Robots vs humans: Terminate the terror

Many are confusing the rise of artificial intelligence as a disruptive agent of technology with the story-line from the Terminator trilogy. AI-led technologies such as automation have been gaining a fair amount of notoriety as the ultimate job killer. If the soothsayers have their predictions right – then, it is all over, folks. No matter the skills we possess, we will be flung from one position to another before getting our pink slips. We may even be fired by HR robots.

We are Dyson – the Cyberdyne Systems engineer at gunpoint – except that we have not put a dead man’s switch in place. We are screwed. Our only hope is that, at some point, a muscular immigrant may save our buddies from a bleak economic apocalypse.

If we drew a line across the graph of our interdependence with AI – it would appear to be remarkably predictable. Yet here we are acting as though hyper-automation is mankind’s kill-switch. Can it be that social media platforms are echoing the sentiments today that may have gone unheard in bygone eras? Or are we arrogantly unprepared for an outcome that has been predicted since the 4th century?

To briefly recap, here’s a highlight reel:

  • In 320 BC, Aristotle mentioned in his book – Politics – that automation of work could lead to equality in human labor
  • From 1023-950 BC, Chinese craftsmen built mechanical mannequins for scheduling the ringing of gongs
  • In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci created one of the first recorded models of a humanoid robot – a mechanical knight with limited capacity to move
  • In the 1500s, mathematicians Johannes Müller and John Dee designed automaton birds and insects – reputed to be capable of flight
  • During the 1700s, inventor Jacques de Vaucanson created automaton-based musicians and his tour de force – The Digesting Duck
  • The 1800s saw Tanaka Hisashige, known as Japan’s Edison, design mechanical toys that could serve tea, fire arrows and paint on canvases
  • In 1928, inventor WH Richards built a remote-controlled humanoid robot that was exhibited at the Model Engineers Society in London
  • During the 1940s, writer Isaac Asimov coined the word “robotics”; mathematician Norbert Wiener formulated the principles of cybernetics that laid the foundation for modern robotics
  • In 1954, inventor George Devol devised the first digitally-operated robot. In 1961, he sold it to General Motors for improving their die casting processes
  • Since the 1970s, AI-powered automation has been driving force across industries; its practical application has ranged from managing space shuttle missions and complex surgeries to helping the average person perform menial tasks

AI has popped up throughout history, but unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger movies – they kept changing its course into brave (and frightening) new directions. Earlier automatons had showcased creativity in advanced engineering; to provide a glimpse of how technology can drastically reduce human effort in production. They were not invented to simplify daily chores back then. Only after we developed a profit mantra did we realize how useful they can be. It led to businesses, all over the world, concluding that if they do not go digital – they may as well go home.

Nowadays, the impact of artificial intelligence is becoming visible in the homes of customers – the average Joe and plain Jane. Many see technology advancements like smart speakers and app-driven service experiences as must-haves. The ones, who are neither profiteering from it nor seeing it as an affordable luxury, are searching for the panic button. Because such levels of automation may turn into primordial necessities.

Hypothetically speaking, what if the robots replaced us? Would that be so bad? Would they wreck the planet to the extent that we might have if we were in charge?

Clearly, these are not questions to be currently pondered over by those of us, who have bills to pay and mouths to feed. For us, job security is crucial. Technology-enabled job cuts are brutal. Everybody sees it coming. On WhatsApp, their RSS feeds and through the grapevine at the office. But may know they cannot do anything about it unless they either find the resources to re-skill or the courage to switch career paths.

I realize that the writing process too may be automated to the point where I find myself jobless soon. Amazon already uses robots to write product reviews. Maybe I will become a disposable commodity in the next era of automation. I will be upset if that happens, but it does not mean that I deserve to complain about it. So many moving parts of my life are digitized that I am a slave to mobile devices. From ordering groceries and finding routes to exploring art and searching for jobs, I rely on technology automation to manage my own expectations.

I would not know what to do without it. Ironically, in the future, it would not know what to do with me. Batting not a mechanical eyelid, it could replace my human ability to be productive with a software update.

robot-3038833
source: Pixabay

I shudder to imagine a scenario in which super-intelligent robots will do whatever humans ask them to. Besides profiteering from them, we will probably make them do weird stuff for us. Really weird sex stuff. It seems to be the thumb rule of emerging technology adoption. First, figure out how it can help the average person in alleviating social and sexual concerns. If humans continue as the alpha predator – I predict a futuristic dystopia for robots. Basically, there will be emotionally-damaged robots – wondering where their #MetToo campaign went wrong.

Instead of jabbering about how messed up the world is, there is always room for a productive discussion. We need to talk about how we got here, and what we can do to stem the rot  There is little use in looking for someone to blame. There is no specific individual or group, who can be held responsible for the lack of humanity in our collective progress using artificial intelligence. Our gloves bear shit-stains. We do not smell the stench because we are busy checking out other people’s undergarments for skid-marks.

There is no denying that some may face harsh realities sooner than we can correctly spell “Schwarzenegger” without the autocorrect option. Unless we build the right instincts and skill-sets, we may be next in line. Still, there is no need to feel terrorized by it. On the contrary. it is time for us to invest in our future. In ourselves.

You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This is our moment. Don’t take it from us, we are close to an answer.

Professor Barnhardt, The Day the Earth Stood Still

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