Thoughts on advancements in technology and the world of work

I’m going to take a departure from normal writings. A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with David D’Souza, and asked him to explain to me his thinking on where artificial intelligence is taking us, and the implications of this thinking. On a side note, if you’re not connected with the Head of London or read his blog, you should take the time to reconsider your life options.

Yesterday, I was at an LPI event where we were learning about digital transformation from some of the brains at Microsoft UK. There was lots of good content here which got me thinking about a whole range of stuff. Mostly, it got me thinking that where technology is advancing, we’re not ready for as people and the way it’s going to dramatically impact our lives.

We’re already facing this dilemma when it comes to AI and robotics. What tasks, jobs and skills will we be able to pass over to machines and never have to worry about them ever again?

We’re only a few years away from self-driving cars becoming mainstream. The tests are pretty conclusive that they are much safer than human control – and the few accidents that have happened, are a lower ratio to human error. Oh, and don’t worry about the morals and ethics of decision making – humans are just as bad at arriving at the right conclusions. Just take this Moral Machine test from the smart people at MIT and see how hard it is to decide who should die in a hypothetical situation. I’m warning you, your sense of morals will get messed with.

Over at the Tate Britain museum in London, they have an AI programme (Recognition) comparing photos from journalists with photos it has in its repository. It can get interrupted by human input and uses this to test if the comparisons it makes are smarter and meaningful in different ways.

In the world of technology, Foxconn (one of Apple’s main suppliers) announced they’re getting rid of 60,000 jobs all to be replaced with robotics.

And in policy, robots are going to be given ‘personhood‘ status, to make them accountable for their actions.

Change is happening now. And, it’s fundamentally challenging what it means to be human, where we add our value, how we define ourselves and what we choose to do in the world. If we accept that Asimov’s Laws¬†will protect the human race, and that there is a kill switch that can give us an added level of assurance against a robot uprising, then we’re suddenly thrust into a world where we have to produce new definitions of what it means to be human.

If all (and pretty much all jobs will go this way) jobs can be given to machine learning, robots, etc, then what are we left to do? What does human endeavour become about? What work do we then do? For many of us, work is a defining feature of who we are. If the work we thought we needed to do no longer needs us to do it, where do we expend our energy?

We’re not anywhere near ready for this kind of change, and we’re going to have to address these things far more purposefully. Finland are starting to experiment with universal basic income to start to understand how does this approach affect the human psyche? Do we become lazy and reliant on the state to provide for us? Do we use that income to help us develop new skills and become creators? Do we become more kind and compassionate towards others because the status of money has changed? Do we suffer mentally because we lose our sense of identity which we normally attach to work?

All those questions and more are at the heart of where this new world is taking us. I say we’re not ready, because there are too many institutions and practices that firmly entrench us in the need to have to work. We’re only just beginning to realise the purpose of emotions on our wellbeing, how our physical health needs to be improved, and how climate change needs to be tackled. We’re not ready for our work to be taken away from us and to have to contemplate the purpose of our existence. That’s normally what we expect philosophers and the likes to answer for us – but soon enough, we’re all going to need to have an opinion on what that looks like.

Some of that will be answered by our respective governments and what they provide for their people.

Religion only provides for how we can live well, it doesn’t provide answers for what we should do with our lives. That’s the beauty of human intelligence and the potential of what we’re here for – for us to determine these things and lead the way forwards.

And we’re definitely not ready for it when you have world leaders who are more worried about protecting their own interests rather than focusing on developing world defining character, purpose and collaborative efforts to raise the living standards of all.

It’s big stuff, right? And it should be too.

The debate will continue to evolve and be shaped by many different voices. I’m interested to hear yours.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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