Monday, May 4, 2015

Forget Our New Overlords...

I love disaster enthusiasts. If you listen to these people, the world is coming to an end at every turn. The sky is falling. Humanity is doomed. And there’s nothing we can do about it!! I find these people laughable. Let’s consider the latest problem: computers/robots.

There is an estimate that around 30% of all current jobs will be replaced by computers and robots over the next decade. Clearly, the world has come to an end and we will all die!!

Ok, step back. That’s bunk. First, keep in mind that this has always been the case. Indeed, to a degree, this is a natural state of affairs that has been going on since forever: technology destroys some jobs. The plow replaced the need for whole communities to work the fields. The cotton gin changed the economics of slavery. The industrial revolution eliminated the need for apprentices and guilds, the assembly line wiped out the need for craftsmen, the word processor killed the typing pool and so on. That’s the way it’s always been and the way it always will be.

Yet, none of us would look back at history and believe the charge that technology has destroyed mankind, would we? Why not? Because technology also creates jobs. Humans are amazingly inventive. When one job vanishes, more spring up because people find new things to do with the new technology.

In 1980, when the world first started coming to terms with the idea that we would all be replaced by robots, no one had any idea that the internet would come along. Even when the net became widely available, people still didn’t realize how powerful of a job creator it would be. Faster machines mean bigger projects are in reach. Better tools mean the innovative types reach higher. The human race doesn’t sit on its butt. Sure, a lot of people do, but the right people don’t... they innovate. And that innovation results in the need to keep hiring the butt sitters.

Further, I seriously doubt the 30% figure. For decades now, the job market has been flat. Part of the reason for this is that technology has been wiping out jobs as quickly as new jobs were being made to replace them. At this point, the economy has become relatively lean and the only jobs that still exist are service industry jobs and decision-making jobs. Those are jobs that machines simply can’t replace. That means it will become increasingly difficult for machines to replace people, and the 30% figure strikes me as a pipe dream.

And the reason it’s hard to replace people in the decision making and service fields is that (1) humans don’t trust machines to make decisions and (2) humans hate dealing with machines when it comes to service issues. Heck, we even hate dealing with foreigners when it comes to service issues. And we hate it to such a degree that many of the companies that outsourced customer service to India have discovered that they need to bring it back.

The real problem with replacing humans, however, is that machines lack judgment and creativity. I recall arguing with an engineer once who thought that attorneys could be replaced by machines because you could just plug the law into the machine and it could spit it out, just like a human does... right? Hardly. Lawyers don’t spit out “the law.” Indeed, there is no “the law.” The law is a mess of conflicting, unclear and often times contradictory rulings. And what the attorneys provide is a way to assemble your version of the law in a way that either provides you with comfort that it will stand up in court or that lets you sway a judge.

Machines can’t handle contradictory inputs and use creativity to create an output that gives a customer a subjective product.

Doctors similarly rely on a tremendous amount of judgment. Check out how often people go online, find lists of symptoms and determine that they have everything from a hangnail to the plague from the same list of symptoms. Machines will be trapped in that loop because it takes something special that humans have which machines never will... an ability to parse truths and contradictions and to understand which truths to ignore.

So forget machines taking over the economic world. No job that includes discretion will be able to be taken over by a machine.

That brings me to a second and related point, by the way. Apple co-founder Steven Wozniak has recently made headlines (about a month ago actually) when he said that the human race was doomed to be controlled by computers because they will be so much smarter than we are. Ergo, we simpletons will be forced by our machine overlords to submit to them.

That’s total bunk.

What Steve fails to grasp is that raw computing power does not translated to useful decision-making ability. Before computers could even come close to taking over, they would need to find a way to translate their raw computing power into the ability to make irrational decisions when needed, and they just can’t do that. It flies in the face of the very nature of computers, which is to process the world to find the single right answer. Unfortunately for them, in human endeavors, there is never a single right answer.

It is because of that, that humans will never hand true decision-making power to machines. And if you want proof, let me suggest this. Think back on history and think about the world today. Has the world ever been run by the best or brightest? The clearest thinkers? The biggest brains? No. The world is run on an entirely different set of principles: shit floats.

So while computers may take over more tasks for us, they will never have what it takes to be given real power.

The robot holocaust is fantasy.



Kit said...


I'm sorry, but I can't resist. Saturday Night Live's ad for Old Glory Insurance: LINK

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That's hilarious! LOL!

Kit said...

Yep, it is. I don't know why but it is just so out there it is one of the best SNL sketches I have ever seen.

Kit said...

I've found that it is progressives who tend to go with the "machines will rule the world" ideas.

Considering they tend to think humans can be organized in a "rational, sensible manner" rather than entrust things to the "invisible hand" of the market, it isn't surprising.

LL said...

One day the AI's will look back at us the same way that we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape, living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.

Anonymous said...

but the machines did take over. They systematically enslaved and then began to exterminate the human race. All of us,black, white, didn't matter. The lights were just about out. Then John Connor organized the humans, taught them to resist, to storm the wire of the camps...
Never mind, that was something else. But it kicked ass. :)

AndrewPrice said...

LL, We'll just get them hooked on e-meth and that will be the end of them!

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, LOL! Well played! :D

Kit said...


LL is right. Didn't you hear their song, "The Humans are Dead"?

The humans are dead!

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It's all robot propaganda!

Kit said...

Off-topic: Two ISIS-wannabes tried to launch at an attack at a Texas art gallery depicting an image of the Prophet Mohammed. Both were gunned down by the police. No one else was killed.

Backthrow said...

This isn't, though:

Rise, Robots, Rise

I think we just need to understand them, stand down, and give them room to deploy.

Critch said...

Don't mess with Texas. I would like to see the artwork where the cops drew the chalk outline around the two perp's bodies..

Anthony said...

It looks like at least one of the gunmen was Somali. American born idiots whose parents came over from Somalia have traveling abroad to stage terror attacks for some years now. It was just a matter of time before one got the bright idea of trying to pull off a terror attack in the U.S.

Glad no lives of value were lost.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Same here! Good riddance to these idiots.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, This would have had a different ending in Boston.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, LOL! The world clearly needs more robots. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I hear this happens when people try to draw Mickey Mouse too.

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