21/06/2016 - 06:18

Resistance is futile, embrace the tech era

21/06/2016 - 06:18


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The ever-resourceful human race will step up and adapt to the rise of the machines.

Resistance is futile, embrace the tech era
WORKING STIFFS: Technology has always benifited humans, and the growth of AI should be no different. Photo: Stockphoto

The ever-resourceful human race will step up and adapt to the rise of the machines.

There is a great deal of discussion around the redundancy of human endeavour, as automation and artificial intelligence take over more roles traditionally reliant on people.

It is an issue confronting many of us regarding our own careers in the not-to-distant-future and those of our children, who may enter a workforce devoid of many jobs their parents’ generation took for granted.

One widely debated solution to this issue is for the state to pay every citizen a wage, removed from any stigma of welfare and unrelated to actual existing employment or not. While this idea is dressed up in all sorts of language around equity and fairness, the truth is that it is really looking to the future when people who are perfectly employable today will simply not have a job to go to.

It was interesting to see that the Swiss overwhelmingly rejected this idea at a recent referendum.

I suspect many think the idea of unearned income being guaranteed as fraught. Although many on various forms of welfare ought to be working, there are at least theoretical checks and balances to ensure it is not exploited by those able to work who just don’t want to.

To add to that cost by taking away any incentives to work does seem to go against the grain of human history.

Then again, that is what this new era is all about. A real revolution that might not be all that comfortable, especially as the disruption becomes widespread at the peak of transition.

The science-fiction genre has tackled this issue countless times, often but not always from a dystopian point of view.

I stumbled across a new SBS French-language series called Trepalium in which the unemployed represent 80 per cent of the population and subsist in walled ghettos. Another recent BBC drama, Humans, was set in the very near future and portrayed many of the issues that might arise, including the underemployed becoming angered by the machines that have left them feeling worthless.

But I am, in this case, an optimist.

Humans have been inventing labour-saving devices since they honed their first flint, discovered fire hardened their spear tips and, most notably, learned that wheels were handy addition to any cart’s undercarriage.

No matter how many jobs have been ended by new technology over millennia, many more have been created; in fact, this whole process has been exponential over time. Each technological improvement has given people more time to think about what they do, generating more ideas to reduce labour and create even more thinking time.

This creativity is not always used for technological innovation. Some of it is in the arts or culture, and that’s been going on since the days of cave paintings. Where there is an abundance of this type of freedom of expression, it usually coincides with the rise of leisure time resulting from labour-saving technology.

Similarly sport, health, education and even investment are things that have grown rapidly as manual labour has been reduced.

But the future is not all about these things, per se.

It is the fact that more free time allows us to take more interest in the things around us.

And when we take an interest we need to find experts, those who know and understand the field better than most. That is what I believe is the future of humans who want to work, to develop expertise. Certainly, AI will inevitably create a kind of Wikipedia on steroids that will provide a certain amount of expertise, but there are many fields where automation and AI can’t replace the human touch or a lifetime of real experience.

When I see news items on a craftsman making violins by hand, or chemists experimenting with formula for new substances, I see human endeavour and creativity that is irreplaceable.

So the optimist in me believes that we’ll find new and valuable ways to occupy ourselves as the world changes.

I believe we should embrace the change being wrought on our society by technology because the inquisitive nature of people will keep us employed, busy and useful for a long time yet, seeking things that no machine would ever think to look for.


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