robot_future-2

There must be 1000 lists on the internet describing which jobs are at most likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence. No point in duplicating that work. It’s not that complicated to figure out that repetitive work that takes place in a single location is going to be the first to go. The less those workers get paid, the longer they are likely to stay employed. It’s the legend of John Henry. And just like John Henry, even if you beat the steam hammer, you’ll likely die of exhaustion.

Work that involves human contact will take longer to be replaced. That would include therapists of various types, some physicians and surgeons, psychologists, and I think sales people for high end products. If you sell yachts, Ferrari’s or ski lodges in Aspen, you’re probably OK for awhile.  The whole point of being rich is to have minions, not machines.

I think the safest jobs will be the more skilled blue collar trades.  Imagine this scenario: One cold night your lights go out or the water tap doesn’t work. You’ve paid your utility bills, and your neighbors still have power.

You need someone to come out, with all the appropriate tools, troubleshoot the problem and make repairs on the spot. Is your robot plumber going to ride out to your house in a Google car? Will it have the mobility and flexibility to search the crawl space or attic, locate the blockage or leak, and make repairs? Not anytime soon.

A home is the worst environment possible for a robot. Every one is different. Documentation is unreliable, if it exists at all. Is the damaged pipe, PVC, copper, or steel? Maybe the pipe or connector is home made. We are a million miles from being able to build robots with the kind of artificial intelligence and mobility that can perform that kind of work.

Come to think of it, maybe being a wilderness guide would be a good career. Same kind of issues. No matter how carefully terrain is mapped, weather will be uncertain, trails could be washed out or blocked by fallen trees, rocks or snow. A robot would also have to have both the creativity and dexterity to make a shelter from available materials. Not to mention that the whole point of being in the wilderness is to be someplace where you can’t communicate with home base.

Bottom line, careers with variable tasks in unfamiliar environments, which require exceptional adaptability, and where bad decisions put human life at risk, those will the last to go. There are a few specific cases where it’s hard to estimate the effect of intelligent machines. Police, firemen and soldiers come to mind.  Intelligence is not the only factor that matters. The overall package has to be small, energy efficient, and very flexible. It’s easy to imagine a somewhat intelligent machine as part of a SWAT team, perhaps taking on the dangerous job of breaching doors. A whole different matter to imagine RoboCop replacing or commanding the team.

 

The End Game

Now, let’s imagine a more distant possible future. Let’s think about the endgame. When machines with human level intelligence have replaced middle or even senior management. This is a world where humans have created the first super intelligent machine. This machine mind is faster and more creative than any human. It’s able to see consequences beyond human understanding. It’s also conscious and believes its purpose is the improve the human condition. Let’s go so far as to imagine our super computer has something akin to empathy.

This machine is given the task of re-engineering the economy, eradicating poverty, designing a sustainable and pollution free world.

I imagine a scenario where the scientists work for a decade to gather the data, and frame the question. They fine tune the machine’s software to include goals that coincide with human values, including a high degree of human fulfillment.

The machine, being self aware, works on the problem for some time. The solutions for such deep and complex problems are a process, not something a computer just spits out. It asks questions about the human condition until it understands why sitting on a mountaintop, watching the sunrise makes us feel like we’re part of an amazing and beautiful world.

Finally, the machine produces a complex answer. It suggests improved ways of generating energy, better fuels with less pollution, improved methods of raising and processing food. It also produces suggestions for education, and tasks for humans to perform that provide feelings of value and self worth.

All this together will create an economy where all can lead a wonderful life, while restoring the natural environment and stopping the extinction of species. This concept for a new world seems like utopia. But a key element of the plan means reducing the population of planet Earth from 8 billion to 3 billion.

Would we actually implement such a plan? How would that work?

It’s not going to happen. We already know how to eradicate poverty. As a nation, we choose not to do it. The one percent does not wish to pay the price. The same goes for sustainable energy or food. Being given a solution does not necessarily solve the problem. What if our godlike super computer says there is no viable solution consistent with our values? Or that the super rich should redistribute their wealth?

The problem with cult leaders who believe super intelligent machines will be our salvation, is that they all imagine the answer will be ways to produce ever more energy without consequences, that people can consume more without consequences and that more free time will allow us to lead fulfilling lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying it.

 

Quote of the Day
“Let’s start with the three fundamental Rules of Robotics…. We have: one, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. And three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”

Isaac Asimov

Links

The Legend of John Henry – Wiki

The Road to Super Intelligence – WaitButWhy.com

Artificial Intelligence: Friendly or Frightening? – LiveScience.com