Do artificial intelligence and robotics pose a threat to jobs and the very existence of humanity? Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk issue a warning.
Intelligent machines taking over the world. Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warn of the threat to humans. Not just to our jobs, but also to our very existence.
Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne.
Could artificial intelligence pose a serious risk to the future of the human race?
It’s the stuff of science fiction. Hollywood has been making movies about robots challenging our supremacy for a long time.
The cyborg in ‘Terminator’.
The robots in ‘I, Robot’.
CLIP - ‘I, Robot’.
‘Dr Lanning suggested robots might naturally evolve. .’
The androids in ‘Blade Runner’.
CLIP - ‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’.
‘Every civilisation was built off the back of a disposable workforce. Shhh.’
Now, leading figures from the world of science and business are warning real-life might soon replicate art.
Tesla and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk is particularly concerned about the threat to employment posed by the mechanization of many roles. He asks: “What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human].”
This view is echoed by Deutsche Bank CEO, John Cryan who told the Financial Times: "In our banks we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things, tomorrow we're going to have robots behaving like people.”
But these warnings do not convince many politicians, who are mesmerised by the white heat of technology.
The UK government has an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, designed to pick winners and invest £93 million of taxpayers’ money in robotics and artificial intelligence projects.
Look. Ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press, somebody somewhere has been inventing something that can change the world. There’s nothing we can do or should do to stop technological progress.
But Government does need to think more about the human cost. Its current thinking is new jobs will be created to replace the old ones, so all you need to do is learn computer skills.
Well, that might be true for some people, but the logic of progress is fewer jobs will be needed overall.
Microsoft founder, Bill Gates proposed government start taxing robot workers in the same way as it taxes human workers. He told Quartz website: “[If a] human worker does $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed… If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.
But that advice has been rejected by the European Commissioner for the digital economy, who said flatly: “no way”.
The jobs most at risk are ones that are relatively low skilled or repetitive… virtually everyone involved in warehousing, transportation and delivery of goods.
For example, Amazon has successfully trialled Amazon Prime Air, an automated process of picking orders at the warehouse and using autonomous drones to deliver the item to your home.
The British government has enthusiastically embraced trials for Google’s self-driving cars… and Volvo’s driverless delivery trucks… ignoring warnings about cyber criminals hacking into these vehicles and deliberately causing crashes.
And the intelligence community is worried it’s just a matter of time before terrorists use Amazon-like commercial drones to deliver bombs into heavily populated city centres.
But the most serious warning is not about jobs or terrorism, but the very existence of the humanity.
SOUNDBITE: PROFESSOR STEPHEN HAWKING. “Don’t let others decide your future.”
Physicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."
He points out human development is limited by the speed of biological evolution, whereas machine learning could be at an exponential rate.
CLIP: TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. “The life you know. All the stuff you take for granted. It’s not going to last.” This was the idea envisaged by the ‘Terminator’ movies, where computers that contol the defence system decided to nuke the world and enslave any remaining humans.
Yes, artificial intelligence does pose an existential threat to mankind… as do nuclear and biological weapons.
But we cannot legislate to stop scientists dreaming up new technologies. So, if the ‘Terminator’ shows one possible future for humanity, we can take heart from one line in that movie - “there’s no fate but what we make.”
I’m Leon Hawthorne. And I’ll be back.