In articles, movies, books and TV shows, speculation has been rife that artificial intelligence is going to make us all redundant. Well, most of us, a useless underclass where we are outclassed by AI on every level, our jobs being done better by AI replacements. Facebook has just opened up Messenger to a number of chatbots, which haven’t strictly been one hundred percent reliable or user-friendly, not to mention Microsoft’s AI twitter bot, Tay, taking a nasty turn into racism and sexism.
These, while amusing, initial teething problems will be sorted. As with anything it will be a steep learning curve, but our collective knowledge will get AI to the point where it is useful to society.
Change is constant
So should we fear them? Are they the end of society as we know it? We’ve been here before, constantly adapting since the industrial revolution and since long before, but some say it’s different this time. I’m not sure it is. This time, our core value as economically producing entities is challenged.
Societies change and will not stay static. There will be jobs that are lost and it will be a painful adjustment, but we will adjust. We tend to cope with change. Sometimes it helps to put these things in a different perspective. These days, there aren’t scores of unemployed matchstick girls and chimney sweepers around, which represented significant job categories in a time past. Should we lament their passing as professions? No, they were truly awful. Should we regret the decline of the dedicated elevator operators or the TV repairmen? Nostalgia aside, the decline of these jobs have been replaced by the creation of countless new job categories.
Does AI challenge our value?
Is AI different? Are we redundant in light of their relatively massive computational capabilities? Well, if I have a look at my personal life, there are some work categories where AI will be of great value to me—a maid, a driver, an on call doctor, even an assistant to help me filter through the information I have to churn through. For most people, these roles do not replace existing jobs, and frankly, I can’t wait.
Will I be replaced? I don’t think so, because we’re not that gullible. I don’t think AI can replace a human connection. When it comes down to it, I don’t think AI can replace human communication, a combination of emotional and analytical perspective. We know when we’re interacting with a machine, and as complex as we can make AI, will we ever truly feel it is more than talking to a toaster? Will we accept sympathy from a machine, let alone empathy?
“Will we ever truly feel it is more than talking to a toaster?”
Can AI replace what we value?
Even at its most advanced, such as a humanesque artificial person, won’t they just make us feel like we’re the uncool kid in school talking to our ‘invisible friend’? Would we trust such a sales rep, for example? We will always know it’s a machine. Could I replace my dog with an artificial one? I don’t think so. It would miss the point.
Your basic service industry jobs can probably be replaced by AI in fairly short order, it’s not strictly that complicated, but would we really accept a fast food restaurant filled with AI, or would we again wonder what the point was? It is then, after all, not more than a glorified vending machine. Are we willing to forego that human interaction? AI might be cheaper, but that doesn’t always encapsulate why we go to a restaurant, of any kind. Often it is cheaper and even more time efficient to eat at home, but we are driven out of our homes for more complex reasons, and talking to an evolved toaster will likely lose its novelty quickly.
Camilla Urdahl works for unified communications company Unified Inbox, and will speak to strangers at events about communications strategies, new business models, and how best to accelerate innovation. Follow Camilla and her adventures on Twitter @CamillaUrdahl.