This will be the first invitational post for Hyperjumping. My friend Nuno Reis is a computer scientist with a thing for cinema and science fiction who is now exploring marketing to manipulate the minds of others (yes, he turned evil). He usually writes about the fantastic in SciFiWorld.pt, and about Technology in blog.nunoreis.pt. I asked him to write whatever was going through his mind at the moment and this is what he sent me:
We hear all the time that a human life is priceless, but no one speaks about the value of humanity. Everyone is talking about the robots and Artificial Intelligences that will take our jobs, but no one is considering the jobs that will remain human forever. Let’s look to our society.
The pessimistic vision
The first step leading dehumanization of work was mass production. Each man was a specialist in a single task and had to do it ad infinitum until a tendinitis or mental breakdown sent him home or out of a window.
Then war came and men were disposable objects against automated machine guns. People used to kill people, but in the 20th century weapons started to kill people without help. Women step into factories to keep production and consumption high.
And then the doubled workforce was too high to keep. Without the scarcity of human resources, companies became more demanding, paying worse and terrible conditions. Unions faced the threat and gave better conditions, like 35-40 hours weeks, health insurances, vacations periods, leaves, retirement plans, trying to make the faceless corporations to see people as people.
Things were going great until machines started to take the place of people in the work lines. First were the manufacturing jobs. A robots is better at doing repetitive tasks than people. No tendinitis, a 24/7 work week every week and never complain about anything. The precision of robots allowed industry to go to a nanoscale no one ever dreamed about. That led to better machines and better computers.
Computers are thinking machines. They started to take the jobs from mathematicians. Database quickly replaced libraries and digitalized every possible archive to make it smaller to store and faster to search. It was called progress and everyone enjoyed having a personal computer at home and to do shopping online. In a few years computers were in our pockets, in our cars, in our watches, in our clothes, in our tvs and in our fridges. Computers everywhere, telling us what we should wear, what we must watch and what we must buy.
And then computers started to think for us. First it was fun to say a computer defeated a person in chess. It is just a brute force algorithm. Then a computer defeated a human in Go, a game where brute force is not possible and some strategy is required. Suddenly we realized it was too late. The A.I. handled payments in parking places, in highway tolls and in grocery stores replacing low pay jobs. They even flip burgers in fast food restaurants. But they are not only in production, administration, logistics and sales. They are working is cinema, in healthcare, in marketing, one is even running to a mayor office in Japan. Old jobs will disappear faster than new ones can be created. Unless we can prepare a new generation is less than a decade to be more than computer savvy and take the jobs of the future, we will have a huge gap between the I.T. people and the others. The ones with high paying jobs and the ones without a job.
This is where we stand. Some countries are preparing a social system were everyone gets a basic wage and can do stuff to become more profitable. Hobbies turned into passions. But unless you are truly an artist and your work is enjoyed, how do you plan to sell? Computers can think of anything and print anything faster than you. They will create what people want to buy. You’ll will have to learn from YouTube, sell in Amazon, advertise in Instagram… you’ll need to ask Siri for help with all that. Or just join the dark side and let the computer to all the work for you. It is so much easier to just let it be.
The light at the end of the tunnel
There is a goal in Computer Science called the “Turing test” where a computer has to pose successfully for a person in an online talk. A jury chats with several people and bots, and if a bot is taken for human, the computers win. They are scarily close from it. Some have already won, but they cheated like Deep Blue.
Because the jury is biased, it is hard for humans to get a 100% score. A secondary goal is to be the most human among humans. Can we apply that logic to jobs? Where is the humanity irreplaceable?
The sad conclusion is that the only thing robots can’t do to mimic people is to be family. Maybe they can trick us in most of our adult life – having a meaningful chat, serve us a home meal, having sex – but for a child there is still a big line. I don’t mean school. Kids would rather learn from their tablets than going to a place with other children. But before that. The early stages of cognitive development where not only colours and sounds matter, but the human touch (sensorimotor stage) and the wonderful moments of building a language (preoperational). Even if the machine learning of harvesting blabbering data from millions of children makes a computer knowledgeable of the subtleties of those little creatures, nothing replaces a person. We are doing it with our senior citizens, but no one would dare to give an innocent child to a machine!
We all know what the oldest job in the world is. I dare to say that the last job will be a close match between Parent and Foster Care. Yes. I demand that parenting becomes a job with proper training and evaluation. With all that free time, there are no excuses. The single mention of an exam will reduce birth so much that the planet is safe. And Foster Care is because even the best A.I. teachers can’t be sure if parents will be good, and A.I. doctors can’t keep early death away. There will always be a human missing for someone. The one that is priceless.