Lessons from the Earth: Finding balance between humanity and our robot overlords

- Mindfulness

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by Jennifer Riggins

Wearing one of my many hats, I attend and speak at a lot of API (application programming interface) conferences. This aspect of the tech industry has a wonderful community — perhaps because it is just the tech that’s bringing people, services and especially other tech together. But these talks while always informative are never quite as thought-provoking as the APIdays keynote that kicked off the conference, where API community leader Mike Amundsen talked about us “Coming to Terms with our Autonomic Future.”

“One of my tasks is to help other companies get rid of jobs, get rid of people,” he said. Mike pointed out that artificial intelligence will get rid of the majority of jobs left after manufacturing, “And that’s our work, that’s what we do.”

And he’s not wrong. Particularly with the advancements in machine learning, chatbots and AI, there are many job roles whose main purpose is to create efficiency at a level that eliminates jobs. In other words, training the robots to eventually take over our jobs. Just check out these statistics of job loss due to impending automation.

“We are going to need fewer workers — that’s a feature and we need to get ready for that,” Mike said.

Will artificial intelligence bring out the best or the worst of all times?

Earlier this year, in very Dickens-like fashion, Stephen Hawking recently saidthat AI will either be the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity.

The world’s smartest human wrote: “We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one – industrialization. And surely we will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty.”

But on the other hand, Hawking believes this could be humanity’s last accomplishment, if we don’t recognize the risks that come along with it.

So how do we make sure it’s the best thing?

What lessons can the Earth offer us?

Well, first, Hawking points out that we spend an inordinate amount of time studying history — or what he calls the “history of stupidity” — and we don’t learn from it anyway. That’s why he says we need to work to also philosophize, theorize, and try to formulate and predict the impact of this intelligent near future. 

But if you, like me, are in the majority of the world that simply doesn’t have this foresight and Mensa IQ, what else can we do to help make the positive side of AI come to fruition?

First, Mike says, “We need to get past the irrational fear of the future.”

Then we should look toward the richest history available to us:  Mother Nature. He talked about the autonomic nervous system — the one that regulates our instincts with both the fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest responses — that creates a kind of homeostasis. We should look for this similar balance.

“Think of the problem as autonomic and balancing — think about both sides and what you need,” Mike said, pointing out that all great things involve a lot of design and the greatness of AI (and the relying humanity) depends as much on design.


Is it time to separate ‘jobs’ from ‘work’?

Does artificial intelligence ridding us of our jobs open an opportunity?

Post the Industrial Age or entering the Second Machine Age, Mike said that “Now we are figuring how to go not only beyond Malthusian and now go beyond our brains.”

In most of the world, we have already disproven the most prevalent theory that not only have we overcome the natural selection that prevents overcrowding but now we are looking to take artificial intelligence beyond our own. But what exactly is that intelligence? Can creativity fall into that?

If we can cure disease and natural disaster, and if we replace the jobs that are still left — like drivers and cashiers which will become the first casualties of AI — will we have the opportunity to follow our unconsidered dreams?

Mike shared how originator of the term “robots” Karel Capek predicted that a rise of robots would see that “Everybody will live only to perfect themselves to do whatever you would like however you would like when you want it.”

Another API community leader Mark Boyd called this the bringing about of “alternative economies.”

“If senior management take less, and if everyone worked less hours, we could still distribute the wealth,” Mark commented.

He wasn’t exactly referring to communism so much as a mix of socialism and an ongoing experiment going on in towns in some of the most progressive countries called “universal basic income,” which, like it’s name implies, provides a base salary for all citizens that takes care of basic needs and evens out the play field so almost anyone has the chance to join.

Mike said “We need to separate ‘jobs’ from ‘work.’ We may not all have jobs but everyone is going to want to work.”

For him a basic income is an option but he looks toward another model that mimics the startup world.

Not location, size or investment, but Mike says “The best indicator of startup success is whether or not they have a support group and know it’s safe to create risk.”

He thinks a successful future with AI is one that offers members of society support, along with small micro-loans.

Once we have a more even chance, he said that as freer humans we will inevitably be drawn to projects that change and better lives, citing Zipline, drones that deliver medical supplies across Rwanda. Like Hawking, Mike believes if we stay in command of and ready to learn from artificial intelligence, we gain an opportunity to solve the big problems.

Suddenly that token job interview question seems less hypothetical:

If you had all your basic needs covered and you could do anything, what would you do? Tell us below!

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