WHAT ABOUT US (HUMANS)?

What about the impact of AI-enabled robots on us humans?

They can beat us at Chess. They can beat us at Go. And they can take away our jobs.

Should we be afraid, very afraid?

Can we survive the singularity? Will the robots we are making today become our masters in the Brave New World of the future?

Yes, RPA & AI will eliminate some jobs. But mainly the boring ones. The ones that are mind-numbing. The ones that make us feel like robots in the first place.

Think about it. In 1840 AD, nearly 70% of the US workforce was engaged in agriculture. Today that figure has dropped to just a couple of percentage points. Industrial jobs went from 10% in 1840 to a peak of just under 40% in 1950, to 20% today. And services jobs went from 20% in 1840 to nearly 80% today. Farmers got replaced by factory workers, who got replaced by bankers and IT professionals. The only constants are the politicians.

Technology-led automation is what is responsible for these massive shifts in employment patterns over time. From the wheel to the steam engine, from electricity to the computer, a tectonic technology came along, upended the productivity curve, and dramatically altered the job market. Yet this in itself has never led to an extraordinary increase in unemployment levels at any point in history. It is what Joseph Schumpeter calls creative destruction. Technology shifts. Productivity rises. Old jobs get eliminated. New jobs get created. The cycle goes on. Nothing to worry about, other than making sure that your skillset is contemporary and not in the throes of obsolescence.

What about those fretting that robots will take over the world? At some point in the future, the total quantum of artificial intelligence will exceed the total quantum of human intelligence. When this singularity occurs, what will happen to humans, they ask?

Don’t fall for the doomsday-mongers. Instead of reacting instinctively to the notion that “robots will take over”, let’s examine what exactly does this mean.

Artificially intelligent robots will run many of the processes and take many of the decisions that humans are responsible for today. That much is certain. Not a problem, though.

Increasingly sophisticated, cognitive robots will tell humans what to do, instead of the other way around. You can bet on that too. No problem here either.

Robots will be able to “reproduce” by creating new robots without human intervention. That’s also a given. Again, no hay problema.

So far, so no-problem. Things get scary when robots start creating, destroying or mating with humans. When they start programming us. When they start running amok. Or end up running the world. Or ruining it. Ex Machina unleashed across the globe. The kiss of death.

Can all this happen? Who knows? What I do know is that if a robot is going to be my master in the future, I would like to play a role in building it. If you agree, join the party!