Humans Need Not Apply [video]

johnny5 - the dreamer robot

Imagine a world where large classes of people lose their jobs by no fault of their own.   How would we adapt? A friend of mine shared a thought provoking video entitled “Humans Need Not Apply.”   CGP Grey argues that humanity needs to get ready because technology and automation present a threat to many types of jobs.

When I worked toward my masters degree in computer science,  I became especially interested in research on machine learning.   In this field of computer science, we study various theories of emulating human learning, pattern recognition, and simulated creativity.   After watching this video, I find myself wanting to consider the worse case scenario.   What would happen if general purpose robots and automation succeeded in making large classes of people unemployable in their current work?  This fearful worse case scenario hinges on the success of “general purpose robots”  and advances in machine learning technology.   On the machine learning front,  we still struggle with understanding the basics of human creativity?   One of my favorite AI thinkers, Marvin Minski from MIT, argues that artificial intelligence researchers have not given sufficient research attention to the following questions: (1) How do we detect and recognize beauty.   (2) How do we emulate art and creativity of humans?  Computers can’t even emulate the pattern recognition / cognitive learning power of infants.   Additionally, current machine learning techniques tend to focus on emulating particular modes of human thinking.  (i.e. pattern recognition, search, making plans, looking for winning moves, etc.)      It will be a long before we create the higher order algorithms that faithfully emulate our capacity for general purpose thought and switching between modes and knowledge representation.

This, however, is not the point of “Humans Need Not Apply.”   In 2014, we live in a world where automation and technology continue to take over work once done by people.   People are becoming “unemployable by no fault of their own.”   This is happening today.  (not in a galaxy far far away).    It’s happening now!    I want to encourage conversation on this topic.  I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the arguments of this video.  Here are a few questions to consider:

1) There is already a large and growing gap between the rich and poor.   As a just society, what responsibilities do we have to help people adapt to a economy strongly dominated by technology?  How do we help the poor?  How do we help the elderly?

2) Have you seen certain industries or areas of government that resist adoption of automation even if reduced costs can be achieved?

3) Since high scale automation and general purpose robots exist and will continue to get better, is there a way to plan your career so that you have robots working for you?

4) What types of jobs will be created as computers get better at learning?  What types of jobs will be created as general purpose robots become more common?

5)  Humanity has faced situations where we needed to adapt due to automation or out sourcing.   What lessons can we learn from history?

6) Since technology and automation will greatly impact our future economy, how do we encourage our children and students to be creative, curious and adaptable?

7) Let’s consider the best possible scenario… What is the best thing that could happen if we can create smart robots that do “mundane” or “high risk” human labor?  What is the greatest positive impact of large scale automation?  How do we ensure that this positive impact becomes a reality?


Looking forward to hearing your comments!!


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