Sadly, the subject of this post is not as epic as the title would imply, but I had to draw you guys in somehow, right?
I recently read an article in Time magazine about the next phase of automation. I’ve done a lot of reading about the future of robotics and artificial intelligence, the exponential rate at which technology advances, and the singularity. This Time article took all of these ideas and applied them to the job market.
The article boiled down to this: basically, we tend to think of automation as replacing unskilled labor. By now we’re all pretty used to seeing robots assemble stuff. Car manufacturing is a prime example of that. However, as AI continues to advance and we edge closer and closer to the singularity, it’s entirely possible–even probable or inevitable–that skilled workers could be replaced as well. Things like accounting could easily be done by robots. And eventually, according to many scientists, computers will cross that line that separates us from them. Then what?
Well, according to experts, we’re mere decades away from computers that can not only out-reason and out-think humans, but also out-abstract them. That’s right–within the next 20-30 years computers will be capable of creating a piece of art of music just as well as human beings. At which point the article asks this: once this occurs, what job indeed could a human do that a robot could not? Once machines can think faster than humans and think in the abstract, there’s no reason why they couldn’t do anything humans can do: provide medical treatment, design buildings or parks, compose symphonies, etc.
If this truly becomes the new reality, then of course robots would replace human beings at every job, at almost every level. Robots don’t need days off, they don’t require health insurance, they take up less space, and most importantly they don’t need a paycheck. Employers would not have to pay a robotic worker any sort of a wage. Robots don’t need to eat, don’t need a place to live, a way to commute to work, they don’t need to send kids to college. Once robots are able to think abstractly and exercise creativity, there is no longer a compelling or logical reason to hire human workers.
So what happens to humans? Well, we’d be free to do…what? With robots doing all of the work in society, what would humans do? That’s where things start to break down for me. In a completely robotic workforce, how do humans earn a living? Would society be completely reorganized into something totally new? Would we all lead lives of leisure and creativity? Utter poverty? I have no idea what a world in which robots can do everything better than humans would look like for us. What are your thoughts? And ultimately, because we can do something, does it mean that we should? Are we going to have to lobby for pro-human legislation in the future? It may sound like science fiction–but it’s rapidly becoming science fact.