Robots can’t make a decent coffee let alone take my job

Robots are coming one day to take make us redundant and lonely said a Professor. Once. Somewhere. Any detail is a little vague but it’s all inevitable. Skynet will become self aware.

It’s hard to go a day without an article about a super intelligent machine becoming your kids nanny or performing a heart bypass on your uncle. Robots will be everywhere doing everything – where will you be and what will you be doing?

When are we doomed again?

In most articles you will read about the robot workforce apocalypse the date most people get replaced with Metal Mickey is always at a vague point in the future. Experts (remember them?) will tell us that it’s 2029, 2030 and so on. It’s always on its way – soonish, not quite yet but sometime.

Those experts are usually associated with an Institute, Foundation or some other sciencey type organisation that adds legitimacy to their predictions. Professors and other academic clever folk have weighed in to ensure we are fully aware of the inevitability of it all. Their predictions are formed in papers or reports often with colourful graphs. The packaging is very fancy and convincing.

Imperial college article

Don’t worry Imperial College I fixed your article for you

I’ve yet to see anyone question what any of these future seeing organisations or individuals have to gain from #robogeddon. The huge amount of commercial value wrapped up in binning off humans and replacing them with Kryten from Red Dwarf doesn’t seem to benefit them.

Academic research projects into AI will no doubt fund themselves. Big companies who stand to benefit will invest in developing this technology without any prompting or pitching being necessary. Training companies trying to scare people into booking on their upskilling courses are just hanging around by sheer coincidence. I’m glad it’s all so organised.

Predictamatic

Technology predictions have been doing the rounds for years. Prediction is a fancy word for guess. Will robots be good enough to take your job one day? Maybe not certainly. If you do a job which involves repetitive tasks it’s more likely than if you don’t. I’m sure boohoo.com would rather a robot walked 25 miles a day picking stock as they won’t need to punish it for smiling.

If every tech prediction was true then why haven’t flying cars taken off or nuclear powered vacuum cleaners and why isn’t our post delivered by guided missile. Just as some guesses never come true YouTube is watched by millions, the internet did not explode in 1996 and there is definitely a market for iPhones.

What will the future hold?

You’re asking me to predict the future now aren’t you? OK I’ll have a go.

James Mullarkey from the Future Technological Institute of Penge wrote a report (with graphs) which says that robots in the nearish future will not be like Data from Star Trek but probably far more like the Johnny Cab from Total Recall. Good at performing a variety of tasks – some fairly complex like driving a taxi. They will be utterly dismal at simulating human behaviour and interaction with humans. Getting it right about 80% of the time but causing a lot of frustration and annoyance when they get it wrong.

In Total Recall Doug Quaid gets in the cab and says “drive” the Johnny Cab says “Will you please repeat the destination”. It’s better than that actually – watch the video below to see what I mean.

Now you’ve watched that ask yourself if you are more or less annoying than Johnny Cab? If the answer is less there is hope.

Fearing things that don’t exist is not rational

Saying immigrants will swamp the UK to claims benefits, abuse the NHS and steal all the jobs is a common narrative of certain tabloid newspapers, picked up by politicians as it’s very easy to blame someone else rather than take responsibility for problems you should be addressing. You will find no shortage of people lining up to rightly condemn these stories using those pesky rational arguments and facts which are so out of fashion these days.

Yet the invasion of genius autobots who don’t currently currently exist which will get you sacked and make you unemployable, maybe even killing you has been picked up and intellectualised by the broadsheets. The Guardian has whole section on AI without a hint of irony. The robots will exist soonish but please be scared until then.

Guardian article about robots

Dear Guardian – correctly labelled your ‘photo’ for you

McKinsey & Company wrote a fancy report (with graphs) entitled “Where machines could replace humans – and where they can’t (yet)” which at  least attempts a more measured look at a real world situation.

Luddite mode enabled

By now you might be considering me either a Luddite or Neo Luddite but as Yanis Varoufakis reminded us recently the Luddites were not fighting against technological change itself but the benefits of the change being ring fenced for a chosen few at the expense of all others.

Show me a robot please that isn’t just a quirky backflipping experiment or a chatbot that isn’t a racist and has to get taken down after a couple of hours. Show me any chatbot that doesn’t both suck and blow for that matter.

My hope is that we can view robots, AI and greater automation entering our lives in a balanced fashion, weighing our fear of obsolescence evenly against the potential freedoms which could be created. The facts against the speculation. This is a destination we haven’t reached yet and we shouldn’t kid ourselves we’ve arrived or maybe ever will.

If a machine can make me a decent cup of coffee one day  I’ll be the first to eat humble pie – baked by a robot chef of course.

James Mullarkey

I write about the web and digital, mediocre sporting performances and places I've been, for this blog and only this blog.