March 2016, history was made. AlphaGo, a computer Go program developed by Google’s deep learning team succeeded in doing what no one has done, either machine or human, beating 18 times Go grandmaster Korean Lee Sedol. AlphaGo won 4 out of 5 games with lee Sedol emerging victorious on one occasion. In this game, there was more at stake than just a game of Go, it was about proving that we now have technologies that can do the only thing that makes humans better than machines – ‘think’ and even do it better than humans, it was an indication that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved and metamorphosed completely from what it used to be over 60 years ago into a seemingly independent smart solution. This AI evolution was as a result of the huge data bloom that we experienced in the wake of the 21st century.
Computer programs such as AlphaGo thrive on the availability of big data, when given enough data and adequate time to comprehend the data, it can independently generates its own set of rules by carrying out billions of iterations. Furthermore, it does a better job of looking up data than the best human can ever do. Embodying AI creates robots. Robots are increasingly becoming more popular in manufacturing, medicine, transportation, construction just to mention a few because of their high efficiency and productivity. However, with this technological boom and with robots being able to do what traditionally we humans are meant to do, and even better, there comes the question, are we developing ourselves into oblivion? With robots taking our jobs, what then would we be doing? How do we still remain economic relevant in the robotic economy? These fears among many others has made many to call for a curb on further development of AI due to the dilemma of the vast economic development it introduces misaligning with labour growth.
I believe the technology boom that has birthed robots has come to stay, fighting it is like one beating against the air – a futile task. Rather than fight it, we should look for ways to harness the opportunities that it presents, and above all change our mind-set into accepting AI as an augmentation of ourselves to make them stronger rather than as a threat to drive us into oblivion. From the words of Freeman Dyson –”Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gift. It is the mother of civilizations of arts and of science”. For there to be any form of growth, there need to be a change, and without embracing the change we cannot enjoy the dividends that come with it. Just as the Agricultural revolution that exchanged man and animal power with advanced technology such as steam engines, and the industrial revolution that mechanised most of the manual processes for the purpose of increased productivity. This new age is one of robotic revolution that will involve adding intelligence to tasks to improve efficiency and cutting out error completely.
I believe the first step in remaining relevant in this world of AI inclined robotic revolution is to accept it, see it as an augmentation of ourselves, as an opportunity rather than a threat, If we succeed in doing this, then we are on our way to harnessing the opportunity that comes with it. The past 150 years witnessed the great invention boom, it is in this period that most of the things we cherished today were invented. This era of invention was birthed after the agricultural revolution era, which was a resulting effect of people now having more time to think rather than continuously do laborious tasks. Similarly, robots are designed to do repetitive things a lot better, they do for us the laborious repetitive tasks hence allowing us more time to put our creative mind into use.
A job as we know it is just a bunch of tasks and robots are actually taking over these jobs because they have the ability to carry out these tasks more efficiently than we humans. However, robots are currently redefining what job is. They are creating a whole new categories of tasks that we didn’t know we want to do before. They are engendering new kind of jobs that needed to be done similar to the way automation made up a bunch of new things we didn’t know we needed before but now we simply cannot live without them. For instance, the telephone was inevitable, but the iPhone was not, just as the internet was inevitable while the twitter wasn’t, they are simply by-product of the technology that birthed them and this is what robots are bringing with them.
Also, the introduction of robots into the way we do tasks and business has actually lead to an increase in output, reduction in price, increase in volume and quantity hence leading to an economic abundance. Increase in cooperate profits due to AI technology was however not commensurate with returns of labour as returns of labour has been experiencing a downward turn. The truth be told, it would be difficult to offer labour to an economy that is full of robots.
To thrive and remain relevant in an economy that is heavy on technology and light on labour we need to reconsider what skills will be needed to thrive, what education would mean and how traditional skills can be augmented with relevant computerized skills. In this robotic era, to be relevant we need to learn to work with this AI. When Deep Blue beat the world’s best chess player in 1997, many feared that was the end of chess, but it wasn’t, rather it meant the evolvement of the game. Today, the best chess player is neither human nor a robot, rather it is a team of AI and human. Also, the best medical diagnostician is not an AI or human, it is a team of AI and human.
For us to remain economically relevant, we need to learn to work with these robots.Taking a cue from history, the birth if the industrial revolution also resulted in the birth of the creative art industry which main goal was to entertain. With people having more free time, there was need to keep them engage, hence the entertainment industry was born.
In the same vein, the advent of robots in the workplace will also lead to people having more free time, hence there would be an increasing need to get people engaged and this would be a boom for the creative art industry. By developing new ways of getting people engaged in something fun and worthwhile through mediums such as videogames, mobile apps, artistic creativity, writing etc. Also, events planning would be on the rise and developing expertise in planning social, cooperate and public events in an engaging and entertaining manner would definitely be an important skill in this new era of robotic evolution as people would now have more free time they would love to maximize in a relaxed and engaging atmosphere.I also believe that to remain economically relevant in this AI infested economy, we need to put on our thinking cap and do what we do best, which is think. Looking back at the game between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, it was documented that the round Lee Sedol eventually won against AlphaGo required him innovating a move that was simply sublime and beyond imagination, something never seen before. This is an example of what AI pushes us to do, become creative and better our best which align perfectly with the words of Rena Mara Rooke, which says “If what we fight is small, and we win, it makes us small. This is how we grow: by being defeated constantly by greater beings.
” There is no doubts that these robots are more efficient than we humans can ever be, for instance, a self-driving car is not swayed by emotions and neither does a robot working in a grain field need holidays or falls sick, therefore it is only logical to transfer tasks where efficiency and productivity is required to these robots. However, we need to focus on the inefficient tasks, which is what we are good at doing better than the robots can ever do. For instance, Science is inherently inefficient, it runs on the fact that you have to run several experiments that don’t work, it is from the failures of science that we actually learn and innovate – Innovation is defined as inefficient because it involves making prototypes and trying stuff that doesn’t work. Exploration, relationships and even arts are some examples of inefficient things we can gravitate towards as we leave the efficiency job to the robots. From our inefficient task, we create innovative products, and when they become commoditised we surrender them to the robots, this is the way to evolve, and this is how we can keep making meaningful impact. In fact, the robotic evolution is the evolution of us maximizing the power of our creative minds.Furthermore, as AI and robots reduces some jobs to commodity, something else becomes more valuable, hence each individual has to make a choice, either resisting the change and reality or embracing it and retraining ourselves to be able to fit into the emerging changing economy.
After the industrial revolution, many factory workers became poor as they lost their jobs, and continued to complain about the injustice, while some evolved and retrained themselves, learning and developing new skills relevant in the new system, hence they reaped the fruits of the change. We need to remind ourselves that these robots are still machines, irrespective of how sophisticated and intelligent they might seem, they still follow set of instructions and commands given to them, even though some of them might be able to set their own rules after gaining access to data. Meaning, robots are not completely independent of humans, although the dependency is lower, hence there is a need to build skills in big data management and collective intelligence, as this is the fuel on which AI depends to carry out its menial, repetitive and sometimes dangerous tasks. It is an open secret that the dynamics of business in an AI infested economy has changed, even though robots perform repetitive tasks more efficiently and hence render the commodity market porous, we can still compete in this kind of market by focusing on value added through design and creativity. An example to illustrate this point is the evolution of Apple as a company.
Apple CEO, Steve Jobs didn’t sell a product, rather he sold an idea, and he successfully distinguished his product from the vast multitude of similar products that performs the same function by marketing a unique idea. People bought his product mainly as a result of what it means rather than what it does. With robots turning more and more products into commodity products, there is a need for creativity now more than ever for us to remain relevant. Robots presently are more aligned to solve basic everyday problems, thereby still leaving open the vast sphere of existential issues such as solving climate change which is like World War III to humanity, promoting world peace, sustainability, good governance, gender and diversity issues are all areas where we can focus and made an impact. Truth is there is a lot that still needed to be done, hence rather than crying foul play as a result of robots taking our jobs, we should be grateful to this technology as it opens the room for us to focus on more important issues that threatens our existence.
In conclusion, to remain economically relevant in this robot infested economy, we need to open our mind to accepting it as a positive and necessary evolution as this is the only way we can harness the opportunities that it brings along with it. Also, we need to retrain ourselves and acquire the skills needed to thrive in this revolutionized economy even as we redefine the concept of education. Because robots would be doing most of the repetitive and redundant jobs, many people would have more free time, hence developing creative art aligned and entertainment skills would be very pivotal. While we leave the efficiency business to the robots, we should take time in the inefficient skills of innovation and creativity as we put our minds to use to solve more problems. Focusing on proffering solution to more existential issues such as climate change and fostering world peace would also be important in helping us to remain relevant in this new robotic economy.