Wired’s Kevin Kelly has penned an article in which he argues that we should let robots take our jobs — a welcome development that will help us to “dream up new work that matters.” Moreover, it will be through this process that humanity can liberate itself from dangerous and demeaning work, and allow us to become “more human than we already are.”
Top image of Jimmy Fallon by Peter Yang via Wired.
Kelly starts off his piece by asking the question, "Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?" Indeed, as he correctly points out, the robotics and AI revolution is in full swing, and the writing is increasingly on the wall. At the same time, however, our innovations are creating an unpredictable technological landscape — one that's as counterintuitive as it is promising. He writes:
Before we invented automobiles, air-conditioning, flatscreen video displays, and animated cartoons, no one living in ancient Rome wished they could watch cartoons while riding to Athens in climate-controlled comfort. Two hundred years ago not a single citizen of Shanghai would have told you that they would buy a tiny slab that allowed them to talk to faraway friends before they would buy indoor plumbing. Crafty AIs embedded in first-person-shooter games have given millions of teenage boys the urge, the need, to become professional game designers-a dream that no boy in Victorian times ever had. In a very real way our inventions assign us our jobs. Each successful bit of automation generates new occupations-occupations we would not have fantasized about without the prompting of the automation...
...It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet. That is, we can't see these jobs from here, because we can't yet see the machines and technologies that will make them possible. Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.
Robots and automation, he argues, will empower us to find new and exciting things to do. But in the meantime, we will continue to react in predictable ways. To that end, Kelly proposes his Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:
In the coming years our relationships with robots will become ever more complex. But already a recurring pattern is emerging. No matter what your current job or your salary, you will progress through these Seven Stages of Robot Replacement, again and again:
1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
2. OK, it can do a lot of them, but it can't do everything I do.
3. OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
4. OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
5. OK, it can have my old boring job, because it's obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
6. Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more fun and pays more!
7. I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.
This is not a race against the machines, he says, as that's not a race we could ever hope to win. Instead, we'll be paid in the future based on how well we work with robots.
George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.
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