Robot Apocalypse? Implications of AI, Automation and Robotics for society, education, work, and economics

The trends toward the adoption and spread of AI, automation and robotics continue to accelerate.

There are valid concerns about the impacts this will have on us.

The main concerns seem to break down into a few primary areas:

  • Robot Apocalypse
    • The fear of AI/Robots taking over mankind, harmfully.  The entertainment industry has had fun with playing on fear about this one, — think Terminator, The Matrix, etc.
    • Misuse of armed drones
    • Robot “malware” – robots and AI being used with harmful intent
  • Economic Impacts
    • Job loss and economic dislocations through the increasing automation of many existing jobs done by people
    • Big changes in how things are done, changing the definitions and needs in the workplace

We tend to think of these things as off in the future, but they have been with us already for some time

  • The effects of automation of work previously done by people (or by more people) has been true in many industries for decades.   It is just accelerating.
  • The smartphones carried by much of humanity today are more capable than the worlds best computers of a few decades ago, and are interconnected with other people, and with AI, across the planet.
  • We can already, if we choose, converse by voice with our phones, our homes, and our cars.
  • There is an explosion of increasingly-automated drones and vehicles — privately owned, commercial and military – land, air, water and in space.

On the apocalypse topic, Ray Kurzweil, author of “The Singularity is Near” and a founder of Singularity University, gave this short talk:.

  • How Do We Avoid a Robot Apocalypse?
  • My summary: we need to put controls in place, just like we did when we learned that fire can be a benefit or a disaster.
  • My observation:  I think that a key reason that Ray helped found Singularity University is to tip us toward wise use of the accelerating tech trends by educating future leaders and technologists to create benefit and to be aware of the risks.

The economic front is realistically probably the more challenging and pressing issue for most of us.

It seems that a new social contract is going to be needed as many existing jobs are automated, and as automation drives the cost of many things towards zero

  • Prosperity Sharing: How can the potential prosperity created by automation be justly shared, to create a prosperous society?
    • Part of this will be driven by the cost creating many things we use dropping toward zero
    • Many voices are now discussing the pros and cons of a guaranteed Basic Income, or “Mincome” (minimum income) or other ways of making prosperity universal.
    • Experiments in mincome have been promising – people don’t stop working, though some attention moves toward valuable but unpaid or underpaid work: raising children, eldercare, the arts, etc.
    • For-profit businesses, as structured today, are largely unable to solve this problem, so the solution will need to come from elsewhere – coops, NGOs, religions, or society in a more universal way.   Bringing about this change will be, at least initially, more about vision and belief than it is about legislation.
  • Education for the Future:  What is it that human beings are especially good at, and how do we educate for that?
    • Our existing educational paradigms are mostly training for the very things that AI and automation will obsolete:  memorization, existing particular skills.
    • More attention needs to be given to creativity, out of the box thinking, cooperative/collaborative skills, music and the arts.
    • New paradigms of how education will be delivered are emerging, many of them being based on self-directed learning and collaborative learning together with AI.
    • Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
– Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, Dec 1, 1862

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