The recent news story about robots developing their own private language claimed alarmed Facebook researchers had to pull the plug on their experiment. The story turned out to be not quite true. The study’s lead author Michael Lewis told Snopes.com:
‘There was no panic and the project hasn’t been shut down. Our goal was to build bots that could communicate with people. In some initial experiments, we found that they weren’t using English words as people do – so we stopped those experiments and used some additional techniques to get the bots to work as we wanted.’
But the story brought back to my mind an interview I did with Jerry Kaplan in 2015 about the real impact of AI on jobs and the whole structure of the economy. Jerry Kaplan is a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and a pioneer in tablet computing. At Stanford he teaches ethics and the impact of artificial intelligence. His book, Humans Need not Apply (Yale University Press, 2015) – an Economist book of the year – looks at some of the profound changes technology is already bringing to our working lives, whether we are delivery drivers, doctors or lawyers. Automation, Jerry writes, is blind to the colour of your collar.
Will humanity become roadkill on the information superhighway, Jerry asks, or can the human ingenuity that devised AI systems find ways to tame its disbenefits? And even if we succeed in the latter, will the transition be “protracted and brutal”? Listen to the podcast to hear Jerry’s thoughts on the very near future in which machines “will get the job done more quickly, accurately and at a lower cost than you possibly can”.
Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence is available from Yale University Press. There’s more information on their website here.