Back in high school, one of my science teachers proclaimed that every fifty years, we double all our previous knowledge. Imagine that, taking all we know from Cro-Magnon to numbering chromosomes and multiplying it by two in just a half-century.
Flash forward to this week when I heard an interview that quoted tech genius, Elon Musk, warning that artificial intelligence (AI) is the equivalent of "summoning the demon." Musk and other giant thinkers like Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have been pounding that drum of precaution about the pace of progress on AI -- or demonic machines that can perform as humans, and eventually replace us.
In the next twenty years, computers will gain the ability to virtually see and listen and then the jobs will really topple. This is an eventuality that we are enabling every time we snap a photo of a check and make a deposit pretending to be virtual bank tellers. Then what happens to our world? To our economy? To humanity?
What will happen to the truth when robots edit all the news? Media companies are already using AI to help aggregate information and pre-written story lines.
The brightest of our technology leaders are hinting at the need for some regulation in order to prevent a world order where machines are smarter than most any person making people irrelevant. Without intervention, greed will rule and enterprise will choose computers over creatures every time. Gates is less concerned than Musk, but he acknowledges we can't blindly follow robots toward the horizon without stepping off the edge of tomorrow.
Of course, this can only happen if we continue to support a lifestyle that relies on "self-service" or what I call "working for nothing." I've been warning for years that we're killing jobs by pumping our own gas, checking out and bagging our own groceries and booking our own flights and accommodations and then schlepping the luggage.
How many times have you had to cycle through phone prompts again and again and repeat information so the computer "operator" can learn? Then, don't you eventually have to recite it again when the human customer rep picks up the line? You're doing someone's job and paying for it with time you can't get back.
Tools are supposed to make life easier, not create more work. How many times have you typed your unique information into a Website or app in order to electronically perform functions that someone used to perform for you? Think about it. For example, you pay a $30 deposit for an I-Pass or E-ZPass and then go online to register your account. This allows you the convenience of a quicker stop at the tollroads and a discount. But you're paying them for the privilege of doing the state's paperwork. Prediction: once states require everyone to buy an electronic pass, the toll master will take away the discount. It's basically what happened to self-serve gas -- there is no full serve, just full serve prices.
I've handed an airline clerk $120 bucks for baggage fees, after accessing my own boarding pass, only to be ordered to carry my luggage over to the loading area. That's quite a fee for the "honor" of working as a baggage handler.
Every time we put up with an inconvenience or a failing technology all in the name of "convenience" of self service, we're actually making it easier for the tech industry to create a society where real workers and real service become obsolete.
Self service should bring you and me a discount, a lower cost for the services that we deliver to ourselves. But I haven't seen the price of gas, flights, baggage fees, or most anything else decline. However, my available time continues to dwindle as I do my own banking, booking, and auto pays. I check e-mail, snail mail, texts from a variety of people I pay. I have a lengthy online survey to complete for a new doctor I'll be seeing. It used to be a physician or nurse asked me questions and filled out charts. Now I do that work and pay enormous fees for services. I've even bought my own health insurance at healthcare.gov without the help of a human. And Blue Cross Blue Shield keeps raising my premiums, deductibles and copays.
Artificial intelligence is feeding on our genuine thoughtlessness and sheep-like mentality as we follow the herd into oblivion.
I'm not interested in preventing progress -- I just don't want to work for free as I help build the future and train the mechanical worker who will take my granddaughter's job. Working for nothing creates an artificial economic benefit to new technology, reducing its downside. Maybe we should all play dumb and begin to plead technological disability, requesting those we pay do the work. After all, we can't possibly be as smart as their machines.