“A world dominated by machines that enslave humans as a source of energy. A robotic system that acquires its own conscience and decides to destroy every vestige of the human race. A planet that faces the rebellion of machines, which do not accept the humiliation to which the human species submits them. Science fiction has given us plenty of arguments to believe that the human-machine conflict will end badly. Is right? Is it time to destroy our smartphones and fight for a world without technology?”
As the robotization of the world becomes more real, the debate grows around how our society will adapt to the revolution of machines. Some of the questions that are posed are really novel, but others are not the first time they arise. Also in the England of the late eighteenth century, in an incipient industrial society, some workers rebelled, furious, against the automatic looms because they took away their work.
The key is in employment
The Luddite movements of 250 years ago were perhaps the most violent expression of the rejection of humans to machines. But the automatic looms have not been the only innovation that was a challenge for the labor market. The teleoperators, indispensable for communications 60 years ago, have disappeared. The milkmaid and the water carrier have long ago left their place to supermarkets and water facilities. And several decades ago the town crier hung the bell in favor of other less noisy communication methods.
All have been small changes in a slow walk towards a world dominated by machines and artificial intelligence, of which robots will be its maximum exponent. Are we ready for that revolution? Or, better, have we ever been prepared for revolution?
An already famous study by the University of Oxford, published in 2013, points out that around the year 2030, in the United States, almost half of the work will be done by robots. “Our model predicts that the majority of transport workers and logistics occupations, most of the administrative workers and employees of the production sectors, are at risk,” say its authors, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne.
It is not about becoming apocalyptic, but these predictions do not seem far-fetched. Above all, if we take into account work as we know it today, without considering future jobs that we can not imagine today. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a public organization in the United States, the introduction of robotic methods in factories has destroyed almost 700,000 jobs in the country since 1990.
The replacement is underway
Robots are already replacing workers, and not recognizing it would be to look the other way. Always taking as reference the United States, the latest report of the Robotic Industries Association indicates that, in the first quarter of 2017, American industries acquired almost 10,000 robots, 28% more than last year. In addition, it indicates that companies are increasingly using these robots to increase productivity without resorting to cheap (human) labor in developing countries.
The most ominous forecasts about the impact of robots at work are focused on China or Southeast Asia “As the machines go not only learning to do more things, but also doing them better and better, much better than people and at a lower cost, to think that there is going to be more employment of the type that we know today is simply absurd. If we restrict employment to what we know today as employment, forget it: there will be much less. However, what we have to think is that we are going towards a world in which many people will do things that we would not consider employment today, but they will be, “says Enrique Dans, professor of innovation at IE Business School, in a recent article published.
Dans is one of those who advocates a social change to adapt to a new reality in which robots do hard work and humans focus on doing those productive activities that they enjoy the most and the best they are given. “Every time I see more evidence that we are heading towards a model in which unconditional basic income will be a central element, and I see it coming both from ideologies that seek a redistribution of the most just and the most liberal wealth.”
The real battle is in ethics
Beyond Isaac Asimov’s well-known laws of robotics and the concrete impact of robots on jobs, the debate also focuses on ethical and legal issues that revolve around a complex question: to what extent can we consider the machines as our equals?
It depends. “A machine will not become aware of what it is doing, it will be able to play chess but it will not know what it is playing, it will not know what it is to compete or it will have the feeling that it is competing with the man to defeat it”, explains the director of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the CSIC, Ramón López de Mántaras, in an article published by EFE. “There are motivations and intentions that I doubt that they will have”.
However, other experts, such as those who support the 2045 Initiative, believe that intelligence and robotics will evolve so much that, within approximately three decades, we will be able to transmit our own human consciousness to super-advanced machines that surpass all man’s abilities. , blurring the border between humans and robots.
The question about the motivations and intentions of artificial intelligence has many ethical nuances, especially when discussing to what extent we are going to trust it. How would a robot act in the case of having to decide between the life of different groups of humans? How would you determine what is damage or its different levels? Can you really get to program these things?
The future: apocalyptic or rose
Too many questions so that nobody has the answer. All we have are predictions, more or less outrages, and that imperturbable feeling, perhaps a little encouraged by Hollywood, that, in the end, everything will end well.
Currently, predictions about robot-human relations are concentrated in two large groups with many nuances. Some, optimists, predict a happy future for man, in which the machines free us from hard work and we can dedicate ourselves to leisure and creativity. Others, pessimists, say that the current industrial revolution has no precedent and we are not aware of the challenges that lie before us.
The most optimistic, like the editors of the influential The Economist, propose a great social pact to create a happier society. In it, workers would accept changes in work and constant technological training, while the State guarantees a basic income and social benefits that should be supported by a kind of tax on worker robots.
Many experts, of the pessimists, agree with this vision, but they see it as unrealizable. For them, before the inaction of the states, the machines will end up completely replacing human beings in some sectors. In this world with fewer jobs, there will be no money or confidence in the market to consume the products produced. Thus, they forecast a massively robotic society with high rates of unemployment and deflation.
It will not be Neo, nor the replicants, nor the Terminator, not even Wall-E that will mark our future. Once again, it seems that the ball is on the roof of the human being. The technology is there and continues to advance at a fast pace. Everything depends on how we are able to adapt it to our world. Trust that it is in our benefit.