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The Robots are Coming To Take Your Job (Well, Maybe Just the Boring Parts)

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The fear-mongering part of the population will tell you that we are doomed, doomed! Robots can run and jump! Computers will take your job and you will be forced to live in a cardboard box with nothing but your iPhone for light and warmth. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved to the point where it is finally useful to humans, so why are we so afraid that the first thing that will happen during the eventual “rise of the machines” is they want to come for your job? In that event, they will probably be using us as batteries like in the sci-fi movie The Matrix, but if that happens, will you really care that much about your job?

The fact is, AI is not scary. It is a tool that you use already. You interact with a form of basic AI every day through your Facebook newsfeed, your Apple Maps driving directions, your Google online searches and even your romantic hookups. This AI is technically Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) and it has been around for years. What we are seeing the rise of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) which is also called Human-Level AI. We are about 10 to 15 years out for pure AGI, which will set the stage for Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) by 2060. ASI will supersede human intelligence. As ANI matures into AGI in the coming years, we will begin to see massive shifts on how work is done.

Throughout history, there has been those who warn that new technology is the harbinger of the apocalypse, or the end of society as we know it. Socrates famously warned against writing because it would “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories.” Similar fears abounded with the advent of the printing press, the telephone, radio, television, computers, the internet and now social media, AI, electric cars, and robots. If someone can invent it, it is nearly guaranteed we will find something to fear about it.

Every new technology since before the light bulb has altered how we work. And yes, jobs have been eliminated. But there are always those who see doom where others see opportunity. In fact, the new tech that makes the news doesn’t even scratch the surface of the work that is being done in secret rooms within Microsoft, Google and other companies big and small. Should we be scared? Perhaps, if your job requires repetitive actions or knowledge that can be easily automated by AI — or if you are one of those folks who uses the office microwave to reheat your fish dinner from last night.

The 1999 movie Office Space showed the basic office worker, a drone for a massive tech company, and what happens to him when he is hypnotized into no longer caring about his job. Not to spoil the plot — but, the movie is 20 years old — our intrepid office worker becomes the hero of the story. He takes off early, goes fishing in the middle of the day, falls in love with the equally miserable waitress at the local chain restaurant. In short, he lives his life. At one point he tells the efficiency experts contracted to evaluate the staff he basically only does about 45 minutes of real work every week. A true statement for many American office workers. But why is it that we are now working longer, in fact 47 hours a week on average (60-plus hours for those in the tech industry). Some of it is optics of course — no one wants to be seen leaving before the boss. If your boss is a workaholic, that can put a huge cramp in your work/life balance. You would think that with all the technological advances, we would be working way less than we are. With the advent of telecommuting and virtual offices, we should be hardly at an office at all. With AGI, it is possible that we could be at the office less, have less repetitive work and even enjoy life. AGI excels at repetitive tasks because it predicts future behavior based on past behavior. So say goodbye to those daily TPS reports.

But your hand-wringing and pleading look tells me that you are still afraid that your job will be relegated to the dustbin of history, like blacksmiths or phone operators (they still exist, by the way, just in way smaller numbers and more specialized roles). But in the era of efficiency, you are more likely to lose your job due to a company reorganization or because you are just a terrible person to be around than you are to lose it to AI, at least, initially.

What will happen is that jobs that require repetition, which are service and industrial jobs with a sprinkling of knowledge jobs, will be disrupted. But, we will see entire industries spring up to support these new technologies. We will see people scrambling to learn the latest skill — like how everyone seemingly is learning how to code today. What new skills? That remains to be seen as AI can and will be implemented in nearly every industry from farming to teaching to medicine and law. There were no automobile mechanics before there were cars. There were no telephone operators before the telephone.

There will be new jobs that will replace whatever crappy repetitive job you are so worried about. At the very least, the crappy repetitive tasks in your job could go away. So, maybe you can take the rest of the day off and go fishing.