Parentheses 2049 Job Opening: Humans need not apply
This is a rather provocative headline, I realise. Looking at a short history of ourselves, it seems rather par for the course. Let’s look back at the progress that humans have made over the centuries and you’ll see how this isn’t just a fanciful article but a prediction of what we’re on the very cusp of.
It all started when the human species went through the Cognitive Revolution. During this turning point, we developed actual cognitive traits that make us who we are today. Our brains changed. We developed behavioral traits that helped us hold a branch and whittle it into a stick. We learned how to think abstractly, plan, understand and develop the concept of art and culture. All this happened around 72 thousand years ago.
This paved the way for the agricultural revolution, when we formed settlements, stopped hunting-gathering, manipulated the environment to grow food, and had one hell of a population boom because we controlled our own food. This detour from nomadic life led us to form society, centralised administrations, hierarchical ideas, political structures, and the concept of trade. All of this happened around 12 thousand years ago.
This then led to the globalisation revolution. Humans across the world, from Homo sapiens, Neanderthal, and Denisovan species, united and paved the way for the modern humans of today. Political unification and ideologies spread like wildfires. Modern culture and society as we know it was manifested. And all this happened only around two thousand years ago.
Then of course we come to the scientific revolution when modern humans made leap[ing strides in the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, and chemistry that transformed the views of society and nature. Modern machinery was born. Advancements in medicine took place. The world was transformed, and only around 500 years ago.
And now we come to the final revolution that humans have engineered; the automation revolution. With industrial advancements, work became easier. Human productivity shot up. The humans who were working en masse in agriculture and then industry migrated to other professions and specialisations. Innovation took over from humans for roles ranging from food production to physical labour, and the shift began around 150 years ago.
Go back and look at that timeline. These revolutions didn’t happen in a linear fashion. The time difference between each human milestone has happened in shorter and shorter time intervals. Humans are evolving at an exponential pace and the next revolution is right around the corner. In fact, we are very likely in the midst of it right now.
Now… think back to the first time you saw Siri speak. I remember when I first did; it was on the news and to see a phone understand and respond to a human voice command absolutely threw me. This might be an odd start to what I predict will be the next human revolution, since Siri and her ilk are ubiquitous in our world. While we utilise these tools and benefit from them, we must recognise them as harbingers of increased automation and the almighty AI.
There is a belief that AI, no matter how it advances, will not be able to replace humans for the most part. One wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of that take, and unfortunately, that belief seems to be already outdated. We've already seen AI take over jobs that we're familiar with. AI has replaced several store cashiers, allowing customers to walk out of stores with their purchases without having to go through the checkout process. Self-driving cars are getting smarter and will soon replace human drivers. In fact, Synthesia (a firm that specializes in artificial intelligence) has developed software with which it’s possible to make lifelike videos of synthetic individuals that are practically indistinguishable from real people! Is AI after the jobs of actors? Producers? Photographers? Models? The answer is yes, yes, and then some.
Even if you think AI isn't capable of taking over the world, it’s certainly taking over the job market at a rapid pace, and could potentially put you, me, and everyone out of jobs. The dark side of AI will soon emerge.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how technological unemployment might take place on a large scale, why we should be worried about this, and how universal basic income might help cushion the impact.