We're simply not there with technology. Computers couldn't possibly do my job. Sound familiar? You may have muttered it to yourself as you read the plethora of A.I. stories coming out this year. Have you heard of the '7 stages of denial'? How about the '7 stages of computer-job denial'? They go like this:
- There's no way a computer could possibly do what I do.
- Alright, it can do quite a bit, but it still can't do everything I do.
- Alright, it can do pretty much what I do, except it needs me when it breaks down regularly.
- Alright, this thing operates without failure, but I need to train it for new tasks.
- Whew, that was definitely not a job for humans, but what should I do now?
- Sweet! My new job is more fun and pays more now that computers are doing my old job.
- I'm so glad a computer can't possibly do what I do.
These stages will begin to play over and over, this year and beyond, as we begin to see early examples of A.I. rapidly evolving towards a hypothesized "Singularity". This post explores A.I. Superintelligence, and basic steps you can take to start future-proofing your career.
This is also Part 6, the final post of my A.I. Stepping into Life Series. This series has covered my thoughts on how the progress of computing could impact human labor, the economy, and possibly life as we know it.
These are merely thoughts I've gathered along with those of many experts, to help spark your own ideas on the impact A.I. may have on your career. Sound fair? OK, grab a coffee, get cozy, and we'll start down our last rabbit hole by watching a clip from the 2015 Nobel Week Dialogue:
The Nobel Prize; you may have heard of it. Einstein received one for his contributions to physics, Sir Alexander Fleming for the discovery of penicillin, and Martin Luther King Jr. for advancing human rights. These people don't mess around. Yet, here they are in December, 2015 talking about A.I. like it's a real issue.
Then in January, 2016 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland there was another round table discussion (you can watch here) on A.I. with leading computer science experts. Again, a huge and very serious venue for discussing something that is science fiction, right? WRONG.
If Artificial Intelligence is a growing subject of interest to world leaders and global businesses, it should be for you too. Why? Opportunity and Risk.
Let's start by discussing the un-fun one: Risk
"The A.I. doesn't hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms that it could use for something else. - Eliezer Yudkowski
Over the last couple of months, I've steeped myself in A.I. research and come to discover that Megalomaniacal maleficent machines are not what experts are worried about. What are they to worried about? Pizza delivery drones. (insert LOL here) Well not really, but let me explain. Domino's Pizza rolled out a pilot program in Australia this year that uses autonomous drones to deliver pizza.
This may not seem like a big threat now, but apply economies of scale and imagine UPS, FedEx, and USPS using drones instead of humans. The co-founders of Skype are actually banking on it with their new drone. Combine these drones with autonomous trucks, boats, and planes, and global supply chains could automate faster than you can update your resume!
You might be thinking, "Only blue collar jobs will be lost." WRONG AGAIN. White collar clerical jobs, financial analysts & bank tellers, paralegals, and telemarketers are also at risk. Check out Kensho if you'd like to see how A.I. is up-ending financial management at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America.
These aren't terminators developed to kill us; instead they're just going to take our jobs, and the race is on. This isn't the only thing experts are worried about. So, where does the threat go from here? Super-Intelligence, that's where it goes...
The chart above approximates the progression of exponential super-computing power based on Moore's Law. It also showcases the stages of human/A.I. interaction I have hypothesized, as we work with smarter and smarter computers over time. As Moore's Law doubles every two years, the interaction segments in-turn shrink by half. Why does it end at Divergence? That's where Superintelligence arrives.
Artificial Superintelligence (or ASI) has been predicted and debated by many of the leading minds in computer-science today. In an Oxford survey conducted by Vincent C. Müller & Nick Bostrom, 98% of experts predict we'll achieve human-level A.I. (AGI) and 85% think we'll see ASI develop as a result.
In his recent book titled 'Superintelligence', Bostrom explains that rather than killer robots, it is more likely that an ASI (if not developed and managed properly) could wipe out humanity due over-simplistic default settings. Check your user manual I guess? Here's an example:
An A.I. is programmed to make us happy. As it gets smarter, it determines that the most efficient way to accomplish this, is to plug electrodes into our brains and force us to laugh until we die.
Simplified, Bostrom's argument is that we must take proper precautions and program ASI to accurately understand/self-regulate the most beneficial outcomes. Otherwise, we may accidentally unleash the end of humanity. I kid you not, this guy's legit. I guess that's why he's the Director of Oxford's Strategic Artificial Intelligence Research Center.
So it turns out the doom and gloom of post-apocalyptic life may not even be possible if we're all strapped into laughing machines or worse yet, dissolved into an atomic paste to be used for the ASI's computing power. Here's another cheeky video to illustrate similar points:
So, where's the upside? Wether we join, abstain, or retreat, it sounds like we're screwed. Not entirely...
Now let's discuss the really fun outcome: Opportunity
It's called transcendence by some, post-humanism by others, and it is the stuff of humanity's greatest dreams (there's a Johnny Depp movie about it; it's ok). How could post-humanism become real? Imagine the above chart of exponential computing power applied to medicine, energy, finance, etc. As the technological power doubles, it will gain the capacity to end disease, reliance on fossil fuel, income inequality, etc.
Now take what you learned about ASI and apply it for good. Imagine a super-intelligent being, orders of magnitude smarter than all of humanity combined. If programmed properly, it could uplift our species to a new level of existence that transcends our biology: DNA repair to prevent aging, uploading people's consciousness to digital format if their bodies fail, or optimizing our economies to be profitable for everyone. The possibilities are endless.
"Reading about AI will make you reconsider everything you thought you were sure about—including your notion of death." - Tim Urban
I could go on, but we don't have all day. Click here to do a deep dive on why A.I. will change how you look at the world/your future.
It all sounds too good to be true, and there in lies the rub. If humanity could work together to develop ASI, and if we are able to program an ASI that doesn't kill us, we may live well beyond what we ever thought possible. But first we have to get there. So let's talk about what you can do now.
Start future-proofing your career:
Step one: Learn more about artificial intelligence! The better you understand the advancements that are coming, the better you'll be prepared to adjust. Set up a news alert for "Artificial Intelligence" stories and research companies pioneering A.I.
Step two: Look for ways to make career moves towards an industry or first-mover company utilizing A.I. (Biotech, Supply Chain, Data Science, etc). Develop your computer skills. Consider going back to school if you never obtained a degree. There are some excellent free courses on iTunesU, Udacity, and other online learning sites to get you started.
Step three: Build your professional network with people involved in the A.I. community. Join a MeetUp group or attend a local seminar on machine learning. As a recruiter, I can tell you that knowing who to connect with will fast-track you to a more fruitful search/career change if needed.
Beyond that, there will always be more you can do. Who know's, perhaps I'll dive into that in another series down the road. ;)
For those of you who have read through any or all of my posts, I thank you for your time. I wish you all the best as you venture out into a brave new world of ever-advancing tech.
As always, I'll end with one of my favorite quotes:
"I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid... you're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."