Monday, November 12, 2018

Microstory 971: Robotics/Artificial Intelligence

There’s something very odd and inconsistent in futuristic fiction. No matter what humanity does; how advanced we become, we always have jobs. Even Star Trek, which is based on a completely moneyless economy is about a group of people working on a ship. One thing I have to do when I’m writing my stories is figure out what the world around my characters looks like. If they’re traveling on a ship, like in Star Trek, I need to know the different jobs the crew would have. That makes sense, right? Except it doesn’t really. As I was trying to come up with the minimum number of crew members, I discovered that that number did not need to be any higher than zero. There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where everyone on the ship starts disappearing, until only two are left. The central character in that episode poses to the other one that it’s weird that in a giant ship like that, there would be only two crewmen. He doesn’t seem to think it is, which does make sense, because a real Enterprise would have been designed to operate in full with no human or alien intervention. It can power up its own warp core, and it can shoot it’s lasers on its own. The possibility that it would require any living organism to control these systems is absurd. In a few years, I’m going to have a phone that answers itself for me. An artificial intelligence is going to pick up the call, disclose to the speaker what she is, and ask me whether I want to speak with them myself. A few years from then, she’ll be virtually indistinguishable from a human receptionist, and will be able to hang up on people on my behalf. I’ll have taught her that I don’t ever want to talk to anyone about sports, but I always want to answer my mother, so when she calls, I can just answer it myself.

The evening before this story posts, I was eating a dish made by said mother. She told me there was polenta in it, but I didn’t know what that was, so I asked my Google Home speaker. She gave me the definition, which involved grains. I jokingly said, “brains!?” She didn’t understand the question, and had no way of connecting it to what she had already said, but it won’t be long before that’s not true. What she should have said was, “no, grains, as in g-r-”. Robots and artificial intelligence are going to collectively take over the world, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to work anymore. I read a study on automated labor. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but a great deal of people believed robots would be capable of doing most jobs sometime in the future, but even more people believed their jobs to be safe. It’s hard for neurotypicals to admit how utterly replaceable they are, but you will one day be faced with that. Robots are delivering pizzas, and building cars. They’re driving cargo, and shooting terrorists. But they’re also doing more complex things, like playing tabletop games, and delivering news broadcasts. The future will be a difficult pill to swallow. It’ll come with side effects, like massive unemployment, crashed economies, and civil unrest. But we’ll eat some soup, take a bath, and go to bed early. When we wake up in the morning, it’ll all be over. We won’t need the jobs we were fighting over, climate change solutions will be underway, interstellar ships will be built, and we’ll all be immortal. So do not fear the AI uprising. We’ve been working for a long time. Let’s take a break, and let the robots do the rest for us. The stage that comes after the singularity phase is even better.

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