What we should do when robots suit up and take our jobs

When machines do everything, what’s left for you to do?

The moot. 

Machines will eventually do everything. They beat us as at chess, drive cars, diagnose diseases, write sports stories and predict when we will die. Academics writing in Harvard Business Review reckon 40 million jobs in USA are at stake this decade thanks to machines.

C’mon, really? 

Yes, really. And yes, you should worry. Historian Henry Adams calculated that technological improvement in the ‘industrial age’ increased two percent a year. In the ‘information age’ that improvement jumped to 60 percent, thanks to the exponential growth in computing power. If you thought the industrial revolution was disruptive to textile workers, try this one.

Who’s first to go?

US media outlet NPR commissioned researchers to predict which jobs go. Gone by lunchtime: referees, drivers and lawyers. Staying: mental health workers.

Hawking’s freaked.

The second reason to worry is that people smarter than you are. Last year Stephen Hawking was joined by a host of scientists and inventors, including Elon Musk, when he said: “If we build a full AI, it would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” Shivers!

But why?

Oxford University’s Nick Bostrom suggests it’s not intelligence but moral fibre that’s the problem. Bostrom tells a story where an AI entity is told to make paperclips but it has to work out how best to do it. Eventually it becomes so good at making paperclips that all Earth’s resources, are given over to paperclip making. 

An alternative view.

Former Fortune editor Geoffrey Colvin argues we’re asking the wrong question. In his book Humans Are Underrated, Colvin says there’s no point wondering what machines can do. We should ask: what do we want them to do? The answer is everything except the soft stuff: friendship, empathy, affection, warmth and creativity. That’s what we want from humans – not humanoids.

And so: 

Should you worry about robots stealing your job? Yes. What should you do? Develop empathy. It’s so hot right now.

  • This article was originally published in our sister publication Idealog.

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