Are ro­bots go­ing to write fu­ture head­lines?

Antelope Valley Press - - OPINION -

In 1891, Os­car Wilde dreamed of a world with­out work.

In “The Soul of Man Un­der So­cial­ism,” he imag­ined a so­ci­ety lib­er­ated from drudgery by the ma­chine: “While hu­man­ity will be amus­ing it­self, or en­joy­ing cul­ti­vated leisure … or mak­ing beau­ti­ful things, or read­ing beau­ti­ful things, or sim­ply con­tem­plat­ing the world with ad­mi­ra­tion and de­light, ma­chin­ery will be do­ing all the nec­es­sary and un­pleas­ant work.”

For cen­turies, these kind of pre­dic­tions have been around: That jobs done by hu­mans would even­tu­ally fall un­der tech­no­log­i­cal advances and ro­bots would be­come the work­ing class of the fu­ture.

Daniel Susskind, a fel­low in eco­nom­ics at Ox­ford, has pub­lished a book ti­tled, “A World With­out Work: Tech­nol­ogy Au­to­ma­tion, and How We Should Re­spond.”

The New York Times hailed the mes­sage with a close-to-home warn­ing that said “Soon a Ro­bot Will Be Writ­ing This Head­line.”

Susskind de­clares that ma­chines are get­ting so smart that they’ll soon re­place hu­mans at a grow­ing list of jobs, po­ten­tially in­clud­ing doc­tors, brick­lay­ers, in­surance ad­justers. The writer pre­dicts that with­out some sort of in­ter­ven­tion the in­equal­ity in­her­ent in to­day’s econ­omy will metas­ta­size into an even greater di­vide be­tween the haves and have-nots.

Mod­ern eco­nomic ex­perts rail against this work­place model. Susskind con­tends that more fre­quently, the ro­bots will com­ple­ment work­ers jobs, tak­ing over some rou­tine and pre­dictable tasks but in the end mak­ing work­ers more pro­duc­tive.

But, in his book, he wrote that what’s dif­fer­ent this time around is a new type of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that chal­lenges the as­sump­tion that hu­mans will al­ways be bet­ter than ma­chines at some jobs.

Peo­ple are teach­ing ma­chines to draw on vast amounts of pro­cess­ing power and data to solve prob­lems in ways hu­mans couldn’t.

At Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, a ma­chine can draw on a data­base of nearly 130,000 cases to tell whether a freckle is can­cer­ous. A Google pro­gram can di­ag­nose more than 50 eye dis­eases with an er­ror rate bet­ter than that of many clin­i­cal ex­perts. A Chi­nese in­surance com­pany uses al­go­rithms to read fa­cial ex­pres­sions and de­ter­mine whether loan ap­pli­cants are be­ing dis­hon­est.

Through­out the 19th and 20th cen­turies, au­to­ma­tion tended to re­place hu­man la­bor in “rou­tine” tasks with­out de­stroy­ing en­tire oc­cu­pa­tions. Even when cer­tain pro­fes­sions were elim­i­nated, new ones were cre­ated.

Mov­ing so­ci­ety’s cen­ter of grav­ity away from waged la­bor will re­quire vi­sion­ary “leisure poli­cies” on ev­ery level, from ur­ban plan­ning to ed­u­ca­tion, and a rev­o­lu­tion in think­ing.

“We will be forced to con­sider what it re­ally means to live a mean­ing­ful life,” Susskind writes, im­ply­ing that this is above his pay grade.

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