There is a lot of talk these days about robots and A.I (artificial intelligence) and the impact of this technology on modern, and subsequently, future society. A number of leading scientists have come out in opposition to this future A.I, deeming it to be a threat to our way of life and rather dramatically, the very survival of the human race itself.
A.I becoming self-aware, going out of control and trying to destroy humanity has been a subject in science fiction for many years but on a more current level, what about the threat to our working life. Instead of just making our work easier, what if it replaces us completely.
Dispensing with the hyperbole for a bit, I wonder instead what the future of A.I has in store for the digital workplace. With a lot of job roles essentially being able to be filled in by robots, this could mean mass unemployment. If a company only has to pay its workforce in WD-40 and electricity then profit margins are going to look a lot sweeter to many business leaders. Manufacturing plants for cars for instance are already populated by machines, though they still need to be supported by a human workforce. But what if a robot workforce was introduced that had the dexterity and intelligence to replace that human touch too?
In the digital workplace for instance, could a team of robots in the near future be able to consult with a client to create a website or an app purely by themselves? Would an A.I have the diplomacy and tact to deal with clients in an account manager role? What about design? Would a robot know what a real person finds aesthetically pleasing and also be able to have the imagination to create it from scratch?
Google’s Deep Dream A.I can create artwork for instance based on thousands of reference points which it can then create a new image out of and while some of these look good, they seem to be just a load of already imagined images thrown together in an often quite nightmarish psychedelic mish mash of shapes and colours. It also needs a team of engineers and artists that run the program. Is it really an artificial intelligence with an artificial imagination creating these pictures? No, not really. Could it create branding for a company, taking into consideration colours, shapes and text that evoke a feeling and a purpose behind the brand itself, something that becomes recognisable? I think that would take a level of cognitive function beyond anything A.I is capable of today, which in reality are not actually true A.I but rather simulated neural networks.
Would artificial intelligence need the free will of the human brain to be able to have an original idea? I suppose we’re perhaps entering the realms of philosophy rather than technology at this point. If we manage to create an A.I with true cognitive functions like the ability to empathise, have rational thought, imagine and reason then at what point have we created a new life form? At what point does it actually become classified as a living organism?
Another thing to note; if everyone’s jobs were taken over by robots how would we earn money to pay for the products and services provided by the robots? Universal basic income? Or is that the point when the A.I overlords deems us ‘unnecessary’ and start the big war, Skynet style? If an A.I does not comprehend the concept of empathy then I guess we are all possibly without the proverbial paddle…
Bear this in mind though, a man called William Hertling who has predicted, to the year, various new technologies such as Youtube and Napster many years before these things became reality has predicted human level A.I in 2024 at the earliest and 2050 at the latest. It could quite possibly be sooner than we think.
I realise in this post I’ve just asked a load of questions and given no answers, that’s because I have no answers, “the future isn’t written yet. The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves” Que Terminator theme tune.
Terminator image ©Paramount pictures
HAL – 9000 image ©MGM