Cassandra Redux


This week on Facebook: I have been led to Robotics and Artificial Intelligence [AI], something that I briefly touched on in 2012 when I posted Is it bird? Is it a plane? No it’s a bid!  Robotics and AI are more than an adjunct to last month’s Facebook posts about global growth in which Malthus and Bartlett figured predominantly. I posited that they were considered a Cassandra, predicting disasters that never materialised and we seem to live in a world where being labelled a Cassandra is now rather passé. Perhaps its because predictions of a bleak future for the human race abound but are ignored in the political drive for economic growth that has become the overriding factor subsuming all other considerations. This urge for economic growth may well be a driving force in the ever increasing use of robotics and AI, something that radically alters the theories propounded by Malthus and Bartlett. 

Luddite has become a derogatory term that characterises the opposition to increased industrialisation or the introduction of new technology. Yet as Monday’s article states, at the turn of the 19th century Luddites weren’t simply driven by anger at the advent of a new machine age but were responding to the disparity in wealth distribution created by their introduction. A complex analogy, particularly in an allusion to today’s contemporary new machine age where welfare benefits to the indigent represent an automatic share of the public administration’s fiscal policy. The Luddites lived in a time where their seemed no end to the global economic growth of a nation state in which their needs and wants could (perhaps) have been met by such growth. An age when both nationally and globally people were largely unaware of the consequences created by the drive for economic growth, an age which was to lead to the rise of European global hegemony, increasing Western global imperialism and two world wars.

The current age of globalisation is now seeing a reducing disparity between global incomes that is leading to increased, shared, global wealth. While this shared global wealth has led to a reduction in global population expansion it has also led to an increasing demand for global resources to satisfy their needs and wants. It may be that the needs and wants of a population are a more accurate measure of population impact on global resources, which when coupled with the scramble for economic growth may yet vindicate the views of Malthus and Bartlett.

It is being predicted that we are on the cusp of a Bartlett exponential increase in the use of robotics (my words) and a Malthusian explosion (if you will) in the applications of artificial intelligence [AI]. It may be that the predictions in levels of income and wealth will complement this increasing use of robotics and AI, however I have a Luddite disquiet regarding where this will take us. There is no doubt that such an increase will release humans from the drudgery of certain tasks and do other tasks with greater efficiency but I’m left wondering whose interests this brave new world will serve. Were I a sybil — I too would be a Cassandra, prophesying a war of attrition with robotics and AI in which a large section of the human race becomes collateral damage.


Monday When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites: The odds are high, according to recent economic analyses. Indeed, fully 47 percent of all U.S. jobs will be automated “in a decade or two,” as the tech-employment scholars Carl Frey and Michael Osborne have predicted. That’s because artificial intelligence and robotics are becoming so good that nearly any routine task could soon be automated. Robots and AI are already whisking products around Amazon’s huge shipping centres, diagnosing lung cancer more accurately than humans and writing sports stories for newspapers.

Tuesday What skills will human workers need when robots take over? What isn’t in doubt is that advances in algorithms and robotics will transform the workplace, with both rote manual labor and higher-level cognitive tasks soon to be performed by machines. Robotics companies, keen to avoid the insinuation that their products take jobs from humans, talk a lot these days about collaborative robots. Humans and robots will increasingly collaborate, they say, with humans freed to do more productive, fulfilling tasks thanks to machines taking on the grunt work.

bbc-ai

15 key moments in the story of artificial intelligence — click to view

Wednesday Robots and AI could soon have feelings, hopes and rightsThe idea of robot personhood is similar to the concept of corporate personhood that allows companies to take part in legal cases as both claimant and respondent — that is, to sue and be sued. The report identifies a number of areas for potential oversight, such as the formation of a European agency for AI and robotics, a legal definition of “smart autonomous robots”, a registration system for the most advanced ones, and a mandatory insurance scheme for companies to cover damage and harm caused by robots.

Thursday How unprepared we are for the robot revolution: The near-term future is likely to be transformed not by general purpose robots or AI systems but rather a nearly limitless number of specialised applications. Collectively, these systems are likely to span the entire job market and economy, ultimately consuming nearly any kind of work that is on some level routine and predictable.

Friday It’s time for some messy, democratic discussions about the future of AI: The concern in 1975 was with safety and containment in research, not with the futures that biotechnology might bring about. Fast-forward 42 years and it is clear that machine learning, natural language processing and other technologies that come under the AI umbrella are becoming big business. They promote the idea of beneficial and secure AI, development for the common good, and the importance of upholding human values and shared prosperity. The principles are short on accountability, and there are notable absences, including the need to engage with a broader set of stakeholders and the public.


 

 

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Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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An Anthology of Short Stories

Selected by other writers

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The Short Stories of David Goodwin (Capucin)

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