Rise of the Useless Class

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By Andre Gress
May 24, 2017,  4:07 PM

Historian Yuval Noah Harari asks an intriguing question: “What should we do with all the superfluous people, once we have highly intelligent, non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better than humans?"  

First of all, calling people superfluous is a little mean-hearted. Yes, there are many of us living on earth, and it could eventually be over populated. That doesn't mean a part of the population will be rendered useless. It just means some may have to gain new skills in order to survive. 

He goes on to say that "facial recognition programs are able to identify people far more efficiently than humans can." He compared this to something babies do which gives the wrong perspective of what artificial intelligence (AI) is. No disrespect to Mr. Harari but it feels like he’s feeding off of the general population fearing enslavement by AI.  

Yes, there is evidence out there, such as Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne's research program on the future of US employment. Their research indicates that 47 per cent of today's jobs are at risk of being automated by the 2040s.  

Here is the issue: This research reviewed today's jobs. That means what may seem worrisome now might not be the case in the future.  

What the report doesn't actively discuss is that there will be entire industries and profession that will arise over the next two decades that could replace many of the jobs automation is set to destroy today. Moreover—and this is where Harari's theory falls short—people are only unemployable if they don't stay up to date with the world around them, if they actively refuse to update their skills.  

Bill Nye the logical guy 

According to Bill Nye, "AI didn't fall out of the sky." Therefore, we have the power to (again, as Bill Nye said) "unplug it." We need to erase this irrational fear of robotic enslavement. 

The general perspective from the scared populous is, as he said, "Fabulous science fiction premise." What is refreshing is that he brings attention to the fact that some of us have been brainwashed to believe robots/machines want to kill us. Not to sound like a broken record but we created AI, therefore, we are in control of it. AI was created to make life more accommodating and efficient, not to terrify the human race.  Learn more about Bye's thoughts on AI in episode three of his Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the world.  

To fear AI or not to fear AI? 

What is an agreeable point is that AI, as described by Yuval, could become smarter than humans? What he claims to be AI appears limited. Meaning he is looking at it as a threat to human kind's survival.  

Depending on how you define it, AI was created a long time ago. What changed since its early, rudimental invention is the rapid advancement of technology, which is where the fear of AI derives from. People don't fear AI, they fear what it has or will become as we progress in a professional light. Humans are smart, which means that whatever we create will hopefully be done for the better of its kind. 

Now, what about those with the intention to create AI that could endanger the human population? No one knows who or what could hurt us, but that's the silver line. There is no certainty of what AI will do or what it's capable of taking away from the human race. There are only assumptions based on current technological progress and what it's used for. 

Impact (ONLY use the 'Paste From Word' button to safely copy and paste text from a Word doc) 

The impact AI could have on us will be both good and bad. On the positive end, it has, on a minor scale, been beneficial for day-to-day routines. Things like your coffee maker or your laptop. Both are forms of AI that you control to perform either mundane or important tasks.  

Since these are considered simple tools we use daily, it may not appear as AI, but they are. Your coffee maker eventually learns when you want your coffee brewed; furthermore, if you have an espresso maker, it is far more complex therefore the machine has to think a little more independently. A laptop automatically updates itself periodically without asking you. On the other hand, it may limit the "useless class" in the future if they live life in a linear fashion. 

The important lesson here is if you feel you will one day become a part of the "useless class" or "unemployable," it's up to you to develop the skills that are considered valuable in the present time. For example, if you are a server and you know robots may replace you in the future, seek out the skills and experience that will keep you financially stable.  

Do not fear AI taking your livelihood, fear limiting yourself from developing diverse skills that can make your life interesting and sustainable. Ultimately, machines may be able to eventually do many things but not everything. 

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