In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9
Amelia has blue eyes and blond hair. You might have spoken to her on the phone. She is smart: she speaks 20 languages and handle thousands of phone calls simultaneously. Amelia works for insurance and telecom providers, healthcare firms and 20 of the world’s largest banks and handles customer-service calls.
She is part of a world called “globotics.”. She is a version of a white-collar robot, a part of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). She is designed to replace humans.
Amelia might not be as good as a human, but she is cheaper and never complains – she doesn’t get a salary or need medical coverage, child care or even a vacation. And she doesn’t get sick. Nor does she pay taxes or fund welfare programs like Social Security.
Until recently, robots didn’t have human cognitive capability. Computers couldn’t think so the edge went to humans. No more. A form of A.I. has created computers with skills at reading, writing and speaking and even the ability to recognize subtle patterns such as cues on the emotional state of the person she is talking to.
Amelia isn’t alone. Her counterpart at Bank of America is Erica. Capital One Bank has one called Eno. If Amelia can’t answer a question, she will refer you to a real human and then listen in on the conversation so that she might be able to answer it the next time the question is asked.
Amelia has friends in the journalism industry, too. They are named Cyborg, Bertie and Heliograph. They work for the Washington Post, Forbes, AP (Associated Press) and Bloomberg. One third of Bloomberg’s financial articles are written by Cyborg using A.I. technology.
Scientists have gotten to the point they can create a robot brain that has its own self-awareness. Think of a baby in a crib that is figuring out its surroundings and what he can do/not do. Now robots can do it by themselves instead of being programmed by a human.
DARPA (the Pentagon agency in charge of emerging technologies) is studying insect brains (no, that’s not a misprint) because they are miniaturized yet have the ability to have a “consciousness.” They consider it to be the first step to training neural networks. Who knew that bugs are the next step in A.I.?
A caution is raised in creating a self-aware robot: “It’s a powerful technology, but it should be handled with care.” Essentially, robots are taught to think about thinking without being programmed.
Wrapping your head around these advances is a little hard, even for my friend, Ralph Ennis. A futurist, he has been very concerned about the dangers of creating a thinking level of A.I. without building in a moral compass or biblical worldview. I agree with him.
I used to think that mostly blue-collar jobs would be impacted by robots: those with a high degree of repetitiveness which didn’t involve a lot of mental heavy lifting. Think of jobs such as someone taking orders at a fast-food restaurant.
I recently wrote in Humanics that new jobs competing with robots in the new economy will involve doing things only humans can do. Now, I’m not so sure, because the more “human” capabilities that are being invented, the more jobs that might be made irrelevant.
Professions like medicine, accounting and even law will be impacted. Ralph thinks the medicine may be most affected, particularly in the area of diagnosis.
There are wide estimates of what the impact A.I will have on human jobs. Estimates range from 7% loss of all jobs to 1 in 5 jobs 2030. Some technology futurists go farther and predict robots will outstrip mankind in 50 years.
While A.I. may not take over journalists or editors jobs yet, one CEO familiar with technology, Marc Zionts, advised his daughter, a journalist, to get acquainted with the latest technology:
“If you are a non-learning, non-adaptive person — I don’t care what business you’re in — you will have a challenging career.”
Many jobs today that are considered so human as to be “safe” may not be that way tomorrow. I believe Zionts advice is sound for the next generation.
The challenge is that A.I. technology is here to stay. It may be disruptive to our culture and society. The next generation needs to stay on top of it and adjust the course of their careers to the changes.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Mentors need to encourage the next generation to continue learning about A.I. technology and be willing to adapt to resulting changes.
FURTHER READING: Teaching Empathy to Machines in WSJ.
DARPA wants to Turn Insect Brains Into Robot Brainsin Popular Science
Creating a Self-Aware Robot TechExplore.
NY Times: The Rise of the Robot Reporter
WORSHIP: Listen to Christ Tomlin sing: I Stand Amazed (How Marvelous)
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