Artificial intelligence — will it end our ‘dirty’ jobs or will it end us?

Humans are good at some things. Computers are good at other things.

“Historically what we thought was that robots would do things that were the three D’s: dangerous, dirty, and dull”; “Over time, the range of things that robots can do has extended.” Those are just a couple of statements Ryan Calo, professor at University of Washington School of Law with an expertise in robotics, made which should concern us.

However, it is fair to say that A.I. (artificial intelligence) has a long way to go before computers are as intelligent as humans. But the progress it is experiencing should concern us.

Everything is happening at such a fast pace that even the renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking, stated that robots powered by artificial intelligence could overtake humans in the next century. At the Zeitgeist 2015 conference in London, Hawking said: “Computers will overtake humans with AI at some within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.”

So if you are sitting at a desk, driving a taxi cab or carrying ice cream to the warehouse, stop yourself for a moment, take a breath and ask: “Could a robot do this job better?” Needless to say, yes, it could. We are slowly but surely approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost every task.

Experts warn us that machines will lead to unemployment rates greater than 50%. Some even state than it will cause humanity to face its “biggest challenge ever”, to find meaning in life when work is no longer necessary. There definitely are some jobs that are at high risk of being entirely automated within our lifetimes.

Journalism

Even the most creative jobs have parts that are pretty routine — tasks that, at least in theory, can be done by a machine.

Take, for example, a reporter. A company called Automated Insights created a program called WordSmith which routinely issues automatically generated news on weather reports, sport scores and earning reports. While some journalists will still be necessary, the number needed will continue to decrease.

Cab Drivers and Truckers

Taxi drivers in cities around the world are currently embroiled in rows with Uber — the app-based, on-demand service whose drivers, they argue, are subject to less regulation.

But Uber, along with most of the major car manufacturers and Google, is already looking beyond a rival service to one that gets rid of the driver altogether.

Psychologists

A new software program that is designed to diagnose post-traumatic (PTSD) stress disorder in veterans and depression, called Ellie, is featured in a National Public Radio piece.

Ellie not only observes behaviour, it also analyses voice tone and inflection, facial and eye movements; moreover, it even evaluates the authenticity of the speaker’s smile. It was found that Ellie is just as successful in diagnosing PTSD and depression as were a large pool of psychologists.

With steady improvements in programming, memory and processing power, the question which arises isn’t if a computer will ever be as smart and capable as a human, but only how long it will take until reaching that point. Computers keep becoming smarter and will certainly become much smarter than people.

Although it will make our lives easier since we do not have to carry heavy objects anymore, we do not have to bother with driving or even preparing our lunch, it is slowly overcoming us. Should we listen to Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk when they state that AI and all the research going into it poses a definite threat to humanity? Or should we just enjoy what turns out to be a simplified, almost pointless existence?

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