Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Awaiting Our Replacement

Driving a car is not something a baby born today will ever need to do.  This should be obvious to anyone.  That's a large portion of our labor market.  But what many people seem to miss is that it isn't just cars.  If a computer can move a car, it can move anything with the right peripheral.  A pallet in a warehouse, for example.  Or a plate of food in a diner.  That's a lot more jobs.

Could my job as a computer repair technician be done by a computer?  Haven't they replaced many of us already?  There was a time when we also repaired computer hardware.  Now faulty hardware is simply replaced, because automation made it so inexpensive it isn't worth the time to repair.

What got me thinking about this is Google's AlphaGo program.  The old version was smart enough to beat any human, even Go Masters.  The new version is much better.  And the big improvement is that it's entirely self taught.  It got there by playing many thousands of times the number of games as a Go Master could in a lifetime.

Imagine a program like AlphaGo, but its job is to make human students able to pass a test.  It will eventually say things like, "Playing this video clip explaining the Pythagorean Theorem has .073% better comprehension than this video clip."  I watch educational videos on Youtube all the time.  Many are just vector graphics and a soothing voice.  How long before this kind of program can create them itself, and tweak them until test scores go up?

You might tell yourself that if this trends persist, we'll all be artists someday.  Are you sure computers won't be able to create art?  "This color shift to painting A4524 is .054% more aesthetically pleasing..."  Or how about, "A 12% percent increase in tempo to song B4585 increases the conveyance of the emotion: 'sadness' to 43.2% more listeners ."

I don't think I'll see that in my lifetime, although I'm very hopeful about the self driving cars.  I don't think it's many generations off, however.  And who knows, we might dramatically extend lifetimes before mine ends.  I think this future should be a good one.  A very good one.  I'll talk about what might go wrong in a later post.

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