Artificial Intelligence has been on the top of my mind for a couple of months now. What started as research for an article has grown into something bordering on obsession. Every major software firm is pouring millions into AI research and the pace of innovation of late, has been a little exciting and at the same time a little disconcerting.
Just in July this year there were these reports of a Chinese factory replacing 90 per cent of its workforce with robots. The Changying Precision Technology Company shunted almost everyone who worked on their assembly line and kept just 60 workers, a mere fraction of the 650 strong workforce it had previously. And the statistics reveal exactly why the company opted for such a move – a 250 per cent rise in production and 80 per cent drop in defects. If we are to go by industry statistics then the investment towards incorporating robots pay off really fast. However, there’s something most news outlets didn’t pay attention to – the news is roughly a year old. The robot revolution began quite a while back.
And it’s not just this one company, MNCs have also begun exploring the use of AI and robots towards increasing their already large profit margins. Adidas recently announced that they’ll be looking forward to making use of robots in their factories as well. There was even a rumour that McDonald’s was looking forward to using robots as those end up being more economical in the longer run compared to minimum wage workers. Fortunately, that report turned out to be false. But before you heave a sigh of relief, do note that the robot revolution is going to work out in a similar fashion like the industrial revolution did in the early 1800s. A large portion of the labour force was rendered jobless and skilled labour was more in demand.
AI and robotics are doing the same to every field. The advancements over the last two years have had such profound impact on industries that you’ve had the greatest intellectuals of our generation worried. Yeah, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking aren’t wrong. If AI does indeed achieve a runaway effect then we’ll all be out of jobs soon. Computers can code, computers can design, computers can encrypt and likewise, decrypt some of the strongest ciphers with ease. So much that the mode of encryption is no longer a barrier, rather it’s the strength of encryption that’s hindering these machines. Or else we’d have botnets crunching away day and night breaking encryptions that hold your dearest secrets. Oh, wait! They already do.
So should you be worried? Most certainly yes, but you do have time, plenty of time to add to your skillset so that you aren’t rendered jobless in the next wave. After the unfortunate souls who’d made their living off of assembly lines, it will be those in the transportation industry who’re going to lose their jobs. And shortly thereafter, anyone who’s just relegated to number crunching will be replaced. As we speak, scientists are running experiments to figure out how bots pick and manipulate stocks. Apparently and obviously, they’re way better than stockbrokers. Babak Hodjat, one of the key people behind Siri is working on an AI system which can monitor billions of data points, spot trends, learn patterns and predict market sway.
Given that Wall St. has quite a lot of lobbying power, it might try to shut down this system. And the same can be said for every other industry, unions and lobbies might try to put things to an end. However, if we are to sift through the history books then we know such attempts are always futile. Even us technology writers are at risk of being replaced by simple PHP applications. Autoblogging tools have been around for a while but they’ve always needed a source to rip-off. Soon enough they’ll be able to monitor sources like press releases and autoblog an article faster than any human, and the web favours the first ones to break a story. So am I going to bring together all my brethren and unionise to postpone the inevitable? Nope, I’m going to start getting more into coding, hopefully I can write my own little bot. It’s not going to happen anytime soon, we’re still in a country where the print medium continues to grow in certain aspects, so we do have time. All I care about is that I don’t end up as one of those who gets replaced by a bot. If at all I’m ever to be replaced, I might as well build my own replacement. I suggest you do the same.
This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.