Richard's Reviews > Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford
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bookshelves: ebook, nonfiction, nonfiction-apocalyptic, technology, scifi-apocalyptic, futurism, read-these-reviews-first
Recommended for: Pretty much everyone under 55

Update September 2018: (previous updates after my review)

I lost track of this review, otherwise I would have written this update in May 2018.

A few paragraphs down, I point out that there was a video that came out in June 2015 that showed robots failing amusingly — see it here: At least they tried: Robot ‘epic fails’ compilation from DARPA Robotics Challenge. They can’t open a door without falling down! They sometimes fall over just trying to walk! It was hilarious, and I’m sure a lot of folks took that to heart: don’t worry about killer robots. Just climb the stairs and you’re safe!

And how have things changed? Well, take a look at this video from a mere 35 months after that previous one: Humanoid robot runs through the park by itself. Before you get too dismissive — hey, running through the park? That's not so tough! — check out the sequence that starts at about 21 seconds in, and ask if you could do that? Stairs clearly aren’t a problem anymore. Where you gonna run now, human?

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In the coming years, your job is very likely to evaporate. That might mean now , or it might mean twenty-five or thirty years. But unless you’re extraordinarily unusual, it’ll happen.

I’m going to start by giving a few examples.

Take the profession of accountancy. I’m oversimplifying, but pretty much what an accountant does is match an entity’s financial information to the appropriate laws and rules, and then provide analysis of how well those match up, and maybe fill out some forms. Guess what? There’s nothing in there that a software program couldn’t do. In fact, many people that don’t make a lot of money already use such software to file their taxes, and every year that software gets a little more sophisticated, and a lot of techie folks use software that leaves all the other accountants doing less and less, year by year. The profession of accountant will likely be almost completely extinct within a decade (long before we see those autonomous cars everyone keeps talking about).

Let’s look at a something much tougher, like a barber or hair stylist. The job there is to examine the client’s features, ask questions about what that client wants, and suggest a style that is both feasible and desirous, and then cut hair to that style. Right now, that is about as far from what a computer could do as any profession in existence.

Why, though?

Well, first, speedy dexterity isn’t something that robots are too good at, except when they can be programmed to do precisely the same thing, over and over again, in which case they do much better than meager humans. And comprehension of a complex visual scene is another really tough computational problem. But if you’ve been following the pace of progress, you know that it is only a matter of time before the robots get there.

There’s a video floating around showing robots failing amusingly (but miserably, and with silly music, so we can feel superior!) during a DARPA challenge that folks are getting a kick out of. Recall, however, how very recently the idea of a robot walking around on two feet would have been absurd. Now we laugh because they sometimes fall down while trying to open doors or climb stairs or get into cars. Given the many millions going into research, how long do you think that will last?

A vast database could already be built of head shapes, facial and hair features, just by looking at the treasure trove of images already accessible via the world wide web. AI that learns which of those are considered comical and which attractive would still be a challenge, but is probably an easier task than programming Watson was for IBM. Programming a hair-cutting robot with the knowledge of what set of snips will create the desired look would be even easier, since it could be endlessly simulated purely in virtual space.

Yeah, it will take years before we see this happen, but that just means it will be at the tail end of the tsunami instead of at the beginning, where the accountants are already feeling vulnerable. (This makes me wonder, how many out-of-work accountants will be able to get jobs as hair dressers?)

There are some jobs that, as far as we can tell, are completely out of range of the robots and their AI software, but that number will get smaller and smaller over the decades, as engineers learn to make the software more sophisticated and the hardware it runs on continues to get faster.

The real sweet spot for humans is to be truly creative. That doesn’t mean anyone in a “creative field” gets a pass, however. AI is already composing quotidian music and doing the rote job of journalists. Being really creative means knowing when and how to break the rules in a way that is fundamentally unexpected. A computer never would have created John Cage’s 4’33”, for example.

The work of Thomas Kuhn, whose The Structure of Scientific Revolutions made the word “paradigm” the cliché it is today, illustrates this. Most science, like most creativity, exists within a paradigm that people in the field understand. Most “normal science”, like most normal creativity, doesn’t bust out of that paradigm. Highly sophisticated software can be taught that paradigm, and how to explore its domain, and how to evaluate whether the result of those exploration are consistent with other highly-regarded results.


How this revolution is progressing is what Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future is all about.

Now, you might be skeptical. This does sound, after all, like the Luddite Fallacy, doesn’t it? If you don’t know the term, it refers to the time at the beginning of the industrial revolution when crafts folk that used hand looms to weave cloth tried to keep the innovation machine looms from making them redundant. The “fallacy” part is because there have always been compensatory effects — some people lose their careers, but the gains in technological capacity and productivity make other forms of production possible, employing even more people.

So why is this time so different? Because what the machines are replacing is different.


The simple machines replaced work that was dirty and dangerous. In the past century, more sophisticated machines replaced work that was dull — those robots that bolt together auto bodies, for example, replaced large numbers of men who used to get pretty good wages for doing an unremittingly boring job.

But today, machines are replacing our minds, not our muscles. More importantly, it is very unlikely that some vast new field of economic activity will suddenly appear on the horizon that will employ all of the workers made redundant — once machines are stronger and faster, more accurate and precise, more patient and (at least) as smart, what kind of job would that be?

If you need more convincing, here’s an analogy. Once upon a time, humans used animals to do our brute labor. It actually took thousands of years for us to arrange that, of course. Before we’d invented the wheel, animals could carry stuff on their backs. Reliable wheels were actually quite a stunning leap forward! Eventually, animals could do most of our hardest labor, except where our brains made us more adaptive to change or subtle details.

But think about what happened when we invented the steam engine. The first practical steam engine came along (as a stunning number of other developments) right near the end of the eighteenth century (which is related to those Luddites were rioting a few decades later). Even though it took millennia for us to learn to use animals, in most ways we’d retired them within a century. The key point is that even though those animal muscles could have still been used, there were effectively no jobs for which they were actually better than machines.

That’s where our brains are about now.

Now, there are still people that don’t believe this is going to happen. For example, in the essay How Technology Is Destroying Jobs, a professor of engineering at MIT states:
❝For that reason, Leonard says, it is easier to see how robots could work with humans than on their own in many applications. “People and robots working together can happen much more quickly than robots simply replacing humans,” he says. “That’s not going to happen in my lifetime at a massive scale. The semiautonomous taxi will still have a driver.”❞
Really? By all indications, autonomous vehicles are already safer than human drivers. Although there are still tricky situations where they could make disastrous choices, they’d still probably have a better overall safety record than us, and they’ll be getting better — we won’t, except with their help. So why would that taxi company want to pay to have a more-fallible human sitting there, bored, to second-guess the computer? It is true that people and robots working together can sometimes do better, but in far too many cases that will be a fairly short interim period, until the software engineers understand what humans are contributing and replace those final aspects — economics will create huge incentives to get the human out of the picture.

An article in the Harvard Business Review attempts to push those “complementaries”, too. It lists five “augmentation strategies”.

First, “step up”. Head for higher intellectual ground.

What’s the flaw here? Well, the top of the pyramid would be a great place, but there simply isn’t much room there. The example given is that, instead of using a biochemist to do a preliminary evaluation on a candidate drug, let the computers do it, and have the biochemist “pick up at the point where the math leaves off”. The difficulty is there is already a researcher doing that, and the computers are replacing the dozens of lower-tier chemists that are doing the simpler work. It’s like telling a sous-chef to “step up” and become the restaurant’s chef de cuisine! That might work for a very small number of very talented sous-chefs, but it won’t work on any large scale at all.

Second, “step aside”. Use skills that can’t be codified.

One example used here is even more absurd than the biochemist example: “Apple’s revered designer Jonathan Ive can’t download his taste to a computer.” Obviously, we can’t all be Jony Ive. But what about that accountant that was mentioned at the beginning? Can’t they learn to use personality skills to be better at interacting with the clients? Sure — but won’t all the accountants want that gig? And being the “human face” of the software might be a safe job for quite some time, it does reflect a de-skilling from the original job. This is also the category for those truly creative types that can consistently deliver outside-the-box thinking that the programmers can’t predict, and can’t be found in correlations within huge datasets.

Third, “step in”. Be the person that double-checks the software for mistakes.

An example given here involved mortgage-application evaluation software that rejected former Fed Reserve chief Ben Bernanke’s mortgage application because it couldn’t properly evaluate his career prospects on the lecture circuit. This will be a pretty sweet job category, but it isn’t because the software will continue to make “mistakes”. It’ll be because the software is taught to recognize unusual situations, and automatically funnels them to human assistants. Like the human co-pilot of an semiautonomous taxicab, there will be a lot of financial incentives to make this a very rare job, though.

Fourth, “step narrowly”. Find a sub-sub-sub-speciality that isn’t economical to automate.

The example in the article shows clearly how narrow these opportunities are: imagine being the person who specializes in matching the sellers and buyers of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises! Yeah, all the real estate agents who hate Zillow.com would love to be that guy, or his equivalent. I like my example better: you know all those Craigslist advertisements for “Two Men and a Van” to help you move furniture? The new version of those is going to be the two workers with the robotic stair-climbing mule. They’ll help city dwellers move from apartment to apartment, with one worker upstairs loading the donkey and another downstairs offloading it. It certainly will take a long time for the robotic economy to replace every little niche.

Finally, the fifth strategy is “step forward”. Write the software that puts your friends and neighbors out of work!

Writing this AI will probably be quite the growth industry for years to come. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty specialized type of programming. And even more unfortunately, there are plenty of programmers in other specialties whose jobs are starting to disappear. For example, setting up a website for a company used to be quite a labor-intensive and remunerative gig, but now there are plenty of automated suites that do the lions share of that, leaving only a job for the rarer “stepped-up” or “stepped-in” person to finish the job. There’s going to be plenty of competition in software field, too, as the simpler jobs are automated away.

What you’ve undoubtedly spotted in those five categories is obvious: while there will still be jobs in existence — and even some new ones — the numbers just won’t add up. When tens or hundreds of thousands of people in a field find their jobs being de-skilled or simply eliminated, the competition for those that remain will be nasty. (Which will drive wages down, ironically.)


There’s a lot more in Ford’s book. I really recommend it.

(Or, if you’re already mostly convinced and plan on skipping it, check out this clever and snappy fifteen-minute video, especially the portion at 3:31, on “luddite horses”.)

One thing I want to point out that he got somewhat mostly wrong, though, is in his portion on Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI. It is common for non-specialists to engage in inappropriate metaphorical thinking when talking about AI and robots. The overwhelmingly vast majority of AI and robots that we’re seeing, or will see for a long time, is functional AI — it was designed to fulfill a specific productive function. That is radically and fundamentally different than the research going into AGI, which has the goal of creating software that is as flexible and cognitively complex as the human mind — generalized intelligence.

Just because they’re both computer programs doesn’t mean that they have much in common. Both IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson and Google’s autonomous driving software are software programs that run on computers, but if you asked Watson to drive your car, or quizzed one of Google cars with a Jeopardy question, you’ll get no satisfaction. That might seem obvious, but far too often the end-product of AGI is magically given all the skills of any software program ever written. Ford, for example, says on page 232, “A thinking machine would, of course, continue to enjoy all the advantages that computers currently have, including the ability to calculate and access information at speeds that would be incomprehensible for us.” You really should pretty much ignore chapter 9.

Chapter 10, on the other hand, is crucial. The coming century is going to be bad enough with all that Climate Change brouhaha, without the world trying to figure out how an economy works without many or most people having jobs. Science fiction authors have been forecasting dystopian futures for a long time (the one lying behind the story in Peter Watts’ Rifters trilogy is especially harrowing), and we’re really going to want to avoid that. You’ll quickly note that raising the minimum wage doesn’t help — in fact, it creates incentives to automate that much more quickly. Plans that provide a guaranteed minimum income make more sense, although anyone familiar with the political climate in the United States won’t give that much chance of happening.

Frankly, I’ve been telling anyone I care about who has kids to make sure they’ve got the know-how and land to garden, but I’m pretty sure I’m considered an alarmist.

We’ll see.

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Previous updates:

Update August 2015 —

Check out Who Owns the Robot in Your Future Work Life? , from the Pacific Standard magazine. This is part of a series of news essays concerning the Future of Work.

Update October, 2015 —

And the New York Times has a nice article on how AI will supplant auditors in searching for tax evasion: Computer Scientists Wield Artificial Intelligence to Battle Tax Evasion

Elon Musk's Tesla car company are quietly being designed to work as fully autonomous vehicles. Check out the analysis at Elon Musk’s Sleight of Hand.

Update later October 2015—

Something pretty close to the top end of the human cognitive spectrum might be the skill of seeking a pattern in a mass of chaotic data. Oh, sorry — that's another trick a computer seems to be able to do much more easily than us. See System that replaces human intuition with algorithms outperforms human teams.

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Reading Progress

May 22, 2015 – Shelved
May 22, 2015 – Shelved as: ebook
May 22, 2015 – Shelved as: nonfiction
May 22, 2015 – Shelved as: nonfiction-apocalyptic
May 22, 2015 – Shelved as: technology
June 4, 2015 – Started Reading
June 4, 2015 – Shelved as: scifi-apocalyptic
June 13, 2015 – Shelved as: futurism
June 13, 2015 – Finished Reading
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: read-these-reviews-first

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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David You often refer to reviews of books you're interested in. A review of this book is supposed to be in the 3/29/2014 Economist.
On my to-read list.


message 2: by Richard (last edited Jul 26, 2015 11:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard I found what you're referring to — but it isn't a review about this book, and surprisingly doesn't even refer to Martin Ford, despite his earlier book, The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future .

It is one of the Economist's Special Reports that uses the same title in their "leader" (their term for an editorial essay that also discusses something that is covered inside an issue in more depth). If you want to check it out, that leader is here: New roles for technology: Rise of the robots , and a PDF of the special report is here: Immigrants From the Future.

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Note: I originally had a long list of online reviews and interviews holding the place for my eventual review. I'm moving them here, so folks can still peruse them:

Note: I haven't read all of these, or listened to the podcasts, so some of the following might be misguided, amateurish, or tangential:

Good overview video at PBS Newshour (8+ minutes): http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/will-j...
Related article about three employment fields susceptible to replacement: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/3...

Text on Wired: http://www.wired.com/2015/04/rise-mac...

Text at the Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/soon-they...

Text at the New York Times (along with Shadow Work): http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/boo...

(The author of the above discusses her review on the NY Times Book Review podcast, discussed here, but the only way I can see to download it is via iTunes, here on May 14th, 34 minutes.)

Text at the Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles...

Text at the Financial Times: http://on.ft.com/1cwDUA4

Text at Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-ro...

Audio on NPR 's All Tech Considered (30 minutes): http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechco...

Audio at NPR's Fresh Air (48 minutes): http://freshairnpr.npr.libsynfusion.c...

Audio at the Commonwealth Club (59 minutes): http://www.commonwealthclub.org/event...

Audio on The Week (4 1/2 minutes): http://theweek.com/audio/442123/rise-...

Audio on Review the Future (55 minutes): http://reviewthefuture.com/?p=457 (transcript: http://reviewthefuture.com/?p=463)

Many more are linked to in the author's Twitter stream: https://twitter.com/MFordFuture/media


message 3: by Caroline (last edited Jun 09, 2015 09:54PM) (new)

Caroline The FT and the Wall Street Journal ask you to subscribe before viewing. Am going to explore some of these other links... Thank you so much for providing - as always - such a wealth of resources :O)


Richard FT asked me to create an account for a few free views, but didn't force me to subscribe. But they also gave me the opportunity to answer some trivial questions, which seemed painless. But while the two-page or so review is pretty good, there wasn't anything in it that I'm sure isn't covered by the others.


message 5: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Okay, thank you. I picked up quite a lot at the PSB site...


message 6: by Caroline (last edited Jun 16, 2015 05:23PM) (new)

Caroline I sent my brother links to some of your recommendations and got this email by return...

"I think we are with robots where we were with PCs in the early 70s.
Sigh humans just get in the way."

I think I need to recommend the other book on AI that you have just read!


David Regarding "humanlike" AI / AGI's: Defining humanlike is an issue. How many standard deviations from average can the IQ of a humam or machine be and be "humanlike"? Is the fictional character Superman "humanlike"? If we could transfer Richard's mind into an android body, would that entity be "humanlike"?

Most important, as far as I'm concerned, is that an AI / AGI have a "conscience" which would at very least motivate it to treat us as members of "intelligent beings" which have certain rights and protections. I'm not clear to what extent a non-evolved entity such as an AI needs a selfish element in order to be an "individual" rather than just a tool for humans. At least without that knowledge, I tend to think I'd put an AI's selfishness at a very low level - which might make it "not humanlike".


message 8: by Richard (last edited Jan 11, 2016 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard David, the fact that defining human is difficult is the problem.

All of the functional things that we want AI to do are pretty easy to define. It's even possible to envision an AI project intended to serve as a robotic personal care assistant, such as the one portrayed in the movie Robot & Frank, that would still be "merely" functional programming, with no need to program a sense of its own identity, its own wants and desires, etc.

The idea of an AI "consciousness" really belongs over at that other book: Superintelligence. This book, Rise of the Robots should have focused almost completely on the functional AI issues.

But I'm preempting the review I'm supposed to sit down and write, so I'm gonna probably ignore any more Q&A until I've done that :-)


David Thanks for the extensive discussion and links.

One of the proposals for individuals wanting to avoid occupations which will be automated is to find a job where you must "think outside the box". But the books and articles discussed here don't seem to "think outside the box" in approaching solutions. They propose individual or institutional actions constrained by the current socio-economic framework. They don't tend to say, "This isn't just a potential crisis, but has a potential to mold a new era in human history." Instead, there are ideas on how humans can fight over the few remaining good jobs, and how to avoid mass starvation (ignoring the existence of this immense potential). Automation offers the potential for producing our goods and services more cheaply, with less risk to health of human employees, with the possibility for more leisure time, the possibility for more specialized "workers" than there are humans with those capabilities, etc. We could be asking, "How can society provide the greatest good for the greatest number while taking wise advantage of this potential? Would it be better to democratically choose and organize how automation reshapes society, or to have it decided plutocratically by businesses solely based on individual profit for a tiny minority?" (I don't believe in depending on an "invisible hand" rather than using intelligence and knowledge to find solutions.) At very least, it's worth including in the discussion as part of the process of clarifying what is well-founded and which are based on mere assumptions.


message 11: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Very interesting. It is impressive the number of variables it can encompass, eg how much someone has had to drink within an hour.

I would however feebly (hopefully) speak up in favour of cocktail bartenders. Surely it is the whole razzmatazz of their performance that adds to the flavour of cocktails - also the amazing range of drinks they are able to produce. Would I rather go to a bar manned by a bartender maestro, or would I rather be served by a black box?


Richard Like many other of the service professions, it really depends on what part of the market one is in — which is actually a bit backwards.

Let me explain. At the low end of service professions, service can easily suffer; after all, you get what you pay for. And if an employer is offering minimum wage for a lousy job, only the desperate (who probably have few skills) will apply.

At the high end, payments are higher and the skills will be broader. For example, a prior girlfriend of mine is now a private flight attendant. She only works corporate jets, but gets paid very nicely, only has to deal with business people on their best behavior, etc. But she has a nice degree and has had several careers and is a great conversationalist, which is why she's able to get a nicer job than on regular airlines.

Right now, the skillset at the low end would be easier to replace, such as in a joint where the bartender is mostly handing out bottles of beer. But they don't get paid as much, so there isn't much incentive to swap them out for experimental robotic equipment. Once the cost of that equipment comes down far enough *and* more and more of the clientele have gotten used to interacting with machines, that will change.

At the high end, the cost of labor is much higher, but the skill set is much, much tougher for robotics and AI to replicate. At the very high end, very skilled humans will probably always have an edge.

The "foxtender" gizmo is a foray in a niche between those two. Obviously, it won't be adequate for a real bar. But it might be great in a back room of a bar that the waitstaff doesn't go into very often. If it actually succeeds (I doubt it will — I think it's about three or five years ahead of the curve), it might roll out as something that is rented out to parties, for example.

In the coming years, as more and more of us checkout our own groceries, skip the check-in lines at the airport or car rental agency, and maybe even start using those high-end espresso vending machines that already exist elsewhere in the world, these "foxtender" type devices will start to gradually replace some bartenders.

Not all — I suspect they'll replace the bar itself, leaving the waitstaff as humans who use a tablet when taking the orders, which tells the robot what drinks to prepare. So many interactions will still be with a person. But the bar, itself, will eventually have a fancy robot at its core, able to produce any drink ever invented, and then some.

But, as you point out, at the very top end, where humans are considered part of the decor, very talented bartenders will still be hired — although I'm suspicious they'll increasingly be like the models hired to essentially be furniture at extravagantly decadent parties that (probably) only exist in Hollywood's imagination.


message 13: by Caroline (last edited Aug 13, 2015 01:36AM) (new)

Caroline Ahh, all of what you say makes complete sense. Thank you for responding so thoroughly.

Your recent readings/reviews about robots and AI have made me extremely grateful to have passed retirement age.


Richard When you add climate change into the mix, and the (in my opinion) slide of U.S. political culture into endless dysfunction — what's that horror story tag line? "The Living Shall Envy the Dead!"

Maybe not quite that, but the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times" definitely applies.


message 15: by Caroline (last edited Aug 13, 2015 02:17AM) (new)

Caroline I agree totally. The only difference is I am subject to the English rather than the American political system, and given the corrupt and power-crazed political situation in many, many countries, I must admit that for the most part I feel fortunate.

I watch American politics with a large degree of ignorance, but from our vantage point some of it does seem rather strange.


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/08/comp...


Not quite on topic but interesting


David My wife just read me an article by a (former) public school teacher who, with sadness, switched to working at a rich private school. She gave up on the falling pay & benefits, increasing out-of-pocket expenses, time wasted on standardized tests (some of which were never acted on), etc. Like your ex-girlfriend, she was skilled enough for the posh job.

So, I wondered, "How long before we have robotic public school teachers?" The US is clearly more interested in small public school budgets than highest quality teachers, so the robots only have to be so-so. "Teaching" in a format for students to regurgitate answers on standardized tests sounds like a job description for a robot. Those troublesome public school advocates will say that as automation shrinks human job opportunities we need better student education. But sensible business people will know it just means there's no point wasting tax money on human teachers. Besides, it will be good business for the private schools with human staff. I think I'll go ask that robot bartender for a stiff drink.


Richard Robotic school teachers will take a long, long time, but augmentation will happen much faster — there are already several startups that are trying to find ways to improve teaching.

One, for example, has computers monitoring students facial expressions during class, trying to predict which ones are "getting it" versus being distracted, looking confused, etc., and providing that to the teacher as feedback (eventually as instant feedback, but not at first). That can get better over time, too, as the software correlates different prior scoring with what it perceives and how scoring is altered.

The book also talks about how MOOCs have tried and failed to "disrupt" education (mostly higher ed).


message 19: by Caroline (last edited Oct 19, 2015 02:16AM) (new)

Caroline I have now re-read this for about the third time - and again with much interest. I watched the 15 minute video (re the horses who hoped to be re-assigned to different tasks once cars, lorries and tractors came into being...)

This time I was particularly interested to read what you had to say about the difference between AI, and AGI. I don't know what that stands for, but I'm pretty sure you are referring to robots or artificial intelligence which functions in lots of different respects, rather than just working on one specific job. One that fills our sci fi fantasy of a classic robot. These latter creations are mind boggling in the extreme. I find it very hard to believe they can really exist - but that video showed us that they do.


Richard Right, but a little more extreme. AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) is something of an approximation of human intelligence.

(This is related to the idea of "general" intelligence that psychometrics claims to be seeking in human IQ tests, called the "g factor".)

Most AI is purely functional: designed to solve a specific problem. Software designed to, for example, drive a car, wouldn't be capable of even seeing a chess board, much less playing a game of chess. Similarly, an AI program designed to play chess won't "know" anything about driving a car.

That's not to say that a computer inside of a car couldn't run the two programs simultaneously, but that is quite different — having two distinct programs running on a single computer doesn't somehow let those two programs combine anymore than having two people in the car will merge them into a single being.


Very distinct from functional intelligence is general intelligence. Artificial General Intelligence would be intended to solve many or most of the problems humans are able to solve. The "would be" is important: nothing like this exists, and the research labs working on it aren't really even close. They're still trying to figure out many of the basics.

Keep in mind, though, that advances in functional intelligence might make parts of the job of AGI easier, such as vision systems, or voice recognition.


Yet another level of intelligence would be consciousness. It should be possible to design an AGI that is complex enough that it does a great job mimicking humans, but still not trying to mimic a mind — with no ego, no personal ambitions or desires, no "soul". But beyond that, there is the concept of actually creating a fully conscious "person" that would have those attributes.

It is conceivable that AGI that mimics a human level of intelligence wouldn't be possible without consciousness, or something so close to consciousness that the difference might not matter (although this is quite controversial). Of course, this debate is complicated by the simple fact that no one really has come up with a strong explanation of what human consciousness is, yet.


An important point I tried to make is that all this latter stuff doesn't matter in the world of replacing human jobs. Functional intelligence is rocketing ahead, regardless of progress in AGI or consciousness-level intelligence, and functional intelligence is all that will be required to replace most human jobs.


message 21: by Caroline (last edited Oct 19, 2015 04:27AM) (new)

Caroline Thank you for your thorough explanation - and yes, all of what you say makes complete sense. I totally understand that AI is what is going to replace human beings at work... as it has done in so many different ways already. I also now understand a bit the massive scope of the challenge in creating AGI - even if it doesn't come near the scope of human consciousness - it is still a massive challenge.

By the way, after watching the video about humans losing jobs to AI, I saw another video on the sidebar which I found very interesting. The guy giving the speech looks about 15. Here is his TEDx profile:

http://2013.tedxtaipei.com/en/speaker...

And here is his talk about the possibility of giving people free wages in the future.. I found it most interesting. Given that so many people are likely to lose their jobs in the near future, it seems that perhaps we have to look at this as a possible way forward.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vnB1...


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