Are robots going to write future headlines?
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.