Robots have been promised since the 19th century when the Steam Men of the Prairies ruled our imagination in dime novels and penny dreadfuls. Even in the 1920’s, science fiction authors could foresee flying cars, interplanetary travel and time travel. They were so sure of mechanical life that the word ‘robot’ was coined in Karel Kapek’s 1920 stage play, “R.U.R.” or Rossum’s Universal Robots. The robots are coming, but will it be a good or a bad thing? I guess it will depend on who is looking into the future.
Five million jobs will be lost by 2020 according to some business prognosticators. Humans will be replaced by robots who can do the job better and safer. What will happen to the workers without a job? Some say they will become part of the ever widening gap between the poor and the rich. Others believe they can become a part of the new leisure class. The important factor will be where the new wealth goes. If the few rich hang on to all of their profits, the working class will become the poor class. If they agree or are forced to share the wealth, the displaced workers will survive on the shared wealth and enjoy a life of leisure. If the choices are a bleak dystopian state of the world or forced socialism, I may want to look for a third option.
If we are not careful, we may lose the most common power holding our society together. After 2020, it may be the start of creating such a large class of poor that we may lose our consumers. At least enough to keep the upper 1 percent afloat. It could lead to the crumble of society. No pressure guys.
It was predicted almost 90 years ago that by 2028, we would have no need to worry about income or earning a living. It would be like Star Trek where anything you desire would be made free. But, is free time the best thing to hand out to everyone? I’m sure everyone likes the idea of sipping ice cold tea on a beach somewhere but how long will that last? It is most likely we will become what we already are: a consumer. An automated person with an automated life automatically spending free money on anything he or she wants. Sounds like Utopia?
By 2029, it is expected by some that robots or an electronic brain will be able to think on a human level. About the only advantages we humans will retain are our dexterity and balance skills. All of this will still be an asset to us as long as the robot does not gain our awareness. After all, we humans have proved for generations that worker-slaves work very happy as long as we don’t realize we are worker-slaves. Hence, the transference to the consumer way of thinking.
Artificial intelligence can already simulate our intelligence but how much longer before it becomes self-aware and discovers the real thing? This is attributed to our cognitive skills. We know we are alive because we are aware of being alive. (“I think, therefore, I am.”) Ray Kurzwall has predicted that desktop computers will be able to think on the same level as a human by 2029. But, the important step is thought to be arriving around 2045. That is an event called “The Singularity.” That will be the singular point in time when machines have self-replicated their own software by improving how they think allowing them to become greater than the human mind. Some call it the end of civilization. A more accurate way of looking at it might be the end of human superiority.
By then, we humans will have gone from trying to be “God” by creating our own mechanical Frankensteins to creating our “new gods” to replace what we already have. Isn’t that a cheery thought?