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Will I Be Replaced By Artificial Intelligence?
Am I that easy to forget!
If you’ve been following my content, you’re aware of my growing fascination for this topic of artificial intelligence. I think it’s one of the most fertile grounds for philosophical innovations we’ve seen since the emergence of neuroscience, more specifically, neuroplasticity.
In today’s blog, though, I wanted to comment peculiarly on the question of whether your job, career or calling in life will be replaced by a machine.
This series of articles on AI are loosely based around a fascinating book I highly recommend. It was written just last year by a thoughtful Christian intellectual and Mathematician, Professor John Lennox. The book is called 2084.
While he is optimistic about some advancement in AI, he’s generally negative on the whole project — more specifically about systems that are plugged into a vast database or ‘the internet of things’ — which is called general artificial Intelligence or AGI.
I’m not sure if I agree or not!
And he devotes about a page to this speculation of whether your job or career will eventually be replaced by computers. I would say he basically thinks it will. And I’m a little more to the other end on this particular matter. I feel that with every technological advancement (especially since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution) development has only opened up more job opportunities.
I’m willing to concede that it has likely replaced more manual or detailed tasks. But there’s no debate that technological innovations have spawned entirely new fields once inconceivable prior to the Industrial Revolution.
“The AI revolution will increasingly see machines replacing humans doing thinking things at all levels.”
Here’s where I believe I agree with him. We’re certainly seeing this in AI developments I’ve discussed in other works, such as how it’s being used to draft adverts, or diagnosing certain diseases based on Xray images — which in specific cases are up to 40% more accurate than leading physicians.
The tail that wags the dog
But it seems to me that the only crucial way AI will be able to actually replace jobs — and by replace, I mean completely eliminate them so that these machines will be fully self-sufficient and automated, thereby requiring zero human involvement — is if we lose control over these machines.
Worded differently, if the Transhumanist Revolution is fully realized, where we create a superintelligence — which not only possesses unique capabilities humans do not, but also the potential to improve, update, expand, and author it’s own advancement (through machine learning, for example) — then yes, it may put humans out of work altogether. But again, I think the crucial point here is that this can only happen if, and only if, we lose control over the machine. Then it will become the tail that wags the dog. And human beings will become technologically irrelevant (by definition).
For the time being that remains Science-Fiction; feasible, sure, but Sci-Fi nevertheless.
Innovation or Substitution?
Lennox writes that the Serious Fraud Office in Britain is already using an AI system to sift through case documents in order to identify relevant evidence, in lieu of barristers performing such tasks.
While that may be cause for alarm, I believe that such technology can only make legal aid more efficient and accessible — which we’re all in agreement has been a huge grievance levelled against the justice system for decades now. Again, does this really entail less work for legal experts? Or does it innovate how law is practiced? That’s an important distinction!
Is innovation and substitution all that different though?
Professor Lennox also refers to how over the past 2 decades, some 600 traders working for the U.S. cash equities trading desk at Goldman Sachs’s headquarters have been reduced to just 2 traders. Automated programs have all but totally eliminated this entire department.
He may have a point here. I’m curious to see what happened to these traders. Were they replaced? Did they wind up in a different field? Or were they promoted and otherwise redistributed throughout the company?
Here are some other stats he includes in his book based on some research from 2016. It reads,
“In the next ten years, we should have A.I. do better than humans in translating languages (by 2024), writing high-school level essays (by 2026), writing top 40 songs (by 2028), and driving trucks. And while the consensus may be that driving trucks may come by 2027, it’s easy to predict that this could happen even sooner…
A chore that would take less time — folding laundry should be a breeze for A.I. by 2022…We should get A.I. driven machines in retail by 2031. By 2049, A.I. should be better than humans at pretty much everything.”
Again, I sympathize with the alarmist tone of Professor Lennox here. But, of course, these predictions are relative to our human abilities right now. I think we need to be aware of how humans have evolved with their productions, especially since the Industrial Revolution.
We have evolved!
Just track literacy rates in the past 200 years, they’ve blossomed. The vast majority of the world is literate now. Prior to the proliferation of industrial scale printing a couple of centuries ago, mankind was overwhelmingly illiterate. Bear in mind that this has taken place simultaneously with the population explosion. And that’s an evolution we’ve actually measured. What about all the cognitive adaptations our species have subtly made with the development of our technologies?
I believe the concern that artificial intelligence could replace jobs and careers is reason for caution; but we should be fair in our analysis about how we have evolved with our technologies as a species. Lennox was perceptive to point out that those figures he presented are widely disputed. But he is nervous when the survey presaged “all human jobs would be automated within the next 125 years.”
He’s not wrong to be anxious about that. I find myself hesitant to use self checkout every time I go to the market. But I’m only human! I’ve become quite adept at it. And I recoil to waste time standing in queue for a clerk. Journey to your local Walmart. Self checkout is a glorified cattle corral. Through dystopian goggles, it’s actually kind of shocking to walk into a modern super centre with the set of eyes I had during the 90s.
Professor Lennox also points to something interesting that was touched on in another book I read recently on the topic of mental illness. He talks about what’s called affective computing.
I’ll be discussing this when I review that other book in future blogs. But in 2084, Lennox speaks of Dr. Rosalind Picard’s efforts at MIT in the development of robotic text-based chat, engineered to adapt to the triggers and sensitivities of its users — to appear as if it really does care.
Can AI be programmed to resonate with human thoughts and emotions?
Case in point, the author of that other book, Profess Goldbloom, speaks of his experience with one particular mental health app, and how he intoned to the developer that they might want to work at its response times. He said it felt like someone with suicidality may not be prepared to wait several seconds for a response from the robotic text-based chat.
Apparently, the developer rejoined him by explaining that earlier iterations of the app were much quicker and responsive, but they had to reverse engineer the software to include a delay.
What!…Why? Because sufferers of mental illness complained that the responses — while they read very human like — were much too fast, which reminded the app users that they were speaking to a computer.
That’s amazing to contemplate! So affective computing does give one reason for optimism that our machines will at least behave as though it has some resonance with human thoughts and emotions. However, it also gives one pause that we may be in the process of replacement by these technologies.
It was a very engaging book, this 2084. I’d highly recommend it if you have even a passing interest in artificial intelligence. Let me know your thoughts on all this below in the remarks. What would AI systems need in order to be a considered a threatening replacement?
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