One day, not too far from now, we’re going to experience the greatest unemployment crisis in human history, if the manner in which R & D of artificial intelligence is progressing is any indication. The fact is that this is no more a subject of sheer academic discussion but a ground reality that is fast taking shape. The crucial question is how prepared is the humanity to face this eventuality.
Whether we like it not, accept it or not, technology is advancing to a stage wherein robotic intelligence will outshine human intelligence and become capable of performing the entire gamut of human labour. The signs are that this no more a utopian idea, but a definite possibility sooner or later with its telltale impacts on business, industry and daily life. We are on the threshold of a tech-based societal transformation that will be as big as the Industrial Revolution of yesteryear. This isn’t just machine-driven automation for tedious manual labour, but man-made creations that can ‘think’ at a human level and even beyond.
Only a few decades ahead
According to optimistic projections by researchers, such an eventuality may not be quite near but can happen in the 2040s or 2050s. Another group of analysts predict this to happen in the 2080s or 2090s. A few decades might seem far away, but that time is going to close in fast and the robotic breakthrough will arrive before we know it.
For example, driverless cars are on the horizon. It will certainly have an enormous impact on the way we live our lives and conduct commerce. Driverless cars aren’t generally intelligent in the same way that people are, but driving is a big, complicated, subtle cognitive task which is quickly moving into the reach of robots throwing millions of taxi drivers jobless.
Indications are that even intellectual jobs will not be safe in the near future. Even in the near future, machines like IBM’s Watson system may take over data-heavy jobs like that of doctor and lawyer, thanks to their ability to consume and integrate far more information than humans, say analysts. In fact, traditionally intellectual jobs may be among the first to go. Ironically, some of the tasks we think of requiring enormous intelligence, like those that depend on an enormous amount of domain knowledge, are proving much easier for machines than relatively basic tasks like cleaning a house or making a bread toast.
We also shouldn’t rule out robotic creativity because it now seems that robots can be creative. Cutting-edge robots today can compose music, write news stories, and paint artwork. Though we are not yet at a point where robots can compete head-on with human imagination, but these are steps in that direction.
Another development is artificial intelligence in military application. Microsoft has already developed a line of robotic security guards that are used to maintain security on one of its campuses. It is quite possible to develop autonomous war machines or humanoids that are smarter and deadlier than humans are. Yes, we’re making our robots smarter and better without being aware about where they might take us.
(Read the full part of this article in the December issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2015)