Automation, and the Future of the Human Race
No matter what we do or how hard we try every one of us, along with the rest of the Universe, is moving unstoppingly toward the future. It doesn’t matter what you think about time, if it is a trick or an illusion, the observable fact is that yesterday was different from today, which will be different from tomorrow.
The future is a scary thing with new ideas and inventions constantly being developed. One of these inventions is the process of automation. Tasks that used to require a breathing, thinking human can now be done by machines. From ringing up groceries to driving cars, and the list is expanding every day. The golden age of automated machines could be just over the horizon. This is a terrifying thought for many humans. Then again, maybe it won’t be so bad.
II. There are a lot of reasons to fear automation. Automated machines, if given too much responsibility, could make terrible mistakes. One misplaced comma or hyphen in millions of lines of code has been known to turn a simple mission into a disaster. An automated drone that explodes on the way to Venus is no big deal.
An automated bus that diligently drives off a cliff would be a little bit more concerning. This hasn’t happened yet. But it could. Maybe.
Automated machines complete tasks that humans used to do. I don’t know about you, but I need to be able to complete tasks in order to get paid and buy food. Machines don’t need to eat, and they don’t even need to get paid.
There are also less obvious reasons to fear automation. People without tasks to complete still need something to do. They often turn to frowned upon activities like crime and rioting.
III. And then there is the greatest reason to fear automation: Artificial Intelligence. What is the line between a machine doing things by itself, and a machine thinking for itself?
An intelligent machine might decide that people without tasks to do should be disposed of. A machine overlord’s human resources budget is a lot less when there aren’t any humans around.
But maybe machine intelligence will take a different, less terrifying course of action. After all, over the last ten thousand years or so humans have proven to be quite capable. As long as they have something to do.
Humans can build things, from cities to spaceships. And they have more to offer than just manual labor. Maybe the machines will send humans to other planets, because homo sapiens are squishy, don’t matter, and are easy to reproduce. In fact, they like reproducing.
Humans have the ability to rally. Maybe, in the distant future when Earth is invaded from a far-away place, the Machine Lords will recruit human armies to defend them. Humans, unlike machines, can be driven to their death for abstract concepts. Humans can also hope, a powerful tool for anyone who can use it. With the dangling carrot of freedom or enlightenment in front of them, human beings can be driven to do just about anything.
IV. A traditional Artificial Intelligence with the, “exterminate humans,” mindset would miss out on this valuable resource. After all, humans are far more useful when they haven’t been exterminated. Just like intelligent people don’t kill their parents, intelligent machines will not kill their creators.
If machines are going to use humans, though, they will need to develop a special skill set. Anyone who has any amount of interaction with people quickly realizes a few key patterns. First and foremost is that interacting in a nice and friendly way consistently yields the best possible results.
Intelligent machines will not kill people without remorse, because they could have used those people for something. They will not lie, cheat, or steal from people because this will make them angry, and productivity will suffer. Therefore, intelligent machines will develop a basic sense of morality akin to our own. Its not rocket science or quantum physics. Its just good business.
V. Yes, a future ruled by automatic intelligent machines could be quite terrifying. But if they are half as intelligent as we think they will be, we humans have nothing to worry about. It might not be cushy, and it might not be fun, but machines will always have some use for people.
Of course, I am a person, so I could be biased. Regardless, I might as well get used to making this argument. That way, I’ll sound more eloquent when debating the value of human life with my sentient refrigerator.