Here Come the Robots

July 26, 2017


They are on the march. Humming, whirring, grinding metal and plastic is rising up over the horizon. Robots are coming.

One hundred years ago, it was the automobile. Fifty years ago, it was science fiction robots and business intelligence computers. However, this time, it’s different. This time, the robots will be powered by the kind of intelligence that can accurately predict weather several days out. This time, the intelligence is global. This time, it truly feels like the start of a new age. This time, we may actually be discussing a kind of singularity, where technology changes things so much, that mankind is permanently altered, and his place in the universe is forevermore beyond his own control.

Every twenty-five years or so, there is a new rumbling about how humans may get replaced by the automation that they are so busy creating. Every twenty-five years, there are experts who panic, and blue-collar workers who get concerned. Every twenty-five years, mankind must wrestle with the idea of changing jobs to avoid becoming extinct.

However, what happens when the very thing that threatens to replace mankind becomes smarter and more powerful than the species? That is a game-changer. That has not happened before. That is the sort of thing that leads to dominant species becoming subservient. That is the sort of thing that leads to mass deaths. I propose that this is the sort of thing that will cause proud men to reconsider their places in the universe and truly tremble, for the first time in their little lives.

You see, mankind and his intelligence and tools are what have allowed him to remain relevant and ever-safer over the ages. When the world seems too uncivil to remain alive, invent civilization and all the trappings that go along with it, to make the world more civil and safe. When the task is too difficult for mortal man to do the work, invent tools and machines to make the task surmountable. When machine intelligence becomes so intelligent and so reliable that the job is being taken by a machine, what do you do then? What can be invented against intelligent inventions that work better than a person?

A lot of high-minded individuals have had many opinions on this subject, but the details have not gone far enough. Technology has proceeded at its usual dizzying pace, but preparations are always a lifetime behind schedule. So it is with this new wave of automation that will inevitably come. It will come not because technology is so shiny, or because we hope it will. This new wave will come because it is financially and economically the solution to the question on how to proceed with civilization. The economics of this reality are what make the new wave inevitable.

You can hold onto your horse with both reins, but cars will still be invented. You can grip your wagon whip tightly, but those items will eventually be replaced by the stick shift knob. You can wish cars away, but they will take over, because it is economically necessary to do so. Around 1915, the horse was at its most populous in the world. With the coming of the car, the horse has been diminishing ever since then. One hundred short years have changed so much.

Now human workers find themselves in the same position as horses, threatened to be replaced mercilessly by machines. Inevitable. Economical. Tragic. What will become of the species? Will a few prime human specimens be kept on a ranch by the insanely-rich? How can a man live without his job? A man does not live by bread alone, but a machine doesn’t even need that. Nobody else seems to be planning how to survive in this new reality. Therefore, I need to give it thought. Such work may be the only way I survive this new wave of automation.