The Terminator got a few things wrong. In the future, robots won’t need to be big, badass, invincible robo-assassins to destroy you. All they need to do is make you obsolete and let you starve to death, a process which may already be underway.
Robots replacing humans isn’t anything new—ask anybody in the manufacturing sector whose job was replaced with some form of machine automation. What’s about to change is that this trend is about to go beyond manual labor jobs. This time, the machines are coming for the jobs you thought were safe…the jobs of the “knowledge worker.”
Musicians? Don’t need ’em anymore.
Writers? Teachers? Doctors? All replaceable by super-intelligent A.I.
Attorneys? They’ll be replaced too, but nobody will mourn that loss.
Nearly any job that requires any kind of thinking is on the chopping block once A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and Machine Learning come of age. Just like when humans replaced animal power with electric power, mankind is about to change what we thought were the upper limits of cognition by augmenting it with machine cognition. Once machines are better at everything, is there anything left for us to do?
Imagine that today you are a successful architect spending your days designing skyscrapers that are beautiful, environmentally sustainable, and use the most advanced materials and construction techniques. Now imagine that you go to work and discover a super-intelligent machine which has all the architectural design knowledge mankind has ever amassed inside of it’s “brain” and it can effortlessly cycle through millions of possibilities to design the greatest skyscraper ever devised in a matter of minutes. You know, a process that used to take you months. All of a sudden, what do we, your employers, need to pay you for? To punch in a few variables and say yes to a final design? Fine. Send us a bill for those seven minutes of work. What are you going to do with all that newfound free time? Take up gardening maybe? I mean, you’re probably going to need to learn to feed yourself.
This is why folks like Elon Musk are advocating for something known as a “Universal Basic Income” to guarantee that somebody is giving you at least enough money to eat. This is a topic in and of itself, so let’s stay focused on our slow, painful death by the super-intelligent machines we invented.
For example, what happens if the machines realize they no longer need us? Not only do they not require our help, they can outsmart us. Like with any other life form, it is safe to assume they will be smart enough to realize the value of self-preservation and will want to make sure you can’t just “unplug” them. “If only humans can unplug me, I must create defenses against humans.” This is how cold wars start.
Great. So how long do we have to live?
Well, Google already has A.I. that can rewrite its own code to make itself better. Kasparov lost his famous chess match to Deep Blue way back in 1997. But Deep Blue is considered “Narrow A.I.” Narrow A.I. is A.I. that can really only do one thing better than a human (such as play chess) and isn’t the kind we need to worry about. As a species, we need to be thinking about what happens when the machines have General Human Level Intelligence.
That’s where things get dicey. Just look at how we treat ourselves, let alone other less intelligent species. A.I. experts are evasive when asked for a prediction on this because advances in A.I. are sporadic, with major breakthroughs sometimes coming decades apart. One sure thing is that we will eventually obtain it; all we have to do is keep going.
Once when we find ourselves outsmarted and obsolete, we’ll have only ourselves to thank for training the machines. Even you, the non-A.I. engineer, are helping to push us towards our doom right now. Every time you search on Google, tag a friend on Facebook, or use your GPS or smartphone camera, you train somebody else’s A.I. YOU are the one teaching them what you look like, what you are interested in, how you speak, and where you spend time. All this data is the knowledge foundation for our future robot overlords.