That constant background rumble you hear is the continuing debate about automation. Increasingly, human interaction is something that we are trying to replace. In fact, it is becoming a luxury.
Across almost every sector, whether we like it or not, machines are replacing human jobs. “Robo advisers” in the banking and financial arenas are replacing humans at an alarming rate. One former banker has advised young people who were eyeing a career in investment banking to look elsewhere. In Southeast Asia, some predict that 50% of the workforce will be replaced by robots. There even seems to be small but telling countertrend that if you buy the platinum package for financial advice you get to talk to a human. Human interaction and advice for some, robotic advice for the rest? Luxury.
Most – and certainly most of the digital visionaries that we admire, like Elon Musk – welcome the whole thing with open, yet slightly shaky, arms. They call it progress. In a recent interview Musk was pondering something he calls a “neural lace” that solves the human “output” problem. He believes that we are already becoming cyborgs because of the vast amount of knowledge we can access instantly. A neural lace – a stream of microscopic bots inserted or injected into the brain – will solve the output problem, which at the moment is the bottleneck of our fingers or voice. The input stream is not such a bottleneck – our eyes are pretty good at this.
An artificially intelligent machine called Libratus has just beaten some of the world’s top poker players at some of the most complex variations of the game. One of the players, Dom Kim, towards the end of the game, said that it felt like Libratus could see his cards. It wasn’t cheating, it was “just that good”.
At a recent event, full of the background sound of delegates wondering about the real benefits of too much automation, we wondered what happens when robots produce the goods and services. What happens to the now out-of-work people who cannot afford to buy them? One speaker suggested that this spare time would give them scope to “be creative”. About what, and with what, you have to wonder. Be creative with virtual reality, fuelled by artificial intelligence – and possibly funded by governments in order to keep us docile?
We have now reached a stage where automation, at least in some areas, is a necessary evil. [Or good. Just saying. – Ed] We are never going to keep up with cyber security challenges without industrial scale automation, machine learning, AI and the rest of it.
Yet, this too can go wrong.
Very recently Google’s cyber defense system mistook the enormous amount of traffic coming from the UK’s National Health Service for a botnet and responded. Staff at the NHS were advised to switch to Bing.
There may well be ethics committees and groups being formed – by some big digital players – who are worried about the potential of AI, automation and machine learning getting out of hand.
Will they actually be able to find a balance between the digital and physical, the robot and human, that makes sense? If not, the future will be bleak for the 50% who are no longer needed.
Let us hope that, like the industrial revolutions in the past, there will be even more employment and opportunity in … well, I’m sure we’ll think of something.