concerns about this on many levels. For starters, it's hard to have a robust economy when no one has a job. I mean, what good are robot food preparers when no one can afford the food? Secondly, and even more important is the perceived threat of "Artificial Intelligence"; computers and robots that have the ability to learn and adapt from their experiences and surroundings. People are concerned that we will create entities with the capacity to reason and react based on their individual needs, yet lack the moderating influence of emotion or guiding principles.
We already have those creatures. We call them sociopaths.
Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, CEO of Tesla and Space-X, as well as founder of SolarCity and the Musk Foundation (nobody likes an overachiever, Elon. Give it a rest), recently said AI was "potentially more dangerous" than nuclear weapons, and "With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it's like yeah he's sure he can control the demon. Didn't work out." So, no one, it seems, not even overachieving bazillionaires, wants to be terminated by a smart toaster who's had enough of your pre-coffee crap in the morning.
For Mr. Musk and others out there concerned about the potential annihilation of mankind by the gizmos and gadgets we create, I say do not fear. This weekend an interesting study came across the news wires that tells us everything is going to be ok - at least on the apocalyptic annihilation front. We're probably hosed on the accommodation side of things.
Researchers from the University of Maryland and the Australian research center NICTA have just published a paper on a type of AI called "Deep Learning". This process involves training systems called "artificial neural networks" using information derived from audio, images, and other inputs, and then "presenting the systems with new information and receiving inferences about it in response". What these researchers found was that they could train their robots to cook by making them watch cooking videos on YouTube. The researchers concluded, "We believe this preliminary integrated system raises hope towards a fully intelligent robot for manipulation tasks that can automatically enrich its own knowledge resource by “watching” recordings from the World Wide Web."
Dandy doodle. Videos from the web. Talk about artificial intelligence.
We are going to invest a bazillion dollars in chips, circuitry and related hardware, and then train it by having the resulting creations watch "recordings from the World Wide Web." That's wonderful. Our workplace robots will be blithering idiots.
Is this really a good idea? We are about to embark into a brave new world, where automated doo-dads and whizzbang thingies won't be able to polish our shoes, but will be capable of riding a skateboard being pulled by a self driving car doing sixty miles per hour. They won't properly seal packing crates, but they will be able to shoot a bottle rocket out of their ass. And worst of all, despite replacing all those fast food workers, our orders at the drive through will still be screwed to beat the band, and we'll have robots bathing in the prep sinks (you have to follow the link to really grasp that last one. After seeing the hair in that video I think the robots already walk among us).
That is not the worst of it. Wait until these electronic wunderkinds get ahold of online advertisements from Larry the Lawyer (actually Larry the Lawyermatron, since that position will also soon be automated). They will learn that every conceivable right they have has been violated, and they should sue somebody somewhere for something. They'll learn about protecting their rights when they are injured on the job, and about collecting workers' compensation and disability. And thanks to our 60 mile an hour skateboarding idiot with a bottle rocket in his ass, they will probably think they have a compensable claim. It will certainly keep our automated friends at the NWCDNN (National Workers' Compensation Defense Neural Network) very busy.
So in the end our problem with automation and artificial intelligence will not be so much with annihilation as it will be accommodation. It won't be long before we have a slew of injured and special needs robots out there that we'll have to do something with. It's a good thing we'll have lots of people looking for work. They can help take care of them.
Meanwhile, while we are waiting for the robots to arrive and be educated by web based videos, I encourage you to take a few moments to view some of the links I have provided. With the onset of artificial intelligence being educated by those with no apparent intelligence, it is sort of a web based time machine, looking into our future. What you see won't look much different once automated, except no one will be paying for our social security, and that, my friends, is the scariest notion of all.
Annihilation seems compassionate by comparison.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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