Nov 2, 2020
As I write this article; I am thinking back to a time where I worked as an accountant for a small family business. My job was so simple that it can literally be fully automated with 200 bucks, but my boss didn’t know that, and I wasn’t about to tell him.
Me and my college’s job was to issue sales invoices to truckers who buy building materials from us, I would issue the invoices in Arabic and he would issue it in Hebrew. You see; that business was located exactly on the borders of 2 countries, Israel & Palestine (you may have read about the Israeli-Palestinian situation in school). So 2 invoices in 2 different languages had to be issued for the truck driver to be able to make it all the way through the borders -which weren’t really borders, it was more like the road block cops set up.
Our whole jobs consisted of filling out a small form that had only 3 fields that needed us to fill out, the first was for the truck driver name, after that is serial number of the truck itself, then the type of building material he/she took –of course I never saw a female truck while working there, but I added the ‘She’ just in case there were a unicorn woman that is driving a truck somewhere. The computer would fill out automatically the weight of the building material that the truck was carrying –the street had a huge scale hidden under it that would measure the weight of the empty truck when it comes in, and when it comes out, then deduct those to come up with the weight of the load itself.
I think you can easily figure out how to automate suck a job if you were the owner of such a business. All you need is a barcode scanner that can read the truck license, that card has the name of the truck driver & the truck’s serial number. All that is left is the type of the building material the truck is loaded with, which can be added manually by the person doing the loading itself remotely. That barcode scanner along with a $200 software could have saved that family 2 full salaries that could have be used to take better care of their children instead of hiring 2 additional employees. Furthermore that process is much more accurate; because the people who load the building material can never mistake one expensive type with another cheaper one, but we accountants might.
Of course now you may be thinking “You idiot, why would that automation be a good thing. If that family was automating the process, they wouldn’t have hired you during a time were you wouldn’t have survived without a job”!!!!!!!!!
I have thought of that a lot during the past few years; actually it was a very hard time for me back then when I took that job. I had been unemployed for 6 months & I applied for dozens of jobs before I got that job, all of whom rejected me with a standard “you are not qualified for this job, we hope you succeed in your job hunt” email. But the counterintuitive fact is this:
When I was unemployed, I was much happier than when I was doing a mundane job that a trained monkey could have done. Before I got that job I was reading a lot of books and spending my time with people that really matter to me. 6 months into that job, I was constantly drained, not because the job was hard; in a busy day we would issue 70 invoices max, and the end of day statements took me half an hour to prepare. I spent countless hours at that job watching reruns of Friends that I got so sick of that show to a point where I can’t watch it anymore. I was doing a job that wasn’t meant to be done by humans, that job would be an perfect fit for a machine but would suck the live out of any human being doing it. And humans suck at it anyway, no matter how thorough we are, we can’t avoid making money losing mistakes. We didn’t evolve to do repetitive work; we survived because we are innovative, because we are CURIOUS.
Homo erectus, the species that we homosapiens out-survived was much stronger than we are. To them fighting a mammoth was possible, and not that of a big deal actually, they can survive a few hits would will kill us on the spot if it hit us, and they can last hours fighting or tracking an animals, whereas our ancestors were chasing rabbits and failing at it too. So why did we survive and they didn’t!!!!
In one word……Curiosity
We were curious enough to try shellfish; we were the only species that tried to eat them, which allowed our ancestors to survive the ice age in South Africa. Some studies show that at one point of time, homosapiens were so close to extinction that the 10,000 people on the shores of South Africa were the only ones who survived. And it is a fact that the group of homosapiens that survived on the coast of south Africa back then escaped death because of shellfish, which no other species could eat, hence no competition over that food source.
We invented the long spear, a key weapon in the Stone Age that made us survive the hard winters. That spear was the first long-range weapon ever, which allowed our ancestors to hurt from far without getting hurt. Although that homo-erectus were able to cope with cold atmospheres due to few million years living in north Europe, that small weapon had an affect on survival more than millions of years of evolution and superior genes and strength. The idea of that weapon was distributed to most homosapien tribes due to our curiosity for anything new and unusual. That curiosity wasn’t as strong in homo-erectious, ever though few tribes of the homoerectious came up with the same weapon, the long range throwing spear, it didn’t spread to other tribes*
As you see, our main advantage is our curiosity. And the ironic thing is that, this curiosity is the main reason why we don’t kill ourselves right here right now. Most humans carry on living although they absolutely hate their life, why? Is it the love we have for our family and friends? Maybe. But it’s also that we are curious enough about what’s to come to wait it out, maybe just maybe life will surprise us!!
That curiosity will vanish when we do repetitive tasks for a long period of time. And once this curiosity is gone, so our hope and dreams, and with that our life will not be worth living anymore. For that exact reason I don’t feel that it’s a bad thing even if automation took all of our current jobs. Factories in the industrial age employed a quarter of the US population at the very least, but then life changed yet again and those factories started going away one after another. Still people didn’t die out because of the lack of jobs, they adapted to the new world. Because THAT IS WHAT WE DO, we adapt. When we stand still, when we no longer need to adapt to anything new & interesting, we die little by little on the inside.
In the next 20 years, the fact is that all cars will be self driven. We no longer need to drive unless we feel like it. This means that millions of jobs will be lost. Millions of taxi & truck drivers will become jobless over night, but is that a bad thing?? Not necessary, many taxi drivers own their own caps, they will have a lot more time on their hand but not necessary no money. Truck drivers on the other hand will become 100% jobless, their skills won’t really be relevant anymore; they will have to learn new skills that are relevant to the new reality, just like our grand grandparents learned the new skill of driving after horse carts became obsolete.
There is one thing that is different with the next wave of automation that is coming our way; it’s not just a stupid single minded machine that will take our jobs, but a new kind that can adapt and learn as much as we do –if not more. Artificial intelligence is nothing like any previous invention mankind has come up with. Every single other thing we invented is PASSIVE whereas AI is not. Even computers and Smartphone’s which transformed our lives in ways we don’t even comprehend, and will eventually merge with our body to make us more connected and much more informed. Even those are still a passive invention, meaning that it can’t do anything unless we tell it to do it. The most sophisticated line of code there is will not be able to do something that wasn’t written in the code and well thought of beforehand. A toaster won’t toast your bread without you pressing a button and your car engine won’t ignite without you getting in it. But AI is different, completely different!!!
You see, an artificially intelligent machine/software will not wait for a command of any sort to be issued for it to do a task. In fact, in some cases it doesn’t even have specific tasks to do. Just like us, we don’t have one single common goal that we must achieve; each of us can decide what our own purpose is, we can even decide that having a purpose is stupid and that life is too short for goals. Just like that; AI will not have a standard task/goal to build within, it can decide what to do as well as how to do it. And that is huge……that means we might stop being relevant somewhere down the line!!!
BUT SO WHAT, EVEN IF AI WAS SMART ENOUPH TO DO EVERY SINGLE JOB ON THE PLANET…..WILL WE GO EXTINCT...…WILL WE BE ANY MORE MISERABLE??!!
I doubt that we will go extinct, even if we were stupid enough to build a really smart AI and give it access to a huge database –for example Google’s. And then be careless enough to not teach it ethics –Aka value of life. It won’t be as powerful as countless movies have made us to believe. The universe is endlessly complicated, and even no matter how many minds we have –Artificial or chemical, there will be stuff for new minds to think about and solve for. And as long as that is the case, power will never be monopolized by one entity/species, not for long at the very least.
And I doubt that we will be more miserable. The human brain at it is now is like it was made to inflict pain of us; it brings us flashes of bad memories when there isn’t any use for them, it keeps us worried all of the time just in case something bad happened to us. After all it evolved for a single reason; to allow us to survive, not to be happy!!!
Most likely AI will be a good thing for humanity; in the near future it will help us be more efficient and productive. In the long run, it might even help us solve big problems that face us such as cancer and our idiotic brain. After all; it’s the first time we invent a tool that has a mind of its own.