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Will AI Robots Put Humans Out of Work?

Updated on May 20, 2019
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years.

Introduction

Why is Elon Musk and other visionaries wrong on AI? They believe that AI will someday soon replace many of traditional workers such as drivers and fast food workers... History has taught us that every time technology brought us innovation, it also bring with it new challenges. I believe AI is no different.

- May 2019

Background

Whatever happened to the milkman and elevator operators? When I was growing up in the 1960s, there was a milkman that deliver fresh milk every morning. Every high rise, had an elevator man. Driving past tunnels and bridges meant an exchange with a toll collector. These and many other jobs are no longer in existence. They were obsolete due to better technology. This has repeated throughout time. So, what happened to the workers? They found work else where. In some cases, the older workers retired. In some cases, they retrained and found new and better work. In some cases, they went back to school and transitioned to a new career.

AI and Singularity

Elon Musk and others are warning us about the coming singularity. That is the point when robots becomes superior to humans in every way and they can self replicate. In essence, they will replace humans as the dominant species on planet earth. It sounds like a sci-fi movie but there are very intelligent people that believe this is a likely scenario.

The thing is, we humans have something these robots will never be able to achieve. We have a soul. What is it about humans that differentiate us from all other animals? We all have survival instinct, we all desire to reproduce. Humans have an additional quality that is unique. We have a connection to our ancestors. It is why the Egyptians mummified their remains. It is why Chinese Confucius philosophy honors and worship their ancestors. It is also why we bury our dead and create monuments. This is tied to our believe that there is more to our existence than just our body. When we die, there is more, perhaps an afterlife, or a heaven where our soul resides.

How does that change the calculation? If we go strictly by numbers and facts and data, I can see how scientists and visionaries can make that assumption. Assuming we proceed with technology and innovation and Moore’s law...at some point in the near future, we would cross over to a point where robots and AI will surpass our capabilities.

However, as history has taught us, not everything in life moves in a straight line. What are we missing? What other important factor governs human development?

The meaning of life. The 64,000 dollar question. If life has meaning, it must lead to something... what is that?

Imagine yourself to be this super AI robot of the future. What would be your ultimate goal? Produce an ever better version of yourself? Faster, smarter, and more productive? To what end? Conquer the environment, and then the whole world and then our solar system and our galaxy...? Like the Borgs in Star trek, they are forcing everyone they encounter to assimilate.

Is that all there is?

Humanity

We humans operate on a different plain. We invent and progress and search for answers and try to solve the mystery of our world and life itself. We have the “intelligence” to ask “why?“

We invent tools to help make our life easier. Robots falls into that category. In the beginning, it was employed on the assembly line. Over the years, robots have gotten more sophisticated and are able to perform higher functioning tasks. All the time, it is a tool to help us do our work. The ATM is a good example of this. Banks realized that a teller has many functions and duties. They interact with customers and respond to questions...in addition to taking deposits and giving out cash. The ATM machine was invented to off-load some of that task. It did not replace the teller but perhaps reduced the need for more tellers. The higher functioning tasks are reserved for humans.

Humans have an aversion to repetition. We don’t like doing the same thing over and over again. That is where the robots come in. They are very good at repetition. They are not good at spontaneity.

Humans are also creative. We think out of the box and look for new way to do things. A robot can’t do that. It only does what is programmed to do.

The Dawn of a New Age

AI has now advanced to the stage of machine learning. This is a deviation and paradigm shift in the way robots are programmed. It is a way to help robots improve by “learning” just like a child would learn. It gives the robot some flexibility and try different tasks and also mimic good behaviors such that overtime, it will improve its own performance. This is one example of “artificial intelligence”. Another is looking for patterns in a large data set. For example, by examining millions of images of cancer X-rays, and getting instructions of which are benign, it is hoped the robot will be able to make diagnoses as good or better than an experienced human doctor.

This is a breakthrough in technology and AI. However, is this the path that lead to singularity? I tend to doubt it. What is missing?

Singularity would require robots to think for themselves. They would need to ”reproduce” or repair and design newer versions of themselves. They would need a purpose.

Summary

The robotics and AI revolution will change our lives for the better. We will have new smart tools to work along side of us. They will do things we have difficulty reaching due to our physical limitations. They will free us from mundane tasks. They will be our companions when we are old and sickly. They will drive us around as chauffeurs. As much as they can do, they will not replace us.

As for employment, we will find new jobs, and better jobs and jobs that interrelate to people. Jobs that require a human touch. Jobs that are creative. We will need programmers and designers and software engineers... We will need thinkers who can dream big.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jack Lee

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      This is an interesting and topical discussion. I guess only time will tell.

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