Designing our own obsolescence

The following speech was written by PF G10 as part of an English assignment.

Ever since our creation, humans have had to gather and forage to survive. But we humans are smart-ly lazy, so we so we designed and built tools to lessen the amount of physical work we do, in order to minimize effort and maximize gains. From rakes to plows, to tractors, we’ve gone from everyone needing to make food to no-one needing to make food – yet we still have abundance.

This is automation, and when I say that word, you probably think large, custom built and very expensive machines in factories, and you’d be half-right. These mechanical muscles have made human physical labor less in demand. With human physical labor out of fashion, some people have started to specialize in human brain labor to build mechanical minds. But just as mechanical muscles phased out human muscles, so to will mechanical minds phase out human minds. This is a revolution on a worldwide scale. You may think we’ve been here before but we haven’t: this time is different.

Imagine 2 horses conversing about cars in the early 20th century. One worries that the car will render them obsolete, while the other reminds him that everything so far has made their lives easier. Remember all that farm work? Running to deliver mail? riding into battle? All terrible. New city jobs for horses are pretty easy, and with so many humans in the city, there will be even more work for horses. And even if the car catches on, there will be new jobs for horses we can’t imagine. But you all know what happened. The horse population peaked in 1915, after that it was nothing but down. Sure there are horses still working in the modern day, but nowhere near the amount that was present in the past. The horses paint a portent of the future: automata will replace us, not all at once and certainly not everywhere, but in big enough numbers and in the very near future. It’s going to be a big problem if we aren’t prepared, and we are not prepared. Just as the car rendered horses obsolete, so too does the car show us the shape of things to come.

What I’ve said so far concerns white collar work, but maybe that doesn’t worry you, maybe you’re a special creative snowflake, crafting creative commodities. But guess what? You’re not that special. Take the 2 board games chess and go both highly creative endeavors. The best human chess and go players in the world have been bested by artificial intelligence. Think about that. No human player will ever again be the best at either of these 2 games. No matter how hard you try, even if you dedicate your entire life to becoming the best, it will never be enough. Your brain will always be bested by a mechanical mind. And bots can get even more creative! The music that’s playing in the background was composed entirely by a machine. Furthermore, this very class that we’re in, English, the bots can do that too. All of you have read an article written by a bot and chances are, you didn’t even know. Machine creativity has gotten so commonplace and so good that it is now indistinguishable from “the real thing”.

What I’ve said today, it does not concern the future. It concerns the now. It concerns us. Our generation most of all. We are at the forefront of general purpose automation. The future is not coming, we are living in it. Think about us. We’re at school, learning right now. In a couple of years, we’d have graduated from university, fresh-faced and finally ready to adult. Only to discover that we’re already replaced. By an artificial device that can do our job so much more efficiently than us. How will we survive? And more importantly, how does humanity survive in a future where we have designed our own obsolescence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s