Do a quick search for news articles about Artificial Intelligence and you’ll come across a lot of headlines about “machines taking jobs” or, depending on how bleak the author may have been feeling, taking more than jobs (See: Skynet).
Quite rightly, we’re fascinated by machines. In many respects, they are taking over. I just don’t entirely understand why we’re all assuming this will be terrible? It strikes me that in general, we’re broadly viewing the issue from the wrong angle. The discussion about machines, which generally revolves around Artificial Intelligence (or “AI”), tends to lead towards the viewpoint that it’s a bad thing. It’s often all about what they are “taking” from us.
On the one hand, I get it. It’s in our nature to fear new things.
During the Industrial revolution, it was railroads, electricity, and cars – along with smaller, but no less impactful machines like James Hargreaves’ ‘Spinning Jenny’ or Eli Whitney’s cotton gin – that scared us. Textile workers (who were known as ‘Luddites’) most of whom made cloth in their homes and saw themselves as artisans, were so afraid of Hargreaves’ machine that they broke into his home and destroyed it (among many other forms protest against machines during the Industrial Revolution). These fears were not completely unfounded either, there have been dramatic decreases in a number of occupations that can be directly tied to the existence of trains, cars, electricity and even the Spinning Jenny.
So yes, I get it. When jobs are automated, it’s scary and can lead to bad things for some people. We don’t have as many farmers, blacksmiths and basket-weavers as we once did. But we’ve survived, haven’t we? (We have and here’s proof). And not only that, but when you look at quality of life today vs the quality of life in the Pre-Industrial revolution era, you could argue that by most counts we’re better off. Which, to me begs an important question as we debate the next wave of evolution in the relationship between man and machine.
Why are so few of us looking at what human beings will gain instead of panicking about what we’re losing?
We now have machines that can ‘think’ and not just ‘do’. Computers have intelligence and cognitive abilities. They are no longer just there to extend our physical capabilities and I believe we should be excited about this and about the potential it unleashes in mankind. I’d like us to ponder this.
Will we really be lost if we no longer have to remember to stop and get milk on the way home? When our self-driving car is dropping us off at work? When our banking app automatically transfers some money from savings to make sure that a bill gets paid on time? When a messaging app books our holiday for us? When we can 3D print our dinner?
Posted by Drew