Artificial Intelligence – Is the Robocalypse near or a Distant Future?
by Rahul Nair
The word artificial intelligence triggers a torrent of words through my synapses – Elon musk & Tesla, Sophia the humanoid robot, Boston Dynamics with their freakishly mean looking multi-terrain robots. Look at the kind of robots Japan develops with perfect round heads and blue eyes and the ones made by Boston Dynamics. If you ever find yourself against a standoff with the machines these are ones that will be on the frontline. I am going off on a tangent, but I am just saying, why can’t they make them pretty. (I am fully aware that military and industrial spec bots for all intents and purposes don’t need to be a beaut, but I would still like to see them take a crack at it!) As we watch technological advancements unfold at a blistering pace with frequent trepidations from binge watching Black mirror and Westworld episodes, we are coerced into thinking- Is the Robocalypse near or a utopian future awaits us? Is Gatebox going to be the way of life? Did four robots kill 29 scientists in Japan or is it just a conspiracy theory?
Overriding these topics of conversations is the prime aftermaths of introducing AI and its impact on the workforce. There are several concerns that come with artificial intelligence, automation and robots taking over the workforce. Speculations are ripe about the number of job losses as a result of automation at workplace. Recall the time Softbank Robotics in Japan experimented with Pepper the robot for a day at an electronics store. They are now everywhere, from taking orders at a Pizza Hut in Singapore to welcoming customers at retail outlets, cruise ships and taking surveys.
Is there a war brewing in the job market? If history is any indication to what the future might hold then remember the Luddites? The luddites were a secret organization of English textile workers who smashed machines and protested layoffs. “Rage against the machine” literally by the Luddites also now a name of heavy metal rock band which expressed their rage on a van which kept breaking down on them when they were starting out.
Even the introduction of computer systems in banks had people protesting and the same response triggered due to fear of job losses. Now as we step into the 4th Industrial revolution we can see the concerns and anti- robot rallies being organized to stop automation at workplace. Change brings about discomfort in masses which they are not used to. There was an article about Marriott hotels in China implementing facial recognition systems allowing for quick check in under a minute. The repercussion was felt in USA where thousands of workers in Marriott across the country called for a union strike in return for workplace safety and higher wages. This reminds me of a quote by the famous author Jack Canfield, “Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it and potentially get run over by it, or you can choose to cooperate with it, adapt to it, and learn how to benefit from it. When you embrace change you will begin to see it as an opportunity for growth.” To prove this, consider Nokia which initially resisted Android for their OS and kept pushing Microsoft OS on their smartphones. The result – decrease in popularity and loss of sales.
To bring you back, the hot button issue right now is the increasing advancement in robotics and artificial intelligence that are paving the road to a jobless future for major industries. Imagine the production line of industries with the robots doing ‘n’ number of jobs repetitively, constantly 24×7 just banging away machine parts welding, screwing moving it to another assembly line and so on. This is the reality and what’s has been going on now since the second industrial revolution. The script is now flipped with the robots talking up more challenging tasks with increasing cognitive load. The ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’ by the World Economic Forum reported that “71% of total task hours across the 12 industries covered in the report are performed by humans, compared to 29% by machines. By 2022 this average is expected to have shifted to 58% task hours performed by humans and 42% by machines.” The report also states that 54% of employees will require significant and re-upskilling. Jobs displaced by automation and jobs created form two parts of an equation. Automation will create new jobs just like when personal computers were introduced and created million new jobs in the U.S. Robotics or artificial intelligence is not bound by an economic law that will be able to quantify ‘x’ new jobs have been created in place of ‘y’ jobs lost due to automation and they will even each other out. Not everything can be painted in black and white just yet and right now the only color on the palette is grey!
As for the more thought-provoking question that piques your interest – Robocalypse or Doomsday or the million other scenarios that play out in your mind. I am going to leave you with a quote that I still remember by Michael Dyer, a computer scientist at the University of California “Advanced civilizations reach a point of enough intelligence to understand how their own brain works, and then they build synthetic versions of themselves”. Take that as you will but it compels us to think about the what if’s and buts!