Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Will robots take our jobs or just be know-it-alls?

We sure love our dystopias.

Look at our current popular culture. They're everywhere. Of particular concern, it would seem, are robots. I've seen any number of "Are robots going to take your job?" articles online in recent months. You can add last Wednesday night's Coast to Coast AM to that pile. The guest was Sir Charles Shults. No, not the guy who created Peanuts (although that would be quite the trick, and since it would involve a seance, not outside the realm of C2C. But I digress...) but a developer of aerospace defense systems and robotics.

He is also selling his book, A Fossil Hunter's Guide to Mars on his website. I present that without comment.

Anyway, Shults explained how many fear that robotics will eventually advance to the point where they will take over most available jobs (yes, almost any job). In time, they might take us over as well.  "If you build a machine that's smart enough to clean up after you, maybe it'll realize it doesn't want to do those jobs just as you don't," he said. "And if you have a machine that's perhaps smarter than a human being, how do you know whose interests it's acting in?"

Interesting point. How do you hem in a robot's self interest? Then again, what available methods are there for doing the same to a human?

Shults invoked the popular phrase "Pandora's Box" just as Musk and Hawking have. I don't disagree with that line of thinking. Developments such as cybernetics and robotics are very much like achieving knowledge of nuclear energy. Once it's discovered, it's out there. There's no "putting the genii back in the bottle" to use another tired analogy. I just fear that we are employing much like a "slippery slope" logical fallacy to new developments. An obvious tactic may be, just as Shults suggests, to test these robotic systems out in a "Sand Box," and evaluate how they interact with humans.

Machines that are smarter than us. This may indeed lead to the dawn of a dystopia but not for the reasons we fear. Not the "robot overlords" scenario or "they've taken all of our jobs" (we have always seemed to find new jobs for people) or finding they have absquatulated with our humanity, but rather I'm envisioning robot know-it-alls. They are omnipresent, in our homes and workplaces. They are there to serve but when we try to do something, they tell us we're doing it wrong. Perhaps more to the point, they would tell us to stop because they know how to do it better. It would be like "that one guy you know" who is in a constant race of one-upmanship with you. Yeah, we all have somebody like that, don't we? Anyway, such an existence would be unbearable for many reasons, not the least of which being I would feel lied to by Robotech.

I might be on to a science fiction story here...or at least part of one.

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