Apple’s Siri Provides Clues About Whether Robots Will Put Us All Out of Work

How HomePod and Siri begin to interface to our home and our work will tell us something about our future.

I keep seeing articles that say either 1) AI and robots will put us all out of work, and 2) Humans and robots will co-exist and humans will simply escalate to a new level human-machine interface in mid-21st century jobs. So which is it?

What concerns me is that so many of the jobs humans do nowadays are ripe for replacement by AIs that will either be disembodied or placed in robots. That’s because companies see immediate cost-saving benefits. This raises questions for me.

  • Can our education systems and our socio-economics react fast enough to truly elevate human interactions with machines to an unprecedented level?
  • Can societal structure be revised to provide basic human needs at lower cost so that we can live a Star Trek-like future?
  • Will the values of companies like Apple dictate this evolution, or will basic human greed overrule ethical concerns?

It could well be that AI assistants in their current infancy can be leveraged by smart humans to achieve new levels of achievement and productivity. That meme might propel the designers of AIs, like Apple, to develop them along specific lines that are favorable to human partnership and intellectual evolution.

The second article I’ve linked to below ponders that notion:

This could result in societal changes of greater freedom of location and a basic income. In a way, the Automation Age may be an enhanced return to the hunter/gatherer period of humanity where basic needs were provided, originally by nature, in the future by machines. Except in the Automation Age, our purpose will be to explore what it means to be human instead of simply survive.

On the other hand, if there are overwhelming incentives to squeeze the human out of the loop, then our own evolution will be stunted. It all depends on the economics, in the short term, of designing AIs to partner with humans instead of going it alone.

Pepper. Image credit: Soft Bank Robotics. Partner or replacement?

Anyway, as I mentioned above, here are two articles that explore the issues.

Along those lines, we can get a early picture of how AI will interact with us in the future by looking at the current state-of-the-art. That is, Siri, Alexa and Cortana. Here again, the ethics of privacy vs. corporate intrusion (and control) will play out. Fast Company ponders: “To Win The AI Assistant Wars, Apple Is Melding Siri With Its Other Services.

In summary, if the values that Apple instills in Siri make it non-competitive or slow down its development, how will Apple react? Can Apple turn Siri into such a compelling AI that it can shrug off potentially less ethical competitors? How will Apple market that strategy? Is Apple even thinking about these implications? My guess is yes.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of August 14th. Another Apple blockbuster movie deal.

4 thoughts on “Apple’s Siri Provides Clues About Whether Robots Will Put Us All Out of Work

  • John:

    Your lead with ‘Siri provides clues…’ is a great and ongoing discussion about AI, our relationship to it, and its impact on human well-being. While it’s a great diversion from the unpleasantness bedevilling socio-political discussions and debates, it also lacks a bedrock of data on which to ground discussion and come to hard and evidence-based conclusions, thus most of this discussion remains speculative and theoretical and any conclusions selective.

    That said, there are some proven guiding principles that we can use to shape that discussion. Regarding the debate about whether or not AI will put us out of work, there are at least two points that should be disaggregated, and often are not. The first is the over-arching principle about technological and cultural displacement of defunct systems. The second is the specific issue posed by AI, namely whether or not human oversight itself will be displaced and rendered effete or even obsolete.

    Regarding the relentless displacement of veteran technologies by new and emerging ones, AI follows an historical and seemingly incessant trend of emergence, establishment and obsolescence of technologies and standards that are inherent in one of two core pillars in the process of civilisation itself, science and its fruit, technology. If we weren’t discussing AI today, it would be something else; perhaps the internet vs TV, and all the jobs a waning TV industry might lose, or book publishing houses vs digital books, or the music industry vs online services, and so on. The existential threat in all of these discussions (and recorded history is replete with them – just look at discussions about the whaling industry and job displacement at the time that incandescent lights were becoming a thing), is the fear of the unknown. Most of us are unable to imagine a world without the familiar, however imperfect, limited and unsustainable it might be. We cannot imagine the capacity of human ingenuity, and how the will to not merely survive but strive for betterment will reconstruct the world in which humans live; and how quickly such profound changes will occur. How many, at the turn of the 20th Century, could have imagined how quickly and thoroughly the horse and carriage would not only be swept aside, but the jobs servicing the horse and carriage industry would cease to be relevant. And yet, civilisation did not collapse, and jobs unforeseen were created, even if they did not absorb everyone in the veteran horse industry. We have always relied upon our creative pioneers (not always the same as inventors, but people who can see opportunity in these periods of transformation and create whole new industries – like podcasting) who comprise the sharp end of our way out of evolutionary bottlenecks and dead ends. Seldom, if ever, have the masses held a consensus view of the way forward which we’ve then collectively taken, nor should we expect it in the case of AI. What we should not expect, because it would be profoundly ahistorical, is that a vacuum will be created by wholesale industrial displacement, and that we will sit idly by that void, and passively suffer the social and economic unrest that would follow. Humanity does not have a collective death wish, and our history is not a tale of passivity in the face of loss or change, but of adaptability, creativity and novel solutions.

    Regarding Doug Clinton’s piece that this time, it’s different because AI will render human intelligence at the wheel unnecessary, this, in my view, is yet another illustration of a failure of imagination. It is true that we will not need a human in the driver’s seat of a stupid machine, because AI will be at the helm. It is not true that we will not need human oversight, rather human involvement will be promoted up the chain of oversight and responsibility. Take transport. While we will displace drivers (personal, cabbies and truckers alike), we’re not simply making smart cars; we will need to re-engineer transportation altogether to keep everyone safe and our economy humming. This will require transformation of the entire transport grid, including software, AI upgrades, coordination and connectivity with related systems and services (e.g. food and health to name just two) and the safety and security protocols needed to harden these against attack and failure, new smart surfaces, and new human/transportation interfaces that we haven’t even thought about. These will be created, perfected, and run by humans who will no longer need to do the physical labour associated with driving. Industries we haven’t yet dreamt up will need to emerge and quickly. Our educational systems will need to be adaptable enough to respond to that need, rather than relying on the pluck and ingenuity of a select few whose numbers will be inadequate to the demands of a new order. That transportation industry will even more different than our current one, as our current one is from the horse and carriage.

    While this promotion of human input up the chain of responsibility might be new in its specifics, it too is an old theme, and nothing fundamentally new. We simply haven’t imagined our way there yet, but if our history is guide, we undoubtedly will. And as Samuel Johnson noted, “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

  • That is quite a story Geoduck. Even if robots don’t take control of us, idle hands are the Devil’s workshop and some sort of positive activity needs to fill our free time.

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