Can You Do a Robot’s Job?

There have been a lot of articles in the news lately about the increase in artificial intelligence and how robots will continue to replace humans in the job market (see 5 things everyone gets wrong about artificial intelligence and what it means for our future. This pushes my buttons in the same way that discussions about the challenges of managing Millennial workers because they’re so different (for example, The Surprising Thing Millennials Want From Their Career).

Does the Millennial generation tend toward a general culture and personality that grew out of how they were parented and the specific challenges that they’re facing now? Yes. So did my generation (X), which one baby-boomer boss told me was particularly money-focused (untrue of me – I, like Dolly Levi, believe that money is like manure: it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow); I once heard a particularly offended Gen Xer respond to this accusation: “Yeah, because we know we’re going to be stuck taking care of you guys and you won’t have any money left, and there are so many more of you than there are of us; so we need all the money we can get.”

But I digress. I brought up Millennials because “everyone” knows they’re pampered drop-outs, who have the chutzpah to believe they know it all and should be in charge. Well, I gotta tell you, that’s not a characteristic of a generation – that’s a characteristic of an age group. Give them a few years and they’ll be complaining that the next generation is exactly the same way. Having managed a number of them, my only complaint about Millennials is that, because they grew up with tech, they tend to send emails instead of getting off their butts to talk things out. But, if we looked at it from another angle, wouldn’t we find that to be true of all generations these days?

Back to the original topic: similar to these “truisms” that everyone knows about Millennials, everyone “knows’ that robots and AI will replace workers. I suspect this complaint would resonate with the agricultural and garment workers in the late 1800’s and the auto manufacturers of the 1970’s. To some extent, we continue to live in the industrial revolution, and tech will continue to replace people until another revolution occurs.

But I was curious when I saw this article:

Facebook Robot is Shut Down After It Invented Its Own Language

The article mentions that two Facebook AI bots invented a language that they only used with each other and one gave up English altogether to speak in this alternate language; so Facebook shut it down. The story goes on to say that Google Translate found the same thing happening with its neural network (news I am coming late to), but left them running to see what would happen. Here’s the original story:

AI is Inventing It’s Own Perfect Languages: Should We Let It?

For fun, let’s imagine what could happen: Robots invent their own language that they use with each other. Like Alice, the robot mentioned above, some even abandon human language. You want to intervene in a process somehow – manage Alice differently, switch Alice’s focus to something else, upgrade Alice’s program, tell Alice to release the secret holovid that Princess Leah entrusted to them – but you can’t, because Alice only speaks AI and you don’t. You’ll need C3PO to translate with Alice, and you know what a pain the neck protocol droids can be.

If you want to speak to Alice directly, you’ll need to learn her language but, like Yankees learning Spanish to speak to their imported labor force, it will always be a second language to you, and you’ll always wonder if you asked for the holovid or a toilet lid. Not good. It’s not as easy to do the protocol droid’s job as you thought it would be.

But have no fear: they’ll teach these languages in school and, eventually, six-year olds will be proficient, and start using AI-speak to keep secrets from their parents and those crusty old Millennials. And, when they enter the workforce, they’ll think they know everything and want to be in charge.

Kids! What can you do?

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