We all know that artificial intelligence is going to rule the world one day – according to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking at least. But even if you don’t believe that our future is as dire as humans bowing down to our android overlords, we can agree that at some point we’ll all lose our jobs to A.I.
As an actor and television host, I assume that my comeuppance in a job apocalypse will be at its end. I will be one of the last holdouts of employed humanity as robots eat up all other jobs. To be fair, A.I. isn’t really eating up jobs of the future. It’s gobbling them up right now!
Humans have been losing jobs to automation since the 1990s. Robotics can easily replace our most repetitive work, but increasingly we’re seeing more complex jobs being automated as well. An example of this: Amazon’s cashier-less stores.
Customers buy what they want with their Amazon account, while a combination of sensors and software analyses what you’ve got in your cart, and you get charged as soon as you exit the shop.
Amazon Go stores are looking to open 3,000 more outlets by 2021. The days of the bored, gum-chewing, slow-to-give-you-your-change cashier are numbered. Presumably someday, they could even add a deterrent of bulky security robots to automate a light beating if you try to shoplift.
But I get ahead of myself.
Now think about driver-less cars. Auto manufacturers are working hard at building machine learning, so they can create a truly safe driver-less car. These cars are already being tested all around the world.
But when will they show up? Car companies seem set for the year 2020 up to 2025. Renault-Nissan says: autonomous cars by 2020, truly driver-less by 2025. Toyota says: self-driving on highways by 2020. Hyundai: highways by 2020, urban areas by 2030.
So, it’s not just cashiers going extinct. Bundle them up with taxi drivers and truckers too. And telemarketers? Gone. It’s estimated that 99% of this industry will face future automation.
Once upon a time, A.I. and automation were restricted to repetitive jobs, having faced a difficult time with more creative realms. This was when my smugness set in. As a TV personality and presenter, I was safe.
Not now. Not after the breaking news of the virtual TV news anchor from China. In case you missed it, Xinhua news agency released a video of an A.I. presenter modelled after a real-life news anchor in looks and speech pattern, and that can be programmed to say anything.
Xinhua gushed over their new star, saying, “It can work 24 hours a day, reduce news production costs and improve efficiency.” It sure can, because a human being under those conditions would end up dead.
See, humans are pesky like that. We tend to die when severely overworked. As for efficiency, it’s certainly more efficient when you only have to buy the software once and never pay for it again. Plus, your A.I. news avatar can rattle off whatever you want from here to eternity.
Critics of the future of news programming complained that Xinhua’s new employee was flat, boring and monotonous. That it didn’t have the decision-making capability of a real person, or a sincere human touch to cultivate an emotional connection with the audience.
Well, this is just the start. Yes, Xinhua’s guy may be exciting as cardboard right now, but it’ll soon get spruced up by advanced A.I. using machine learning techniques, forcing the bot to watch thousands of hours of Clooney, Cruise and McConaughey movies, until he’s as charming as if they all had a kid together.
My second point is: in a world where we’ll be driven around by robots, shop at stores manned by robots, and hassled by never-ending robot telemarketers, are we even going to notice one extra robot droning on about politics, entertainment or the weather? Probably not.
So that’s it. My job is no longer in the safe zone. The advance A.I. is coming to break the news and make us all unemployable. You better start hoping for a universal basic income as well, because unless you’re the one developing the A.I., you’re out of a job too.