Another Google project, Deep Dream, was launched three years ago to analyse artificial neural networks. Engineers weaved millions of images and videos through software that reflected how the machines perceived the data. It quickly transpired that machines see human images through the lens of a nightmarish hallucination. Deep Dream processes pictures of clouds, or castles, or film clips, to create startling images beyond the imagination of many artists.
TRIPPY: Result of photo run through Google Deep Dream software. / Photo credit Wikimedia Commons
Though the technology is in its infancy, it is not hard to envisage a world where computer generated art and music, even literature, is dominant. Artists are always on the brink of despair so the coming apocalypse shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. But what about more general professions?
Here the prospects are grim. Oxford University researchers have estimated that almost half of all American jobs are at risk of automation by 2030. Repetitive work, including accountancy, telemarketing, manual labour, factory work and driving are most at risk. Robocalls are replacing human voices in the customer services sector. Tesla has triumphantly unveiled its new fleet of self-driving electric trucks. H&R Block, one of America’s largest accountancy firms, is using the IBM artificial intelligence program Watson to prepare tax returns.
A report from McKinsey and Company suggests that millions of jobs might not be obliterated completely, but instead be complemented by robots. Many lawyers, doctors and executives might find that robots take over 60% of their work, leaving them with more time on their hands, but possibly a lower salary.
Robots aren’t masters of the universe just yet. One study in Singapore found that advanced robots struggled immensely with assembling a standard IKEA chair. It showed that, for the moment, human hand-eye coordination is hard to beat. But 4D printing technology makes that almost irrelevant.
TESLA: Company at the forefront of autonomous driving technology / Photo credit Wikimedia Commons
Engineers are currently working on robots that act like proteins, generating new material. The goal is self assembly. This involves printing things three-dimensionally, which then evolve over time to bring in the fourth dimension.
Imagine a car being printed with the capacity to fix its faults as they appear, or a building that regulates air temperature. With one dose of innovation, the need for mechanics, builders and interior decorators is greatly reduced. If the future looks bleak for the vast majority of jobs, then what skills should young students look to develop? The sheer unpredictability of the machine-learning future makes that a hard but important question to ask.
Being capable of working alongside our future robot overlords is one path to staying relevant. Programmers, coders, computer engineers and digital visionaries will be in high demand into the foreseeable future. People who are capable of operating robots to improve their work performance will also be at an advantage.
The lawyer who can deploy an army of robots to sift through legal data or crack old cases will keep his job. His colleague who has enough trouble operating an email address should hope that Universal Basic Income comes sooner rather than later.
Qualities such as entrepreneurship and leadership will be important currency as humans seek inspiration in a computer dominated world. New businesses which take advantage of the new technology should thrive...at least until even more innovative robots come along.