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[Part 1] Will Artificial Intelligence replace humans and eventually make them redundant?

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With the advent of technology, humans as is their wont, have started worrying their heads with the consequences of the rapid advances that we have been making of late. One of the biggest and most important worries associated with the recent surges made in the field of Artificial Intelligence and computing, is the “redundancy phenomenon”. And to be very honest, this particular phenomenon has a lot of very important and powerful people worried about the future of our race.

Okay folks, so this is going to be a long article and that is why I have broken it up into two parts. Please find the link to the second part once you finish reading, near the end of the article.

So here is the thing: Computers are better at doing some things, as compared to humans. For instance, they are infinitely better at performing tasks that require repetition. They are also much, much better at doing things that require any sort of mathematical calculations. Now these two things have been true since several decades. However, thanks to Moore’s law (which roughly states that the computing power is increasing exponentially with the passage of every couple of years or so), today’s computers are on an entirely different level altogether.

For instance, it may interest you to know that today’s regular smartphones pack more power than the computers which were used to send the Apollo mission to the moon. Yup, strange and unbelievable as it sounds, it’s true. And with this awesome increase in computing power, today’s systems can do a whole host of things that were thought to be the sole domain of the human brain.

This progression started in the late 90s, with a supercomputer beating a human GrandMaster in the game of Chess. Since then, computers have asserted their dominance over humans in almost every game they can participate in — with the most recent examples being Google’s Alpha and IBM’s Watson. And this change has not been limited to games. The introduction of computers has revolutionized many, many industries, making it utterly impossible to imagine a world without computers. Truth be told, we have already made the shift to a community where our the continuity of our thriving existence can not be imagined without the awesome computing powers we have learnt to leverage on our behalf.

Which brings us to the future, and the topic of this article. Already, computers and robots are slated to become an even more integral part of our lives. Every other article on the Internet talks about robotic housemaids, and self-driven cars, the latter of which are already undergoing on-road tests in cities across the world. The question before us then is this: Provided that a self-awakening like that shown in the Terminator series does not take place, what will humans do once computers start taking over jobs in earnest.

Already, millions of humans have lost their jobs as a result of the introduction of things like AI, Computing, RPA etc. into processes like administration, finance, IT, and so on. And this saga is only expected to continue in other domains and professions as well. What’s more, what happens when computers start taking over jobs that were considered safe by virtue of the fact that they involved faculties computers are not blessed with? For the purpose of this article, lets take the example of driving, to represent all the jobs where AI stands to replace humans in the coming decade.

There are tens of millions of drivers across the world. With rapid advancement in the field of self-driving cars and the various advantages associated with the self-driving system, it is very easy to envision a world where driving your car manually could turn into something that is practiced as a hobby. After all, if all cars are driven by computers and are somehow connected, things like accidents, jams, and so on will all but disappear. All these advantages however, fail to answer a crucial question: “What will happen to the tens of millions of drivers, who will find themselves without a job?” Please bear in mind that I am taking drivers as merely an example to illustrate my point. I refer here to all the jobs (including drivers) that stand to be taken over by machines.

These questions do not have any certain answers at present. True, there are many half-baked theories floating around which talk about the need to re-skill and cross-skill. However, no one has a concrete answer to what will happen to the world once we have perfected our computers. Made them capable of doing things for their masters, for humans, in a far more efficient manner than even we could. What jobs will then remain? How will people survive? Will the economy survive the sudden drop in the purchasing power of a lot of people?

It is questions like these that keep prominent technologists, VCs, businessmen, government officials, and other decision takers awake. While most appear ready to push through with the technological advances come what may, there are those as well who would put a check on the advances made by technology just to ensure that the human society doesn’t get thrown out of balance. And the fact of the matter is, that the people who are worried have ample reason to. Imagine tens of millions of people unemployed within a span of a couple of years and unable to find new jobs. What do you think will happen?

A bibliophile and a business enthusiast.

mudit.m@thetechportal.in