As robots become increasingly clever and capable, will I be able to hold onto my job?
Do you spend sleepless nights worrying that the plot of The Matrix may soon become a reality? Or maybe you sit up with your eyes trained on the door, waiting for a bloodthirsty, Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped robot to burst into your bedroom with a machine gun?
Real-life terminators are still far away, but it’s clear is that modern robotics has made some seriously significant progress in the last few years. In fact, in a recent test conducted by The University of Reading, a computer program was able to fool 33% of the judges at the Royal Society, the UK’s oldest society of science scholars, that it was a 13-year old Ukrainian boy named Eugene Goostman.
This was the first time that a machine has ever managed to pass the 65-year-old Turing Test, an evaluation designed by Alan Turing to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit behavior indistinguishable from that of an actual human being. While some might question the usefulness of a program that can imitate Eastern European pre-teens, many more are wringing their hands over the potential application of such technology in the future.
Machines: Sensitive, Charming, and Available
It may come as a surprise that “intelligent” machines are, in fact, already all around us. And unlike little Eugene Goostman, most of them are not chumming it up with English scientists.
The vast majority of these conniving and clever robots are running wild on the internet, randomly favoriting our tweets and occasionally promising us sex. According to the BBC, 61.5% of internet traffic is generated by automated programs called “bots.”
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “How could anyone ever get fooled by an archaic computer program posing as a human?,” then stop! Those are exactly the kind of lowered expectations they thrive on! That explains their preference for impersonating non-English-speaking humans: renowned psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein was once duped into falling in love with a bot that he took for an interested (and beautiful) Russian woman.
Unfortunately for us liberal arts types, robots’ talents aren’t limited to calculating math problems and catfishing men on the internet. Recent technological developments have generated complex programs with the ability to transcend left brain operations into more creative and ethereal territories.
Take, for example, the computer program known as Iamus: developers at the University of Malaga in Spain programmed the bot to compose its own music by using a complex and unique algorithm, according to the BBC. These binary beats are attracting attention not only from tech-enthusiasts, but seasoned musicians as well.
When discussing the future of composition, musician Gustavo Diaz Jerez was quoted as saying that soon “there will be two kinds of composers. Those who admit to using the [Iamus] repository and those who don’t.”
Perhaps the scariest development of all, at least from where I stand, is the very real emergence of robo-authors. In response to last year’s National Novel Writing Month literary contest, hundreds of entrants ditched their quills and pens, instead writing code for fiction-generating bots to write their text for them, as Business Insider reported. The result? A slew of computer programs capable of writing fully-fledged novels.
Irritant (described here by Vice) and World Clock (the synopsis of which is provided here by Harvard) are just a few of the AI-“penned” books that have hit the shelves already. They read sort of like aborted Gertrude Stein drafts, but in the world of post-post-postmodern fiction, this doesn’t make their output any less worrying.
Robot For Hire
If the idea of robots composing music, writing bestselling novels, and seducing you on the internet wasn’t enough, it turns out they might be coming for your job as well. Here are some fun statistics, courtesy of Gartner Research:
By the year 2018,
- Three million workers across the globe will be supervised by “robobosses.”
- Nearly 20% of all business content (about one in five of the documents you read) will be authored by a bot.
- About 50% of the fastest-growing companies will have less “smart employees” than “smart machines”
- And by 2020, nearly 40% of all mobile transactions will be facilitated by “smart agents” like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now.
While these figures don’t paint a very pretty picture for the human race’s job security prospects in the future, keep in mind that they’re merely predictions. It’s unlikely that we’ll be completely replaced anytime soon. All the same, you may want to keep that list of potential job contacts away from your laptop and smartphone — just to be safe.