I haven’t always been the perfect employee. I’m not the best timekeeper. I’m pretty strong though and haven’t had much sick leave. I’ve come up with some good ideas too over the years and brought in a lot of money for my employer. I do need to rest though, have lunch and tea breaks, go home for sleep and have holidays. I also need to drink and eat at my desk sometimes. I like my weekends too! I can be outspoken as well and always enjoy a good laugh. All the ‘downside’ of humans I’m afraid, and things which of course robots just wouldn’t waste time doing.
According to various reports, one in five jobs are at risk of being lost to automation, and up to one in three in some cases up North. In fact one report shows that more than 10 million workers are at risk of being replaced, 4 million of them in the private sector within 10 years… Of course we have always worried that automation will replace jobs, and often it turns out that other jobs are created instead, and that our quality of life can be improved by not having to do basic repetitive jobs. But this time it may be very different with the invention of the AI machines.
AI machines are not being invented to do mundane jobs that we don’t want to do. No, in many cases they are being built to replace the human mind. They are being trained to mimic our emotions, our conversations, our reactions, our facial expressions, everything, to be stored In their ‘memory’ for future use. Whether it is well founded or not, I find it frightening, I think because many that we see shown on the TV etc are also made to look like humans. They are not just machines performing a function but are mimicking us in every way. They are not machines that we will be operating, they are machines that will be acting as if they are us. The changes this will make to our society are profound and will never have been seen before.
I remember reading a book at school called ’Brave New World’. Now I know the AI machines aren’t being designed to actually modify humans themselves (yet), but in the book humans had been modified to fit certain jobs and places in society, and normal human relationships and reproduction were sneered at. For me, the AI machine has echoes of this as we will apparently be replaced by them eventually in many every day jobs – sitting on reception in hotels for instance, customer service roles, food production, kitchen staff, insurance assessment, stock trading, accounting, HR and some healthcare tasks. As you can see these are not just machines doing repetitive tasks and being operated by humans – these are jobs that require skill. A factory in China has apparently replace 90% of its workers with robots. That is all not so bad I guess if humans are definitely going to all be doing BETTER jobs and not suffer income wise, but I don’t feel fully confident about that.
I don’t want to be a Luddite – of course machines and robots have benefitted us in many ways too – over the years they have been used to do heavy, repetitive work that shortened the lives of humans when we had to do it. They are used in operations too to do intricate work. They can take on many tasks that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans. But the worry with the new breed of AI machines or robots is that they are designed to take on huge swathes of more enjoyable jobs that many of us rely on for an income. Some other jobs will be created too, but this time can you honestly say you believe that enough new jobs will be created? Won’t the march of the robots just grow faster and faster?
All well and good for those wealthy enough to not worry about a job for income of course. And great for employers sick of unreliable staff. And it’s not just about money – some sort of Universal Income is being looked at for the future to make sure people can still live without full time jobs. But it is a fact that humans need a job, a purpose, a reason to get up, a hope for a better future, something to work for, something to achieve, a feeling of being needed by society, in order to feel happy and complete. We could end up with one huge population with not much money and verging on depression. Has any of this been thought through? Does anyone who will benefit from all this even care? The only way that we can continue to have jobs with automation is for there to be more and more consumption of cheaper and cheaper products made by people on low wages and zero hour contracts. Amazon has gone along these lines – they use huge amounts of automation but still employ more and more people – but look at the low quality of life the staff have at work! I feel that we reached a pinnacle where workers were treated very well and since then the establishment has been chipping away to bring us back to the days of massive amounts of workers on low wages with no security.
Add to all of this driverless cars, driverless trains, stations run by ticket machines and automated barriers, plus automated phone operators, cashiers, prescription handlers, analysts, even pilots and bartenders – the list is endless! Then on top, we have mass immigration and open borders. So more and more people pouring in, fewer and fewer jobs, more automation, robots who can mimic us… if we are replacing more and more jobs why do we need more and more people coming in? What on earth is the plan? Some would say it will benefit us hugely, others might say that we are too much trouble, us ordinary workers, we demand too much and we must be replaced with either cheap labour from abroad or robots… either will do! Maybe a bit of both is true. But I do know we must be aware and gain control of the situation, and soon.
If we are powerless to do anything about all of this, we can at least educate ourselves as to what is happening and make sure we realise how many of our jobs will be replaced by Robots. And that it is all happening much quicker than we think.
I do not know the answers and I cannot be sure where all this is leading, but I do know this: I am not a robot. I am me. A one-off individual. Never to be repeated. I have never been here before and once I am gone I will never be here again. I am a wonderful, amazing, creative, emotional, thinking, breathing living, ever changing human being with a beating heart and a need to have a purpose in life. And so are you. Nothing material that we create should ever oppress us or take away what we need to prosper and survive, but should instead only exist to enhance us and serve us. If we remember this and don’t let anyone around us forget it, maybe we have a chance to make this huge robotic evolution work…