Ever since The Terminator came out in 1984, people have been afraid of a robot takeover. No matter the level of rationality and logic you have, there’s always that looming fear in the back of your mind that robots could spell doom for humanity. Right now, the fear seems to be that robots will replace human workers and lead us into greater wage gaps and poverty rather than annihilation. With that said, how plausible is a future robot takeover – and are our jobs safe?
Based on a survey from Debate.org, 57% of people believe that a robot takeover is imminent. The responses of those surveyed cite the lack of need for humans when robots are optimized with AI. Or, on the other hand, they cite that robots and artificial intelligence were made by humans so they will always need human commands and control to function. The problem with the argument stating robots will always need commands and human control is that it already isn’t true. Sifting through the multitude of studies on the subject, Wired says it best when they say we won’t be programming computers, “we’ll train them like dogs.” The fact is that AI algorithms have already learned how to write code for themselves. We are currently using this technology to generate code for programs that would otherwise take years for humans to write. It’s not science fiction, it’s everyday life.
So, do generative AI programs mean doom for the human race? Well, maybe. Stephen Hawking fears that robots could take over in only 100 years. I guess that means we’re safe, but our grandchildren may face some adversity…
Hawking said “[a robot] would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” And he’s mostly right. AI algorithms can generate much faster than human thinking, that’s why we use them today to write code for us. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, also believes that AI is our biggest existential threat to our existence. Yikes.
Engaging further into a common thought experiment involved with Artificial intelligence, imagine a machine solely designed to create as many paperclips as possible. It is an AI machine programmed with the sole purpose: make as many paperclips as possible. Based on a study on the Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence by Nick Bostrom at Oxford University, even a machine as simple as this would want to take over the world. The argument states that this machine would want to take over the world so it had access to more resources to ultimately, make as many paperclips as possible. We’re doomed.
Okay, okay. So robots may soon wipe us off the face of the Earth but let’s talk about what we’re all REALLY concerned about – are they going to take our jobs? Researchers from Rice university say yes. And if you’re younger than 40 right now, it’s probably going to happen before you retire. Double yikes.
We’re nearing optimization criteria for AI programs as well as robotic capabilities. With that said, our robot overlords probably won’t look like humanoid terminators. It turns out that replicating human functionality in mechanical form is really hard. Boston Dynamics is getting close [see below] but actual implementation of such robots will conceivably be rather expensive.
What we will likely end up seeing is specifically designed bartender robots, weaponized robotic prison guards, or even robots and programs that can design structures and other machines. Generative algorithms will play a large part in the future AI takeover, and they are already being heavily used in product design. Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher is currently exploring full integration of generative design into CAD programs. The research team has most notably allowed their AI programs to fully optimize and design a chair based on a set of a few constraints, according to Wired.
It is important to note that current generative design programs do require human input, but machine learning will soon allow them to design fully on their own. It’s a scary future, particularly for me as an engineer, that offices full of engineers designing in cubicles may soon be replaced by a small computer designing buildings and structures fully on their own – and they don’t make mistakes. It’s a future that’s hard to imagine because it so greatly disrupts our current work environment. Facing the future robot takeover presents the same mindset people had when compact computers were first theorized in the 1970s. The general thought was “why would anyone need a computer in their own home?” and now, we can’t live life without them in our pockets.
At this point, you’re likely getting depressed about what the future holds for you, either as a manufacturing worker or all the way up to a engineering project manager. These potential robot takeover problems present themselves if technology continues to advance and societal structure stays the same. The thing is, society will [have to] change to adapt to robots and AI systems in the workforce.
The job you’re in right now probably isn’t safe, but then again, did you ever think it was? Look 30 years into the future, even without AI in the game, your job is already going to look drastically different than what you do now. Workflows will change, responsibilities will change, everything will change, that’s just a given. As jobs evolve and the workforce evolves, we adapt. When AI is brought into the picture to replace our current jobs, we will be forced to either legislate our way to economic security or face becoming obsolete. Being a human and all, I’m particularly in favor of the not becoming obsolete route.
If we allow AI to take over the world, robots will spell doom for the future of humanity. However, I will hold onto my belief that humans will actively acknowledge that AI may become a threat and set blocks in place to keep a takeover from happening. In fact, many are of the opinion that the robot takeover will spell a job boom, as long as we set in place a few guiding criteria for AI’s advance, according to Fortune.
Okay so we solved that issue, we will have a job in the future, but it probably won’t look like the same job we have right now. Wait, wait, wait… couldn’t someone who wanted to destroy the world release a malicious AI program that would autonomously corrupt every future robot worker and turn them against us? And could your grandmother opening that email from a deposed Saudi Prince set it all in motion? Yes. Triple Yikes.
For those of you old enough to be able to find this memory, let’s all curl back into our Y2K fears and lose all hope for the future of the world. Thanks technology.
Your reaction right now may be a little something like Kramer’s…
Okay, okay. Am I being a little bit of a catastrophist? Well, yes. But it could happen!… according to Gizmodo. The terrorists of the future could potentially release malicious AI programs to control all connected machines. This is bolstered by the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) making every machine accessible through a central hub. The New York Times reports even further on how big of a deal AI cyber attacks will become and even mentions that malware is becoming more automated as we speak.
If you’re reading this and trying to calm to your fears of one day being killed by your robotic IoT connected couch of the future that has been hijacked by a paperclip AI machine from Kentucky, I’m sorry. Since the world of artificial intelligence is one that will be generated by AI systems themselves, it is a little hard to anticipate how we will overcome the problems of the future – or even prevent a malicious AI takeover. The best answer I can give you is, humans are pretty smart. We’re good at doing things and stopping things from happening. And we’re probably going to be able to keep ourselves from getting destroyed by artificially intelligent robots. I like to compare our ability to stop a future robot takeover much to the same way we have stopped climate change, devastating oil spills, cyberattacks, world wars. See? We’re all going to be just fine.
Great, I feel pretty good about the conclusions I’ve found. My job as an engineer and a writer is safe. Apart from there being robots that can write articles now and engineering robots. I feel great. This is fine.