AI is a far reaching concern that stretches much further than an immediate need for a better understanding of where ethics come from. It goes to the heart of economics as well. Automation has reduced the number of manual labourers, which has permitted highly skilled specialisations in medicine, science, engineering, philosophy, technology, politics and more automation.
It has seemed clear to many people for quite some time that the cerebral tasks of of human occupation will never succumb to the same fate as the manual labourer. However, this seems false. Progress in artificial intelligence is making very real in-roads into brain-labour tasks of the economy. Deep Blue may have been a highly specialised computer that could beat a human at chess, but that was a very simple iterative algorithm. Google’s Deepmind is a more complex learning algorithm that can learn multiple different tasks without pre-coding specific. And that program beats humans at the chess-on-steroids board game called ‘Go’. The rules are simpler, but the strategies are factorially more complex. And Deepmind learned to win, as opposed to being coded with an existing algorithm that was actually the direct product of a human mind.
Slightly less efficient bots that run off the same principles are already making it towards the market of home-help and industry. Natural language bots are already used to write some news articles―especially in the sports section―and if it can do that, how long before it can write that quarterly review, and then the management plan? There is no inherent reason it can’t.
But robots will make human unemployed before that progress is made. Automated baristas already exist, driverless taxis and long-haulage are already possible, very efficient medical diagnostic bots already exist, using the natural language of the patient.
Politically, now is a good time to start talking about how to deal with the massive automation revolution and following unemployment. We may say that we can no longer ‘afford’ public services, and basic survival. But, what does “afford” mean in this situation? If you sit and think about it, the vacuousness of money and finances is explicit in a world where 50% of people in developed countries are unemployed and there are no other jobs to be done: progress and productivity are still being achieved.
Even I―a democratic socialist―cannot justify 50% of the working age population supporting everyone. But, the answer seems to be that money is the problem. The answer seems to be a system without money. A techno-communism. Another answer might be for the government to run all trade to make the commodities to support the country (the Saudi Arabian oil model).
Another answer is to make these bots implantable bio-upgrades, lie to ourselves that the ‘human’ is doing the work and―obviously―price the poor out of the implant market, perpetuate the cycle of poverty and have all this end in disaster. That’s not just a blatant satire of Conservatives and Republicans, as well as a plot to a book (you’re welcome), but a stark warning about things we really need to watch for and talk about. Because, I’m just cynical enough to think politicians will aim at option B.