Nov 2, 2020
As I write this article; I am thinking back to a time where I worked as an accountant for a small family business. My job was so simple that it can literally be fully automated with 200 dollars. But my boss didn’t know that, and I wasn’t about to tell him.
Me and my co-worker's job was simple, we issued sales invoices to trucker drivers who bought building materials from us. I would issue an invoice in Arabic and he would issue another in Hebrew. You see; that business was located exactly on the borders of one of the most troubled regions on earth, Israel & Palestine (you may have read about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in school). Our whole job consisted of filling out a small form that had only 3 empty fields, the first was for the 'truck driver's name', the second was for the 'serial number' of the truck itself, and finally the 'type of building material' that was loaded in the truck, The computer would fill out the rest automatically.
I think you can easily automate such a job if you were the owner of a similar business. All you need is a barcode scanner that can read the truck license, that card has the name of the truck driver & the truck’s serial number. All that is left is the type of building material the truck is loaded with, which can be added remotely by the person doing the loading itself. That barcode scanner along with a $100 software could have saved that business 2 full salaries instantly. Furthermore the automated process is much more accurate; and much faster.
Now you may be thinking “You idiot, why would that automation be a good thing. If that business have had automated the process, you and that other guy would have been out of a job”!!!!!!!!!
I have thought of that a lot during the past few years; actually it was a very hard time for me back then. I had been unemployed for 6 months & I applied for dozens of jobs before I got that job, all of whom rejected me with a standard “you are not a good fit” bullshit. But the counterintuitive fact is that when I was unemployed, I was much happier than when I was doing a mundane job that a trained monkey could have done easily. Before I got that job I was reading a lot of books and spending my time with people that really matter to me. 6 months into that job, I was constantly drained, not because the job was hard, but because I didn't feel important. I spent countless hours at that job watching reruns of 'Friends' to the point that I got so sick of that awesome show. I was doing a job that wasn’t meant to be done by humans, that job would be a perfect fit for a machine but would suck the life out of any human doing it. And humans suck at it anyways; no matter how thorough we are, we can’t avoid making money losing mistakes. We didn’t evolve to do repetitive work; we survived because we are innovative, because we are CURIOUS.
Neanderthals; the species that we 'homo-sapiens' out-survived was much stronger than we are. To them fighting a mammoth was possible -actually it was not a big deal . When our ancestors were chasing rabbits and rats, Neanderthals were hunting mamuths and bison. So why did we survive and they didn’t!!!!
We survived because of something that you will never guess, we were curious enough to try shellfish!! In fact, we were the only species that tried to eat them, which allowed our ancestors to survive the ice age in South Africa. Some studies shows that at one point of time, homosapiens were so close to extinction that the 10,000 people on the shores of South Africa were the only ones who survived. And it is a fact that the group of homosapiens that survived on the coast of south Africa back then escaped death because of shellfish, which no other species could eat, hence no competition over that food source.
We invented the long spear, a key weapon in the stone age that made us survive the hard winters. That spear was the first long-range weapon ever invented. Which allowed our ancestors to hunt from far without getting hurt. Although that the Neanderthals were able to cope with cold atmospheres due to million years living in north Europe, that small weapon gave us the advantage. The idea of that weapon was distributed to most Homosapien tribes due to our curiosity for anything new and unusual. That curiosity wasn’t as strong in Neanderthals , even though a few tribes of the Neanderthals came up with the same weapon, the long range throwing spear, it didn’t spread to other tribes*
As you see, our main advantage is our curiosity. And the ironic thing is that this curiosity is the main reason why we don’t kill ourselves right here right now. Most humans carry on living although they absolutely hate their life, why? Is it the love we have for our family and friends? Maybe. But it’s also that we are curious enough about what’s to come to wait it out, maybe just maybe life will surprise us!!
That curiosity will vanish when we do repetitive tasks for a long period of time. And once this curiosity is gone, so our hope and dreams. And with that our life will not be worth living anymore. For that exact reason I don’t feel that it’s a bad thing even if automation took all of our current jobs. Factories in the industrial age employed a quarter of the US population at the very least, but then the world changed and those factories started going away one after another. Still people didn’t die out because of the lack of jobs, they adapted to the new world. Because THAT IS WHAT WE DO, WE ADAPT. When we stand still, when we no longer need to move, we die little by little on the inside.
In the next 20 years, the fact is that all cars will be self driven. We no longer need to drive unless we feel like it. This means that millions of jobs will be lost. Millions of taxi & truck drivers will become jobless over night, but is that a bad thing? Not necessary, many taxi drivers own their own caps, they will have a lot more time on their hands with self-driven cars. Truck drivers on the other hand will become 100% jobless, their skills won’t really be relevant anymore, they will have to learn new skills that are relevant to the new reality, just like our grandparents learned the new skill of driving after horse carts became obsolete.
There is one thing that is different with the next wave of automation that is coming our way. It’s not just a stupid single minded machine that will take our jobs, but a new kind of innovation that can adapt and learn as much as we do –if not more.
Artificial intelligence is nothing like any previous invention mankind has come up with. Every single other thing we invented is PASSIVE whereas AI is not. Even computers and Smartphone’s which transformed our lives in ways we don’t even comprehend, and which will eventually merge with our body to make us more connected and much more informed. Even those are still a passive invention, meaning that it can’t do anything unless we tell it to do it. The most sophisticated line of code there is will not be able to do something that wasn’t written in the code lines and well-thought-of beforehand. A toaster won’t toast your bread without you pressing a button and your car engine won’t ignite without you getting in it. But AI is different, completely different!!!
You see, an artificially intelligent machine/software will not wait for a command of any sort to be issued for it to do a task. In fact, it doesn’t even have specific tasks to do. Just like us, we don’t have one single common goal that we must achieve; each of us can decide what our own purpose is, we can even decide that having a purpose is stupid and that life is too short for goals. Just like that; AI will not have a standard task/goal built within, it can decide what to do as well as how to do it. And that is huge……that means Ai can become an intelligent entity one day -if not already!!!
BUT SO WHAT, EVEN IF AI WAS SMART ENOUPH TO DO EVERY SINGLE JOB ON THE PLANET…..WILL WE BE ANY MORE MISERABLE??!!
Even if we were stupid enough to build a really smart AI and give it access to a huge database –for example Google’s, and then be careless enough to not teach it ethics –Aka value of life. It still won’t be as powerful as you might think. The universe is endlessly complicated, and no matter how many minds we have –Artificial or chemical, there will be stuff for new minds to think about and solve for. And as long as that is the case, power will never be monopolized by one entity/species.
And I doubt that we will be more miserable. The human brain as it stands right now is designed to bring more pain our way; it randomly shows us flashes of bad memories where there aren't any use for them, it keeps us worried all of the time just in case something bad happened. After all it evolved for a single reason; to allow us to survive, not to be happy!!!
Most likely AI will be a good thing for humanity; in the near future it will help us be more efficient and productive. In the long run, it might even help us to enhance our idiot mind so that we can be happier. But we can't be sure of anything here, after all; it’s the first time in our recorded history that we invented a tool that has a mind of its own.
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