Sky News continued it’s series on Robotics today and I did take it more seriously than yesterdays effort. Today they concentrated on Robots doing the work of humans and the fear of losing jobs to robots.
We are all familiar with images of Robots on production lines but the report showed two Robots that did much more complicated work. One was a robot Surgeon I had seen before. A Surgeon controls it by manipulating one single set of controls with his hands and the Robot deals with all other aspects of the operation that would normally be performed by nurses. I am not sure if an anaesthetist is required but it was shown with the Surgeon working totally alone. Straight away this raises fears of job losses bearing in mind the people normally required in an operating theatre.
The second was unexpected. It was a Robot Chef. I can’t see Jamie Oliver being pleased, and with that Job normally being seen as creative and therefore firmly in the realm of Human activities. At the moment it would probably be more for commercial kitchens but in the future it was envisaged that these could be installed in homes. It’s not such a stretch of the imagination. Who could have predicted that I would have 10-15 devices in my home controlled by computers when I was born in the 60’s, and that I would be writing something which could potentially be read by anyone in the world? I can’t help thinking that RoboChef would, with the right programming, produce high quality food and a larger variety of dishes far more consistently than a human. So that’s the Chefs unemployed.
Fifty yards from my home is a Pharmacy which has a Robotic system for picking the Medications from a sealed room. It deals with ordering, stock control and in it’s spare time performs housekeeping tasks such as moving the medications which are in greatest demand into a single area. A Pharmacist is still nominally in charge but what if you add a scanner to read the prescriptions?
There is a professor who has actually inserted computer chips into his nervous system and claims to have found a computer which passed the Turing test. See this link for details.
He was asked by Sky for his view on the Robots taking over human jobs. Roughly speaking he said that we should let the technology handle the work while we enjoy life. More surprisingly he advocated a total revolution in our lives. He asked why we work. It is an old argument, work to live, live to work. One can only assume he is, rather naively I feel, saying that we can have a socialist or communist society based on the work being done by Robots who provide all the food, material goods and accommodation we require. This is fine but we have always been competitive creatures who love to feel superior to others, who measure this superiority in terms of property and who are sometimes greedy. It would be a great man who could persuade us to let these traits go and live with only what we need.
Interestingly this has been dealt with by that font of all things futuristic, Star Trek. In this case it was the film First Contact. Picard Explains to a dweller in his past that they work for the betterment of Mankind and themselves and not for money or glory. However, being a captain of a star ship means he has more prestige and slightly better quarters. Presumably the Admiral has slightly better quarters than him.
Again, I feel this is a very naïve idea given that we have had centuries of competitiveness and greed, not to mention snobbery, built into us. If we are willing to go to war over these things I can’t see it happening anytime soon. Nevertheless it could happen.
One other idea was that we could find areas to work in that we had not even seen a need for yet. I am not sure but I think it was in ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ By the late great Douglas Adams that he advised the prospective Hiker to get a job counselling depressed Robots. Imagine telling a suicidal RoboChef that it’s life is really worthwhile before it burns out it’s microcomputer. How about counselling a woman who has been cheated on by her robotic partner. Counsellors could really clean up by talking to technophobes in a world of machines. Apart form the counselling thing though I can’t think of anything else, any ideas?