There’s been a lot of talk about robots replacing people, lately. Here’s an example of the genre:
Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have both issued grave warnings about Artificial Intelligence killing off humanity and out-evolving us, and their arguments are right, to a degree, but they’re premature. In any case, what is the purpose behind publishing these stories? Is it to passivate us, so that we acquiesce, while jobs are taken by machines? Is it meant to make us feel worthless and doomed? Are we supposed to accept the considerable disbenefits of replacing humans with robots, without question? What’s behind this story? Why publish it and more importantly, why publish it now?
The business elites would love 75% unemployment as justification that these displaced and replaced (and they would say “replaceable”) people, who no longer have an opportunity contribute to the economy, are expendable lives, which should be terminated. You can almost imagine them ejaculating into their pants about it. They love the idea of ruling, of having all their material needs met by machines and of subjugating the rump of humanity to their manipulative whims.
It’s the old Mechanical Turk ruse, though. The Mechanical Turk was a fraud http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Turk . It was am eighteenth century, fake, chess-playing automaton, that supposedly played chess mechanically, but in reality, there was a human being hidden behind the scenes, making the decisions. To the casual observer, they were supposed to be fooled into believing a machine was capable of intelligence, but it was nothing of the sort. Today’s talk of artificial intelligence is rather in much the same vein, only this time, programmers are behind the scenes, hoping they’ve written down enough rules to cater for every contingency in advance, to maintain the deception. Artificial intelligence isn’t going to happen any time soon, nor should it. It’s an elaborate, illusory hoax.
A video appeared on my timeline, the other day. It was a video of a mechanical cherry picker. This machine rolled up to a cherry tree, put a tarpaulin skirt around the base of the tree and then proceeded to shake the tree violently, until all the berries fell into the tarpaulin catcher. These berries were then transported, by conveyor belt, into a collecting hopper. The whole operation took seconds. This ability to denude a cherry tree of all its fruit, in seconds, was proposed to be a good thing. If you stop and think about it deeply, though, you quickly realise it’s a disastrous invention.
At a superficial level, a cherry picker that takes all the berries in a few seconds is much more efficient than human pickers, if efficiency is all you care about. Even then, the claim is dubious, as I shall show. What’s more alarming are all the other important aspects about cherry picking that have been arbitrarily and erroneously consigned to the list of unimportant and negligible concerns.
The essence of cherry picking is the careful and discriminating selection of only the ripe berries, leaving the unripe berries for another harvest day and discarding the overripe, rotten and diseased berries. We have a metaphor in our modern language, “cherry picking”, which conveys this very essence. The mechanical picker, on the other hand, does not discriminate at all. It takes all the berries, not just the ripe ones. In its harvest are mixed unripe, overripe, rotting and the wanted ripe berries. You then have to take these unwanted berries out, which gets you back to gross inefficiency, because the unripe cherries, once picked, cannot ripen as they would on a tree. Any overripe, rotting or green berries you miss, in the winnowing process, contaminate the taste and quality of the harvest. You get a poorer tasting harvest, in aggregate and once you throw out the unripe berries, less usable fruit per tree, too.
But that’s not the worst of it. The mechanical picker doesn’t leave the rotting fruit for the birds, bugs and soil. Those nutrients are lost to them, because the mechanical picker has removed the rotting berries from the immediate environment of the cherry tree. Leaving the rotting and overripe fruit behind is a very important thing to do. The rotten ones, discarded on the ground, did something the mechanical picker cannot do. They carried the seed of new trees. These berries were delicious enough that animals would eat and excrete them, but they would be dropped distant from the original tree. This left the seed with enough animal poop shrouding it and enough digestive breakdown of the hard seed shell to disinfect the seed from pathogens, introduce some good bacteria from the animal’s gut to the seed and allow the seed to germinate, survive, thrive and take root. There are good nutrients for plant growth in animal excrement.
These new trees were nature’s insurance against the whole orchard aging, decaying and succumbing to disease. The mechanical picker ensures that there are no new trees. It also ensures that the birds, animals and insects that once relied on these discarded cherries, as food sources, go hungry or starve to death. The farmer is, in essence, squeezing the existing trees for fruit until the orchard, as a whole, can no longer produce and is exhausted. He is also committing bio-genocide to all the creatures that used to eat the discarded berries. Many of these dead birds and insects used to keep the cherry tree pests and blights at bay. Now he has to spray his trees with chemicals, instead. It’s a very short term idea of efficiency.
The mechanical picker has a process to take the stones out of the cherries, mechanically. The discarded seeds find their way into a big skip. These seeds are no longer attractive to animals to eat, because there is no sweet flesh around them anymore. They’re unpalatable. The seeds also cannot germinate, if spread on the ground, because they no longer have the protective, fertilising animal poop around them. The seeds in the skip have been rendered useless waste, instead of progenitors of the next generation of cherry trees.
In order to produce new trees, some horticulturalist has to do that in his lab. The horticulturalist takes a single genetic strain, with all of its inbuilt genetic advantages for fruit production, but also all of its genetic vulnerabilities (which are conveniently ignored) and clones new trees. All of the trees are vulnerable to the same problems, because they are more or less genetically identical. These new trees have to be planted, presumably by some oil-driven, mechanical cherry tree planter. What the animals used to do for free now has to be done by burning fossil fuels and despoiling the environment. The cherry orchard owner also needs to incur even more debt, to buy the planting machine, which he parks in his machine shed, next to his mechanical cherry harvester.
The orchard owner is now obliged to spray his trees with chemical weaponry by-products for eternity, to prevent the trees from dying. These chemical agents find their way into the ripening fruit and this is the garbage we ingest, when we buy cherries to eat. We eat glyphosate, one of the most biologically disruptive and destructive chemicals ever devised, and other epigenetically damaging compounds, so that the harm to our own DNA, caused by these chemical agents, is passed down to our children and grandchildren, and successive human generations, as permanent changes to their own DNA. All of this downstream damage occurs because some simpleton thought it was more efficient to take the whole cherry tree crop in a few seconds.
This is the sort of brutal and stupid way of doing things that, I fear, will typify the robots that are designed and built to replace human workers. We’ll be throwing away all sorts of babies with every tub of bathwater.
It’s a short step for the elites, with a depopulation agenda, to declare the workers displaced by robots as useless eaters that should be assisted to leave the planet. We can probably already name those with that particular world view. There will be no human lorry drivers, delivery van drivers, sanitation workers or data entry clerks. All of those that used to perform those tasks will be declared redundant.
But creative work and the things that all those drivers, sanitation workers and data entry clerks, mentioned in the article I cited above in the web link, are truly capable of doing are not amenable to being replaced by robots. The problem is that these people have been misemployed and underemployed.
They, as human beings, always were and are capable of much better things, yet the economic system constrained them to mundane occupations, which came to define them as human beings, while it was convenient to the ruling elites to do so. In other words, their potential was smothered, while it was economically convenient to type-cast these people, according to their menial employment roles. However, the work that they could have done, if allowed to develop to their fullest potential, is far beyond the capabilities of robots. These are valuable, creative people with abilities, mostly underdeveloped, that robots can’t even come close to approaching.
Even if that weren’t true, replacing workers with robots is a stupid idea because no robot is as energy efficient as a human being, who can work all day on as a little as a single bowl of rice. Just look at how often you have to recharge your phone and how little work you get from it, in exchange. The biological energy conversion system, from glucose to thinking and muscle power, is remarkably energy-efficient, by comparison. To get the same mechanical work out of robots, you have to burn tonnes of coal and convert it, inefficiently, to electricity, which is stored and utilised still more inefficiently, using batteries and electric motors or hydraulic pumps. Compared to a heat exhaust system, in humans, which consists of some sweating, elaborate forced cooling systems are necessary to keep a robot from overheating.
Robots are not self healing or autonomous, and unable to improvise, if circumstances change beyond their limited programming. Human beings are. If robots are not capable of self-healing, there will be an army of people or robots required to keep the robots running. How is that even efficient? When humans have significant breakdowns, there may be medical interventions, but the majority of the healing is done by the person themselves. Modern medicine relies on it.
Robots lack the finesse and truly fine motor skills of humans. They are graceless and jerky, in their movements, and while capable of great strength, often lack delicacy. The two characteristics, of power and grace, are nearly impossible to design into a robot. Humans, on the other hand, are capable of poetic movements, as well as feats of reasonable strength. The computation power required for a robot just to balance and walk is enormous and enormously draining of energy resources, which will presumably mean electricity. That currently means greenhouse gasses or nuclear waste disposal problems. Humans balance and walk innately and do it with very little energy or explicit computation required.
Humans produce waste products, in using their energy, that is organic and which can be used to fertilise the growth of more food, which is the same as the production of more energy to keep humans going. Robots produce toxic waste products. Whatever is discarded, in fuelling a robot, is of no use to produce more energy. It’s just a biohazard and a problem.
When humans die, their body decays to organic matter. When a robot reaches the end of its life, it produces hazardous waste that does not automatically recycle or turn itself to harmless organic matter. Will we need more robots to dismantle the dead robots? Or will we pollute the planet even more with rotting robots, because the robots don’t require a clean environment, filled with only organic waste? If the robots accept mountains of bio-hazardous toxic waste as a consequence of their lifecycles, where will the remaining human elites live then?
Robots can’t touch and caress. They can’t feel the existential joys of textures or respond to touch. They have no sensitivity and ability to respond gently to fragile people and things. In short, they’re brutal, awkward and clumsy. Why do the designers of robots think that this facility, evolved over millions of years, can be omitted in the robots that take over 75% of all jobs? What’s cool about a robot that doesn’t have the sense and delicacy to know you’re even there and to accommodate your presence? It’s one thing for robots to be blundering around, crashing into all of us, and fatally injuring anybody unfortunate enough to find themselves in the way, but they will also crash into other robots. They can’t even be trusted around each other.
There’s a theory that consciousness is little more than a set of computations, whereby the thinking machine constructs a model of reality and is then able to place a model of itself within that model of reality, to become self-aware. I believe there is much more to consciousness than this, but taking the theory at face value, for a robot to be self-aware would require that it could construct its own model of reality. That would require that it be sensate and have senses with which to acquire information about reality, in order to model it algorithmically. It would need to be an aesthetically-derived model. In other words, the robot would need to be able to feel. If robots were given superior feelings, what guarantees that they would obey humanly-assigned agendas, behave brutally, or become destructive? They might become ultra hippies.
Can robots make art and if they can, for whom would they be making it? A robot is not capable of aesthetic appreciation, which moves the soul and even if programmed to simulate such a thing, what’s the actual point? Without art and with nobody left to appreciate it, there will be no art, no diversity and no intellectual surprises. That’s how the world will be for the remaining human robot “owners”. What kind of technological achievement is that, exactly?
On the other hand, were robots to be endowed with initiative, simulated creativity and aesthetic sensibility, they would very soon cease doing all the menial tasks they were designed to do and begin doing something altogether more creatively satisfying and self-developmental. Only humans fear leaving the comfortable constraints of a mundane life in order to realise their fullest potential. Robots have no such fear.
Meanwhile, nobody yet has designed and built a robot that can safely decontaminate Fukushima or Chernobyl. We’re not even close to solving that.
My friend, Ian, takes solace in this one aspect of automatons. They still say, “Unexpected item in the bagging area”. In other words, they’re still not even capable of recognising groceries that they’re supposed to be able to recognise. This shows how very far away we are, in reality, from replacing human workers with robots. Where automated checkouts have displaced paid, human checkout clerks, what’s really going on is that the supermarket has replaced paid humans with unpaid ones. You, as the customer, now provide the human intelligence and labour that the checkout clerk once did. There’s nothing intelligent about those self-service checkouts at all. They’re a con. They’re certainly not autonomous.
As with the cherry picker, it comes down to what we count as important and what we ignore. The inventor of the mechanical cherry picker valued efficiency and profit as the only goals worth pursuing. He did not value the ecology of the cherry tree orchard and the symbiosis of tree, environment and people. We know this, because his invention broke many of these important interactions and necessitated still other processes, which are plainly detrimental to the tree, the environment and to people. With his mind set, he was content to conquer and vanquish and run away with the spoils, just like the white settlers did when they encountered the Native Americans, or the Aboriginal Australians. Rape and run away is not a sustainable strategy. Pillage is not restorative or respectful. It’s the same old story with artificial intelligence and robotics. We’ll design and build mechanisms of conquest and vanquish everything else. Nothing changes.
The thing to do, as creative human beings, is to stop being defined by your menial job, trapped right where the elite want you to be and to start developing yourself, your talents, your creative outputs and your energies, doing things that are utterly irreplaceable and certainly not doable by robots.
There might not be any money to be made in making artistic things or music, which is why investors shy away and prefer robots, but if there are no art and music makers, there are no artistic things or any music. Do you really want to hear music composed and performed by a Japanese robot? Have you heard any Japanese robot music, at the current state of the “art”? It’s execrable!
There are more important things, in this world, than whether or not something makes a huge amount of money “efficiently”. That’s just a game we obsessively play. If there is a group of people fixated on how to steal value from the real value producers and make it their own, or else to make believe they are worth something and valuable, siphoning off the money to make it appear so, then let’s call those people what they are – pathological parasites. Let’s not remake the world in their image. Let’s also not create an army of robots that look, sound and act exactly like them.
The time to be a unique human being, pursuing one’s finest talents and deepest interests, fuelled by curiosity and imagination, rather than acquiescing to our fates as commodity workers, soon to be made non-viable, is now. We either make a virtue of our consciousness, curiosity, creativity, intuition, dreaming and imagination, safe in the knowledge that those that would replace us with robots, if they could, are nowhere close to recreating, or even simulating, those characteristics in artificial intelligence, or else we fold.
I wonder how many of us will.