Employment and living with AI

When it comes to artificial intelligence, there are many people who believe that the introduction of artificial intelligence and robots could lead to a  dystopian world similar to that portrayed in “Terminator Salvation” (p.s. Terminator Salvation is a terrible film), where robots have enslaved humanity. Whilst not entirely implausible, the threat of unemployment is a much greater moral concern  surrounding unemployment, with the World Economic Forum  suggesting that as many as 5 million jobs, from 15 developed and emerging economies could be lost by 2020 (Brinded, 2016). In fact, many people are already starting to lose their jobs to machines with self-serve checkouts being a major example of the way machines have been able to do a job, previously undertaken by human employees, but with greater efficiency and lower cost.  However, I am more focused on investigating the threat posed by human-like robots, rather than machines in general. Why? Because that’s what society imagines when you mention artificial intelligence. They imagine machines that replicate our human bodies.


In countries such as Japan, many more jobs are now being done by robots. In fact, there is a theme park in Nagasaki, Japan that is about open a “robot kingdom” section where over 200  robots will work as bartenders, chefs, luggage carriers and more.(Niinuma, 2016).  At the 2016 Milken Institute’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, many of the guests confirmed that robots are slowly becoming employed by various companies, at the expense of us humans (Japan Today, 2016). The idea of robots or sentient beings in relation to the workforce, leads to a greater moral question: Could humans and robots co-exist peacefully?

In his book ‘Digital Soul: Intelligent Machines and Human Values ‘, Thomas M. Georges hypothesizes how the introduction of sentient beings in society might be received by humans. Georges states that “learning to live with superintelligent machines will require us to rethink our concept of ourselves and our place in the scheme of things” (Georges 2003, pg. 181). This statement raises many philosophical questions, which I will explore in my next blog post alongside an in-depth look at the 2015 film ‘Ex-Machina’. Georges’ statement does, however, imply that unsurprisingly living with robots would cause some conflict and would not be a smooth transition for humans. Having said that, many will say that we are already living amongst various forms of “weak” AI such as Siri or Cotana, smart home devices and the somewhat annoying purchase prediction. However, these are forms of “weak” AI and we are still a long way away from a society where humans co-exist  with sentient beings. All we can do, for now, is worry and imagine.


Brinded, L 2016, “WEF: Robots, automation and AI will replace 5 million human jobs by 2020”, Business Insider Australia, viewed 4th May 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com.au/wef-davos-report-on-robots-replacing-human-jobs-2016-1?r=UK&IR=T

Georges, T. M. 2003, Digital soul: intelligent machines and human values. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

N/A 2016, “Rich and powerful warn robots are coming for your jobs.”, Japan Today  Viewed May 5, 2016, http://www.japantoday.com/category/technology/view/rich-and-powerful-warn-robots-are-coming-for-your-jobs

Niinuma, O 2016, “Theme park’s ‘robot kingdom’ seeks to upend Japan’s service industry”, Nikkei Asian Review, viewed May 5 2016, http://asia.nikkei.com/Tech-Science/Tech/Theme-park-s-robot-kingdom-seeks-to-upend-Japan-s-service-industry?utm_source=fark&utm_medium=website&utm_content=link


6 thoughts on “Employment and living with AI”

  1. Not to keen to live in a terminator-esq AI world to be honest! All these academics you’re quoting have valid points that the integration of AI in our society would take some time for us to understand and manage, and we’d have to re-evaluate what it means to be human. As bad as a movie that it is, it reminds me of Jupiter Ascending, that the idea of being human would change to something along the lines of “being a god of the universe”.


  2. What we’re observing is the uptake of service-robots, not necessarily just “machines” as you point out. I’ve understood that your interest is examining the conflict that arises when we depict service-robots as humanoids.
    It’s arguable that the idealised progression of robots in fiction to depict humanoid characteristics is a form of enacting and reaffirming convergent evolution. Simon Conway Morris (in 2005, Life’s solution: inevitable humans in a lonely universe), states there is an “optimum” body plan that life will inevitably evolve toward. This is the concept of convergent evolution, that the humanoid form is revered as the optimum body. However the depiction of robots as humanoids brings to mind the mythos of the “human disguise”: humanoid “creatures” are using deception as a means to blend in with people.
    The common trope I can interpret is that the depiction of robots as humans conveys intelligence and therefore they’re potentially a threat. There seems to be an uncomfortable narcissism that’s reflected through robots, that solely “learning to live with” equally intelligent “machines will require us to rethink our concept of ourselves”.
    It’s an intriguing topic, Max. Perhaps the exploration of scifi texts which present this narrative, could/have inform/ed the development of robot designs today. Whereby, depicting robots without humanoid characteristics could improve our projected co-existence.


  3. Automate, Emigrate, Evaporate. That was the slogan used in the US when during the late 1980’s when Japan was dominating the robotics field. Old style industries are not viable and not efficient enough as population grows and yes its happened at our expense.

    Moravec , in a symposium explained that the shift to technology was vital because producers and companies couldnt keep up with demand and when you are in a competitive market if you arent meeting demand someone else will. For them it was more efficient to use tech rather than pay each and every person a wage. They didnt need any special requirements like lunch breaks but I mean is that what we are all about.

    In terms of Job opportunities i believe that Robots will dominate the mainstream industry only those who can afford to purhcase and keep them running. Put in the scheme of things, many people will be broke. Is it really a good thing,

    However we do have something they dont. We have our unique senses which they cant but that also doesnt mean everyones going to become a professional smeller or a baker. You should really watch “Humans need not apply”
    Its on youtube and i think it would really help you with your research because it hits it on the nail what youre discussing now.

    In terms of would we learn to live peacefully , yes i think we can , i mean for now as Harraway states in Cyborg manifesto “They dont have an attraction to organic wholeness” and i quote it alot but it holds its weight. We cant get along and were all humans but we have different motives.
    What motive would a robot need,it cant eat so doesnt need food. it cant reproduce so it wont steal your man or woman ,
    it cant buy anything of use to it so doesnt need money.
    I dont see why we cant live together peacefully. But in terms of jobs we are slowly becoming obsolete i think the introduction of robots in massess would cull down population of major countries severely. With the worlds top 1% able to survive without making a buck im thinking that it would a luxury only they will be able to experience.
    Not us ,,,


  4. While it’s true that machines can be used efficiently instead of human labour, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take over the world like Skynet (at least… they can’t, yet). While there *are* less humans at the registers in Coles, this serves to lessen the need for manual human labour in the future, allowing humanity to reach new heights on the shoulders of our mechanical “companions.” Because we don’t all need to be farmers to survive, we can go to university instead. Well, I suppose that’s pretty idealist, and if the machines were sentient AI there would be a whole host of new ethical questions. But my point is, robots don’t need to “take our jobs” – they can enhance them instead. (Check this out: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2985100/robotics/instead-of-robots-taking-jobs-ai-may-help-humans-do-their-jobs-better.html) Again, unless they’re fully functioning, thinking, and feelings beings. It would be tough to keep a society running smoothly without issues of unfair subjugation, discrimination, and labour exploitation.


  5. It seems as if part of your discussion on the loss of ‘human’ jobs to AIs should involve not only a dystopian view of the losses that will happen as part of further robot integration into our workforce, but also a utopian discussion of what has and might be better for humans in this situation. I remember listening to several Casey Neistat vlogs (https://www.youtube.com/user/caseyneistat/videos) where he is incredibly appreciative of certain situations where a robot or self-service system is in place because a human makes the process less efficient and instead of a human performing repetitive actions which probably make them depressed or bored, we can instead further emphasise situations where humans excel or are very much needed. Examples of this include experiences that are unique to human relations in their value, such as those that require creativity, human touch, communication, innovation, event planning and leisure experiences. One of the greatest opportunities in this situation would be that humans don’t have to be abused, exploited and used to make cheap products and are instead employed in caregiver, pleasure, health, and creative industries (http://www.fastcompany.com/3049079/the-future-of-work/robots-might-take-your-job-but-heres-why-you-shouldnt-worry).


  6. So my housemates clogged up our sink and my landlord came over with a plunger and fixed it because she didn’t want to hire a plumber. She then offered to get a cleaner to come through for $30 an hour. I thought to myself, there is no way I am plunging that sink for free – I rather pay someone else to do it. Having a robot cleaner on the other hand… the robot could be programmed to *enjoy* cleaning for free! Now you have a few problems: that poor cleaner is out of a job and is it ethical to program a robot to enjoy a menial task humans would rather not do? I don’t have any answers but I’m totally engaging with your post and applying it to a contemporary and relatable example.


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