There’s one thing that puts us on top of the food chain above everything else and it’s certainly not being stronger than a lion, faster than a shark, or as venomous as a snake, it’s intelligence. We are the brightest species on this planet, and it’s why we are at an unreachable place on the survival chain, but could artificial intelligence and automation in the workforce change that? It’s quite possible.
If you think about it, the only real thing keeping us at the top as a dominant species is the strength we show through intelligence. Without that, we are not much more than cave dwellers smashing two rocks together and fighting amongst ourselves. With those two rocks came the spark of fire and a whole long line of subsequent innovations which have taken us to creating concepts never imagined by those cave dwellers, all at the creation of our own hands and minds.
When it comes to technology, I will confess I am a fanatic for it. I am a heavy consumer of new generation smartphones, software and am fascinated by augmented and virtual reality. I’ve used automation in every facet of my life, from automating the process of finding a nearby driver, dating apps and email systems that find me the most interesting personalised news of the day. But what is it about automation that takes us from social innovations to creating artificially intelligent robots? And where does that end?
Developing a reason for why artificial intelligence and automation occurs is easy. It’s innovative, safer and cost-effective. Having robots do the laborious or dangerous work that we don’t want to do is cheaper and time-efficient. It’s cost effective for companies who want to automate a lot of their processes. That kid selling lemonade on the street never stood a chance when the refrigerating, multi-choice vending machine came in.
How automation helps us
Automation is time efficient because it allows a computer to do a bulk task in the space of a few minutes that someone would take days, if not weeks to do. In this circumstance, we can look at data crunching algorithms at banks. It is far too impossible for analysts to pour through statistics in banks to pick up irregularities in trends. Thanks to some inventive programmers, some banks are able to use bots or algorithms to sniff out trends for potential terrorists looking at indicators such as transactions, age, purchases, deposits and residential addresses coupled with other publicly available details to bring up a small list of suspects.
Using automated processes in factories can increase safety as well, as it removes the fault of human error in carelessness, tired workers, or newly introduced workers that are unfamiliar with safety and work processes. But it is here that the argument for artificial intelligence makes its stance. Should we innovate to keep ourselves safe? If so, wouldn’t that mean looking at the role doctors play and establishing the balance over safety vs human error as an argument for automation and artificial intelligence?
How automation and AI would help in the medical industry
Think about the following medical scenario: a surgeon is in the operating theatre in a stressful situation after they have worked for countless hours, in the process of decision-making they could refer to their Siri-like automated assistant to run through the highest possible options based on a database of prior cases and the patient’s vitals, statistics and circumstances. All of this would happen in an instant.
The population is divided on whether they want their diagnosis to be made by a doctor or by a machine. However, a plausible pro-AI argument is the removal of human error and cancelling out the possibility of a wrongful diagnosis.
If we were to develop AI to the point where programmers set in a distinct set of rules that governed the operation of the AI unit but did not stop it from pursuing its role there would have to be some type of rule to ensure no harm is made to a human. But in the case of doctors, if AI was to follow that rule it would phase out any medical treatment done by humans in a bid to wipe out such errors as wrongful diagnosis and mistreatment.
The risk of automation against jobs
Society has already seen a lot of jobs automated. When you look at a lot of the jobs that have been replaced, for most of them you would think to yourself did we really need that anyway? Just in case you hadn’t realised, we can look at our daily lives and see that there are some jobs that have been already automated such as train ticket sales, filing clerks, bridge toll collectors and some factory workers. But these are just machines driving on programs, they are not self-learning analysing programs.
For a lot of these jobs, the training was simple and you didn’t really need to get a degree for that. But white collar jobs are facing automation too. And this time, the robot placing them is much more intelligent than the ticket machine at the train station. Take investment automation for instance. There is a booming industry in automated investment services where software can adapt to market trends, analyse stocks, and out of a number of probable investments balance the risk of investment and possible reward.
But where white-collar workers in the financial sector are seeing replacements, coders, programmers and engineers are seeing a far more rapid expansion in their industry, so it’s not all bad news.
I have always been interested in what a robot or program could replace. If you think about it, there are multiple industries across the board where we are seeing technological advancements to the point of automation. For instance, jet pilots are flying alongside unmanned automated drones that are able to run on autopilot until taken over via remote host and the weapons that they carry run on automated trajectory patterns calculating external factors to isolate a strike. This is just an example from the theatre of war, but if we look further into defense and security there are a whole range of reasons why a form of artificial intelligence can result in the safety of a nation.
While the use of this technology helps us win wars and police our countries, is there a point when automated software blends with artificial intelligence to become self-aware? Quite possible in the next 20 years we might see such a step from highly intelligent automation to self-aware AI.
For the moment, it seems that as a corporate and technology-driven world, we are growing much closer to using AI in everyday lives. You can see this through the amount of jobs that will be automated in the next few years. For instance, here are the six industries that will see the most automation over the next 10 years in the United States. I compiled these with research made by the McKinsey Global Institute. Note, all of these have already started replacing jobs with machine processes:
Should there be more rules to govern AI and automation?
In 1942 author Isaac Asimov wrote the Three Laws of Robotics. This was completely for science fiction purposes to get those who loved his writings on a distant future where humans co-existed with robots who have a sense of presence, being and self-awareness. Essentially, they were artificially intelligent beings. His three rules that were used to govern robots (in his fictional stories) were:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
In his writings, Asimov showed how robots can break those laws. Now sure, this is far-fetched, even for now to be discussing these laws, and to be honest, I don’t think my carpet cleaning Roomba is going to be considering its own existence anytime soon. But there does need to be some rules around the use of automation and AI, and a potential on the cap of AI intelligence.
There is no need to look at things like Asimov just yet, for now, we need to be looking at what is already automated and are there laws governing that automation. For instance, drones have quite a large amount of autonomy in battle and are able to choose their own targets to attack. This is a lot different to a man who can be tried in a court with abiding laws, you can’t simply arrest and detain an intelligent drone system.
The same can be said for automation in privacy and the development of artificial intelligence. If you can develop an aware, adaptive program that speaks and communicates in binary code, in the space of a short tea break it can come back to you with every conversation taking place over phones and every private snapchat, photo, message and email being sent and by who and where they are. So who is in breach of the privacy there? The machine bot that found the information itself or the creators?
Those rules should also consist of a limit to a program’s intelligence and is something we need to be looking at now. It seems Facebook developers just hit this speed bump in AI recently after an AI engine created its own language that developers were not able to understand. This was also fascinating considering the language was being used between two AI chatbots. That’s right, your biggest social media platform had two of its bots talking in their own language.
If you were interested in how two bots communicate together, well, this is it. Make of it what you will:
What will be the impact of automation in the next five years?
It’s second-guessing, but from a logical standpoint, if there is a massive loss in jobs over the next five to 10 years, chances are there is going to be a very large financial crisis. The McKinsey Global Institute‘s research shows that automation will result in the replacement of almost 50% of all jobs, that’s not just in America, that’s on a global scale. That is a big impact on the world.
Without trying to sound like a doomsday prepper, with that sort of job loss there is no way that a financial economy could still thrive. Sure, companies will be able to automate processes, but to what end will they be able to sustain running while half of the world’s population has been replaced in their every day job?
You have probably seen the warning signs of automation causing a mass financial crisis before. I am a little bit more of a logical prepper when it comes to seeing the outlook for the next five years, but a where there is smoke, there is sure to be a fire. That smoke comes in the movements of Silicon Valley directors who have pre-packed their bags to head for the hills for when a financial crisis happens.
And why, of all people, would Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, elite and investors make backup plans? As we discussed in our post on the likelihood of automation causing a financial collapse we found that Silicon Valley professionals feared they would suffer a backlash from the unemployed. Some of the preparations already undertaken by the more public tech professionals are:
- Had eye surgery to improve his odds of survival in a man-made or natural disaster
- Owns a few motorbikes, guns, ammo and food.
- Said he would hold up in his house if the sh-t hit the fan
Facebook product manager Antonio Garcia Martinez
- Isolated five acres on an island in the Pacific North West
- Has stocked up on generators, solar panels and rounds of ammunition.
A member of an investment firm as quoted in the New Yorker:
- Has a helicopter on standby at all times
- And an underground bunker with an air-filtration system
Mayfield Fund managing director Tim Chang:
- Has bug-out bags for him, his wife and four-year-old child
- And stockpiles of real estate and havens to bug-out to
Marvin Liao, former Yahoo Executive
- Has caches of water and food in his house
- And has taken lessons in archery for self-defence purposes
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and member of the Trump Transition team:
- Became a New Zealand citizen in 2011
- And owns a mansion in Queenstown in New Zealand’s south which is stocked up to outlast a crisis.
While these are just a few names, LinkedIn co-founder and prominent venture capitalist Reid Hoffman has said more than 50% of Silicon Valley giants have bought “apocalypse insurance” to ensure their survival. Most of those backup plans were houses or bunkers in remote locations. And as we’ve seen, some are stockpiling food, water, weapons, ammo and are even learning self-defence methods.
What can you do?
There’s not much you can do if your employer decides it’s time for you to get out and be replaced by software or machines. That’s what happens. Fortunately, there are industries that are growing with the uprise in automation.
One thing you should be doing is learning more about how to operate in daily life as a digital individual. I have spoken about situational awareness before but this is more of a digital awareness. You should be tapping into how you use your smartphone, your ‘tap and go’ payments, and your computer, all to ensure that your digital information is safe. While it is an added benefit to some to have automation in banking systems and monitors, it also comes with risks as this means that large automated companies will have volumes of data that are hackable by those wanting to make a quick dollar on the dark web with your details.
I have no doubt that as industries are replaced, more likely criminals will enterprise through innovations to steal online identities and other data to sell in the booming industry of dark web marketplaces. With this in mind, it would pay to become more aware and more safe with your privacy.
Other steps a logical prepper would take to prepare for an oncoming automation takeover, and a financially tough decade, is to start diversifying your income with a second skill or side income stream. You are also able to move towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle and try and cut down on grocery costs and other living expenses.
Will AI and automation replace us? I don’t think so. I am currently on a farming homestead holiday this weekend. Yesterday I helped the owners pick apples which they would make their apple pies with and they make a living out of entertaining guests through cooking and hospitality. There are no automated roles in their jobs. For places like this, automation is not an issue. The more prevalent issues are foxes eating chickens or what winter crop grows the best.
For people in urban areas who might be affected by automation, this might be the solution. As time and technology advances, perhaps staying in the country, where the wifi is a little weaker, might not be so bad after all.
I hope you enjoyed this, make sure you sign up to my Sunday Six weekly newsletter for more on prepping, survival and self-sufficiency in this digital world.