I’ve spent years talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Bearing in mind that we always talk about AI in the context of the Turing Test – a test that Alan Turing created back in 1950 – it’s not surprising. That test is that we will have achieved the true opportunities for technological development when a machine can fool a panel of experts that it is human. We have not passed that test yet, no matter what you’ve read, but we will. In fact, AI is developing at such a pace that it may be sooner than many expected. We are on the brink of General AI – where machines can multi-task – and I expect we will achieve Super AI – where machines are more intelligent than humans – to be achieved before 2040.
This last category of AI, Super AI, was forecast to be achieved sometime in the 2040s a while ago, and then we enter Skynet, the scary Terminator world of Cyberdine. Actually, no we don’t. That vision of the Terminator is where machines become the enemies of humans. It’s a bit like Ex Machina and other science fiction visions of the future. The scary future where humans make machines that are more intelligent than us and then the machines take over. It’s great science fiction, but it’s not realistic. It’s not realistic as, when you think about it, every movement of technological progress in our past has helped humanity, not destroyed it.
The Luddite movement of the 19th century believed that machines would destroy humanity and so the textile workers destroyed the machines. Did that work? Obviously not in hindsight, but the fear was that machines would take over and humans would become useless. We have that same fear today with AI and robots.
There are many books that argue all humans will become redundant as AI takes over. Is that going to happen? If I feed on your fears, yes; if I put your fears in context, no.
Let me start by feeding on your fears. You fear your job will be lost because of AI. This is true. Many, many jobs will be lost. Boring jobs; useless jobs; zombie jobs; McJobs. They will all disappear. Jobs that have humans doing things computers could do will be lost. All of them. Number crunching jobs; checking car parking time jobs; driving people jobs; waiting tables jobs; supermarket checkout jobs; jobs that require no brain jobs. They will all go.
Wow! That is scary. That is really bad. Half of today’s jobs will go. Maybe more, maybe less. No one knows the numbers, but it’s obvious many jobs will go.
The thing is that every time we have technology progress, we create new jobs so let me put your fears in context.
AI will get rid of the jobs that humans shouldn’t be doing. We shouldn’t be doing those jobs. We shouldn’t be doing jobs that require no brain or human thinking. So, what will happen, is that we will create huge numbers of new jobs that require human thinking. Jobs that need humanity’s brains, not machine ones.
What are those jobs?
They are jobs that require relationships; jobs that need emotion; jobs that need eye-to-eye contact; jobs that need someone to feel something; jobs that are engaging; jobs that need brains. You may think that these jobs are limited but, back in the age of the Luddites, everyone worked on farms. Almost no one works on farms today. Work changed, and this is the critical factor. As humans develop and progress, our technologies develop and progress, and therefore our jobs develop and progress.
Jobs of the future will be based upon machines augmenting humans, not replacing them. This means that AI may enable robots to operate on heart transplants, but the machine will not be left to do the transplant on its own; it will be managed by a human. AI may be able to advise investors on their portfolios, but the investors will still manage their portfolios. AI could replace all of the taxi drivers, but there will still be people managing the taxi operation overall.
In other words, my vision of the future is that people will still manage the machines and people will be augmented by the machines. In fact, it is interesting that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) forecasts the future world where humans will have three critical jobs as trainers, explainers and maintainers of AI. Machines can only learn what humans tell them to, so they need trainers; machines can do a lot of jobs that humans should not do, but those jobs need explainers to tell other humans what the machine is doing; and machines break down or do things wrong, they are not always working the right way, so machines need maintainers.
Trainers, explainers and maintainers are key roles for the future.
In another area, do you think an AI robot could provide you with psychotherapy? Could an AI machine be a marriage counsellor? Could computers create music and concerts that are better than Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen?
Humans may be augmented by these technologies – the psychotherapist and marriage counsellor can be better informed than ever about their patients – but they won’t be replaced by these technologies – we will still go to rock concerts in the future.
In the future we will look back with 2020 hindsight and see that many of our fears were wrong. We fear our jobs will go and many will; but many new jobs will be invented. We fear machines can take over the world and they will; but that is for the benefit of humanity, not for its destruction. We fear AI will create machines more intelligent than humans and they will be; but that is to let humans do what humans do best: being human.
There’s the critical point. The future is about releasing humans from drudgery work and zombie jobs and allowing us to be augmented by technology to realise our true potential. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our future will be all about self-actualisation and being able to be truly creative, empathetic and focus upon relationships. That’s a good thing.
In summary, AI is for the good of humanity, not the bad; AI will augment humanity, not destroy it; and AI will allow humanity to fulfil our true potential, not take over from humanity. That is the best of times, not the worst. Nevertheless, if you dismiss this contention, you can join the Luddite movement as some say they had a point.