Just off the phone with someone about our next issue, which will go to press within weeks and come out at the end of this month, and once again we’re talking robotics. Yesterday we looked in this news space at the apparently common belief that offshoring destroys jobs; the prevailing view unless you’re the president of the USA is that it’s not the cheaper people, it’s the pieces of software that are going to demolish a lot of occupations.
interviewee in question (who I won’t name until it’s published) has a different view. These robotic creatures aren’t your enemy or your slaves – they’re your new colleagues.
He highlights the idea of human intervention, training or supervision even when a robot has artificial intelligence and can do a bit of machine learning. The claims of the companies offering AI are along the lines of: you get 70-100 per cent accuracy with our technology.
Which is grand. But if you were about to undergo routine surgery and were told there was a 30 per cent chance of inaccuracy not only in the surgery itself but in the scheduling system, so the surgeon might not turn up, you’d hesitate.
Another interviewee (also in the issue) claims to be one of the biggest employers in the world. It’s just that many of his workers aren’t human, they’re chatbots and other software robots.
So have we reached a tipping point? Years ago I interviewed a computer hacker who called himself “Dark Tangent” (I know…) who was of the view, later expressed by more respectable academics, that computer viruses could reproduce and act of their own accord and should therefore be categorised as life forms.
I don’t buy that at all, mostly because I’m not a half-wit. But I do think we’re going to have to get used to the idea that a number of our colleagues aren’t human (fill in your choice of cheap joke about the people you work with or who run your country here). And that’s going to be weird.
Exclusive to the September issue: the editor gets off his backside and finds a different “robots” picture for these stories…