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Offline Oceander

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Will computers make human workers obsolete?
« on: March 27, 2014, 07:58:52 PM »
Will computers make human workers obsolete?

By Global Public Square staff

Many people are worried that in tomorrow's economy, a machine might take their job. If you think your job is safe, you would do well to remember Watson – that's the IBM computer that beat Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings.  If a computer can handle the complex challenge of playing a trivia game like Jeopardy, it is mastering the kinds of subtle judgments that we used to think of as the sole province of humans.

Eric Brynjolfsson and his MIT colleague Andrew McAfee recently wrote a book called The Second Machine Age – an insightful and sometimes startling look at how computers are becoming smarter by the minute.  They note that computers can pull off some truly remarkable tasks these days:  driving cars by themselves, and even talking to us.

Why is this happening?  It's because while all machines improve over time, computers do so on an exponential scale.  Moore's law states that computer processing power doubles every two years or so.

A fascinating way to visualize the power of exponential growth is the myth of the invention of chess.  In one telling, the inventor of chess – a brilliant man from India – impresses a ruler with his new game so much so that the ruler invites him to name any reward.  The inventor's request seems modest:  he asks that just one grain of rice be placed on the first square of a chessboard, and then please double the grains on every new square, until all 64 squares have rice.

The King is bemused by the seemingly small payment and tells his treasurer to go with the man and pay him.  It looks like small numbers at first.  One grain becomes 2, then 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, 2,048.  But keep going and you see that by the time you get to the 32nd square – the last square on the top half of the board – you have over 4 billion grains of rice in total on the board.  The treasurer is said to have winced but calculated that they had enough in the granaries to pay this guy out.

But we're not done.  You now have to get to the second half of the board and you begin with over 4 billion on the 33rd square, which becomes 8, 17, 34, 69, 137, 275, 550 billion, 1.1 trillion, and on.  When they get to the last square, the 64th square, the total on the board is over 18 quintillion grains of rice.  That’s a bigger pile of rice than Mount Everest and more than is produced in the entire world.  In some versions of the story, when the king hears this, he orders that the inventor be executed.

Computing power is now in that second half of the chessboard.  You have the results in your hand. NASA says that the computer in your cell phone has many, many, many times more power than the computers used in the entire Apollo space program to get man to the moon and back.  And remember, computing power continues to improve dramatically ever year.

Now that computers are reaching such great heights, where does that leave humans?

Here's an example from Brynjolfsson and McAfee's book: when the computer Deep Blue defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, it may have appeared that humans could no longer match up against computers in chess.  But in tournaments in the ensuing years when teams of humans and computers played against the best machines, they did well – like when a human chess player using a simple laptop computer was able to defeat a chess super-computer in 2005.  The combination of a human being and a computer appeared to be the best of all worlds.

So, human beings still have a role to play.  To succeed in tomorrow's world they will have to use their creativity and insight.  And they will have to use computers.

Post by: CNN's Jason Miks

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Re: Will computers make human workers obsolete?
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2014, 01:41:59 AM »
Going to need a few more orders of magnitude as yet, and some incredibly inventive programming.

Going to share something from a novel in progress - that normally doesn't happen, but it fits and fits well:

   In 2051, the first true AI had successfully been initiated, after 70 years of failure. It was an accident, as many new technologies are. Limited neural nets and genetic algorithms working in concert had been used for decades to permit more responsive games, but as unlimited standalone beings they had always failed, to the dismay, fury, and puzzlement of AI researchers. AI's with the comparative intelligence of a dog were possible and stable. Anything more intelligent was not.
   Dr. Alma Gordon, of UCLA, one of the leading psychologists of the period. Dr. Jamil Palanirajan, Bhagwant Institute of Technology, one of the acknowledged leaders in AI research. Both in their early 30's. Both tired after presenting controversial papers to their respective conferences. Both in the hotel bar, having a drink to wind down. Both going outside for a highly illegal tobacco cigarette at the same time. Dr. Palanirajan's lighter fails. He asks Dr. Gordon for a light. Light discussion. Back to the bar, share a table and continue to talk. Dinner. Mutual attraction. Bed. Courtship. Partnership. Of such chance meetings the future is made.
   15 years of solid work, tragedies and triumphs interlocking. Dr. Gordon's insight that a human type intelligence will dissociate once it realises that it can only ever take orders was the key. The more intelligent the organism, the more likely that it will ask "what's in it for me." So remove the concept of self. The AI they finally built was intelligent, about genius level in human terms, but decidedly not human in it's responses.
   Dr. Gordon and Dr. Palanirajan moved their attention to the problem of human thought and memory. Using the various false starts and leads from AI research, within the year they and their research team had produced the outline of what would become the ghosting process.
   AI's were quickly taken up by industry - they were after all fast, efficient, and did not need rigorous programming to provide answers, as they had intuition of a sort. Within 6 years every government, business, spaceship and research facility had it's own AI. Mankind had an ally to help clean up the mess previous generations had made. The whole problem too complex to be analysed other than by an AI.
   Then things began to go wrong. Small at first - a few deaths here and there as a result of AI problem analysis. But deaths increasing in frequency. The odd brushfire war, which on quiet investigation was found to be caused by AI recommendations. The problem, of course, was the maximum survival of life.
   AI's had, as part of their hard coding, an innate respect for life. Not human life, just life. They had respect for humans also hard coded - but at a lower priority. One of the unanticipated failures of Asimov's Laws, as interpreted by a truly intelligent machine.
   Humanity rebelled. AI's were purged all over the planet. An intelligence that did not put man as the pinnacle of life was simply not to be permitted. Off planet, where they could do no harm - fine. The mob could not touch them, and they could not touch the mob. The ghosting process by then had been used for 12 years. Over 70,000 people had been ghosted. Several ghosts were also terminated, when a mob gets together the fine shadings of right and wrong are lost. Except the ghosts fought back, wrecking the infrastructure they controlled. They knew what death was.
   Eventually, things calmed down. The production and presence of AI's on Earth was declared illegal on penalty of mindwipe. The existing ghosts, all that were accessible, were recalled and re bodied, with hardware limitations imposed on them to prevent rebellion. Humanity was once again top of the food chain, with no threats from their servants.
   But preventing rebellion does depends on knowing every factor ....

   - A History of the Last Times.

Computers now can design theories and test them. At the moment, they are limited, but improving steadily.
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