A world without work

without work
Image thanks to RSA

My eldest daughter has been listening to a series of podcasts from the BBC called Beyond Today in which a topic from the news is explored in greater detail than can be covered in a short bulletin. She thought I would like one entitled ‘Could AI do your job?’ and so I gave it a listen. She was right.

The podcast posed the question whether we are ready for a world without work as software robots and so-called artificial intelligence take over more and more of the things we do at work. The transformation is amazing and is digging deeper into areas we once thought of as skilled. What started out as the replacement of blue-collar workers with machines in the drive for efficiency is now digging deeper and deeper into the purview of the white collar worker. Machines are proving to be more adept at identifying illnesses, sorting out tax returns and unpicking legal arguments than us humans. They don’t get tired, they don’t get hungry and they have no sentiment.

They do, however, have all the biases, unconscious or conscious of the algorithm developer.

This is an area of real concern. We have seen the explosive role of social media and AI in swaying public opinion and we need to be much more aware of the pervasive nature of these technologies. All of man’s inventions can be used for good and bad yet my feeling is that AI could be particularly dangerous, not because it is inherently bad but because it is inherently quick. 

A small error in the coding can become a big consequence very quickly.

Life is changing. Through our industry we have produced enough money for everyone to be comfortable in the world yet we haven’t yet cracked how to distribute the wealth more fairly. As we have become richer, society has become less equal. In the future there will be plenty of work but not enough for people to do. 

There is that old joke that in the factory of the future there will be a man and a dog. The job of the man will be to feed the dog and the job of the dog will be to keep the man away from the machines. Perhaps instead, in the factory of the future the dog will be there to remind the man that he  is alive and the job of the man will be to fight against the biased decisions of the AI.

We need to keep in charge of AI.

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