Back to whether automation will steal jobs that require intelligence (see also: Part I) one often senses a subtle undertone to the dialogue. It is not about whether machines will replace people as about whether there is a difference that makes any difference.
A powerful current in science today says our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth, meaning that our intelligence only helps spread our genes. So the idea that intelligence enables any contact with reality is a user illusion)
That approach is a recent development; it was not the view of many great physicists.
One way of describing the question is, is the universe bottom up or top down? Does it arise from random confluences of matter or is matter a product of information, created by intelligence? Most people decide how to interpret the evidence based on their existing commitments.
For example, in response to a New Republic magazine editor’s concerns over the iRobot culture that seemed to be engulfing society (he was fired by the new owner in consequence, prompting the departure of dozens of editors), one writer sneered,
It’s true that Wieseltier is a victim of the “disruption” he decries. The power of TNR’s owner, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, to kick him out of a magazine he helped define reflects the ascendant authority of Silicon Valley and the decay of a certain liberal intellectual elite. But the editor’s greater argument is a shallow one, driven by an old fear of change. As technology takes over the world, Wieseltier argues, humanity is “too singular for the Singularity. But are we becoming posthumanists?”
To which I might respond, what’s so bad about being post-humanist?
To which some of us respond, Well, what is so bad about being post-human?
There is lots to be said against the invasion of Silicon Valley culture and its inevitable two-tier society. But I will get into that another day. Just this for now: Winner-loser two-tier societies seldom make for peace, order, or good government because only one class has an interest in maintaining these benefits.
It’s no coincidence that middle-class incomes are falling at a time when complex production and logistics processes are running smoothly with minimal human oversight, and hi-tech companies with small staffs are conquering the world at the expense of companies that rely heavily on cumbersome and temperamental meat-based robots . . . excuse me, people.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee sketch a potential future in which corporate profits rise higher than ever and an elite of robot-owners grows phenomenally rich while the rest of us wonder what to do with our time or how to feed our families. You might say that’s a fair description of the present. They would say you ain’t seen nothing yet. They note that there is no iron (nor bronze) law of economics that says most people benefit from technological progress, even if that has been true to date. It is quite possible that, to adapt Keynes, in the long, long run we are all obsolete.
Actually, no. It is more likely that the Silicon Valley model will come to be seen as obsolete. Because, in the end, it is not about making those people rich and important. The world got on without them and will again.
As one robotics expert, observed, the likelihood of the Singularity (where robots replace humans) is greatly exaggerated:
There are so many aspects of human unpredictability that we don’t have a model for. When you watch a ballet or a dance or see a great athlete and realize the amazing abilities, you start to appreciate those things that are uniquely human. The ability to have an emotional response, to be compelling, to be able to pick up on subtle emotional signals from others, those are all things that we haven’t made any progress on with robots.
But we don’t need robots to do that anyway. We not only do that stuff ourselves, but we don’t mind. So, my best guess is, the reason automation won’t really end jobs that require intelligence is that—unlike automating chores and drudgery—there isn’t really a market for it. People don’t want jobs they enjoy to just end.
This vid addresses the problem of technology replacing white collar jobs (my guess is that most fungible jobs are white collar drudgery):
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.