Is A Bot After Your Job?

Image: Robin Williams in the Bicentennial Man

Yuval Noah Harari paints an interesting and arguably grim picture of the future, in his book Homo Deus. He runs through possible ways in which the world and we humans might evolve.

To give you a glimpse, think of computer programs evolving at the blistering pace they are. From predicting our needs to seamlessly trying to simplify our lives of seemingly increasing complexity. And on the other side, think of technology we have been able to integrate with our bodies in the last few decades. From pacemakers, to prosthesis that can be controlled by our brain by simply connecting them to our body or head. Yuval’s picture of the future includes super-humans and machines; either or both of which can make us humans, redundant. It does undoubtedly paint a bleak picture in some ways.

A few decades ago, we felt mankind was unstoppable. Even as we raced at a feverish pace, to advance biotechnology and communication technology.

An amusing incident comes to mind. Back in 2011, I was overseeing strategy and marketing for an industrial robotics company out of Pune. One day, I was having a casual conversation with a senior industry acquaintance. I inquired about automation at his company factories, and if he’d want us to help them. He shook his head and said, “sir, don’t think we’ll be needing anymore robots on our production line. Two years ago, we invested over INR 2 crore in robots. They’re catching dust (and possibly rust), as our factory workers won’t allow them to be installed on the line.”

Back then, I laughed it off as a temporary attempt by the workers to delay the inevitable. Today, in the backdrop of the world population, I finally see the workers’ perspective.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, the UK might lose 30% of its jobs to automation by early 2030s. Similarly, the 38% in the US, 35% in Germany 35%, and 21% in Japan. While the report says this loss will be offset by job gains elsewhere in the economy, I have serious doubts.

Till over a decade ago, one felt confident that creative jobs were safe from being wiped out by technology. Yet now, programs can compose captivating pieces of music, even create mesmerizing art! Back in 2009, Spanish researchers had developed ‘Inmamusys’, a program that could create music in response to emotions that arise in the listener. And robots have been employed in the food industry since quite some time.  Now, it’s tough to list even a few jobs that seem shielded from future robots being built to get them.

Rainbow Smoke‘ – made by an algorithm written by Hungarian programmer József Fejes in 2014

Looking at the pace of technology, only someone lacking imagination, could assume mankind will be unaffected by robots. But while humans push their abilities through newer boundaries in pursuit of their growing imagination and potential, one wonders, what happens once humans have created a higher being.

While the fate of the human race need not follow the plot of the Terminator series, what remains to be found out, is what the ever-growing population will do to stay relevant?

Look forward to your views. If you enjoyed reading this, do follow/ subscribe to my blog (top right) for topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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