Suppose you lived a distant time from now, and you overheard the following exchange between a woman and a robot:
She: “I am the smartest. I went to the university. I am connected. I am the key to success around here.”
Robot: “Yes, but you and your kind need to eat and drink, to consume things like clothes, and to occupy large air conditioned spaces. You are too demanding and too expensive to continue living here.”
It will be a long time before robots will be able to make a value judgment like this, but this comparison is increasingly going to happen. Robots do not feel better if something or someone is doing their work for them. They just exist for the moment with no memory of the past or vision of the future. Since robots work much more cheaply and efficiently than humans, we will hardly resist assigning them to more and more of our daily tasks from vacuuming the floors to walking the dog.
The whole thing crystallized in my mind when I was in a remote village in Myanmar, or Burma, of all places. Through an interpreter, I asked a schoolteacher what she thought of robots (I never miss an opportunity to do book research!). She said, according to my notes, “The machines will take over a few things, then more things, until all you have to do is watch television. After many years, people will lose arms and legs for lack of use. You will turn into potatoes.” That’s the wisdom of a simple, village woman. It’s worth thinking about.
From the new book just published, Winter of the Genomes.
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).