Will robots a) kill us all b) steal your job c) steal your family or d) all of the above

Today’s Digital and Social Media Leadership Forum (DSMLF) was a delight. Chock full of forward thinking, open minded, talented people; we spent the morning extolling the virtues and lamenting the threats associated with drones, AI and robots in general.

The theme of the session was, “will robots steal your job?” The answer with a varying scale of probability, is yes; along an axis of time and the complexity of your role. Here’s a graph I knocked up on PowerPoint.Robot curve.png


But what will we “meat sacks” do if robots have taken over? Probably our focus will become increasingly directed by experiences and pleasure. Wiling away our days following our passions whether that be people, places or subjects like space exploration. There’s an interesting view of this future presented in the Animatrix. The story of the years before the war with the machines shows a society that only concerns itself with revelling in our humanness, while robots toil away beneath our feet.


How will we be paid if there aren’t any jobs left? According to futurist David Wood, what’s required is a reimagining of our society. Essentially he prophesied a shift to the left, where people are paid a living wage and the companies like Google (who make all the money), finance our lives of leisure. This is a logical view and an optimistic one. People have never been good of letting go of their identity, and part of this is creating out-groups such as “people on state benefits”. There will always be a stigma attached to those who don’t work, even if the work is meaningless, repetitive and pointless.

What of drones? I had a thoroughly rewarding conversation with Dr Ash Natraj of Vidrona. Over the course of 30mins I was able to grill him about all the barriers to a future where drones will drop off my groceries ordered through my AI machine. The key challenges are legislative. From what I understand, speaking to someone with a brain about 10 times as big as mine, the current concern is a security one. Drones might be used by criminals and terrorists for wicked purposes. The concern I raised was old Doris being taken out by a drone on her way back from bingo. According to Dr Natraj there are a number of solutions to this which include drones that can fly on one rota, and drones which have little parachutes. In any case he seemed hugely confident that we’d see drones hovering overhead in the very near future.

The key take away for me was that machines can learn faster than we can, therefore any concerns we have about safety can be mitigated with exuberant testing and time. Every time there’s a crash, such as the one the Google driverless car had earlier this month, the bug can be fixed and distributed to the whole network in hours.

A second key point was that, while most of us think about robots being physical, many more will be digital, in the cloud. A physical machine (like a Tesla car) can be connected to a machine mind which updates the car continuously using billions or trillions of data points. Human beings crash their cars all the time, of course, and there is no way to systematically improve the overall safety on the roads other than banning dangerous drivers or training people more rigorously.

The panellists agreed that the best approach for humanity is to work with machines. In my view there are some situations where the authenticity of human mistakes becomes a premium product. Think about all the brands that sell the handmade-ness of their process. The fact that my wife’s Mulberry handbag was made in a factory using actual human motor skills, makes it a scarcity, and scarcity, like Rhino horn, equals value.

Another solution is that, using technology, we could augment ourselves, essentially making us cyborgs. Imagine a chip in your brain that can triple your memory, or contact lenses in your eye that give you night vision. What’s clear is that we can’t hang around, with Moore’s Law leading us to the point of singularity, we need to evolve with the machines or risk being redundant.


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