You’ve heard the news. Jobs will come under fire if not already so. Machines, robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are going to take over. The Matrix, Terminator, all those movies had it right. So is it time to start a resistance movement?
What happens if it’s all true but the ending is not a tragic one. Can we find a happy coexistence with machines? In an alternative scenario, machines would be our servants and tackle the hard tasks they are brilliant at. Retaining, processing and repeating rule-based information. Complex calculations in milliseconds. Massive infrastructure and mechanical jobs that require strength, are dangerous and may even need to happen on other planets and atmospheres.
And whither humans? With land, capital, and labour safely being managed on our behalf, might humans be able to realise their full potential? Creative powerhouses constantly renewing and improving, stimulated by human interaction and fired by endless imagination. With time to put that strength to work.
In this post, I’m attempting to set out my stall for the next trend report I write. This will be my third. You can find out about the first two in the trend report page.
This is going to take about a year because I’m doing this alongside a day job. This post expands on the main hypothesis I am working on verifying.
No doubt it will change over time.
It’s important to start somewhere. A diagram is one of my favourite ways to synthesise thinking. So I drew some lines.
This post is also a part of an attempt to work out loud as much as possible. That could take the form of an occasional post to update on progress.
Follow along if you have a mind to or an interest. Better still, take part. But don’t feel obliged.
For my last trend report I set out with great intentions to involve contributors.
I found out it’s not so easy especially when you are time constrained to start with. It takes effort to do well. Others are in the same boat and have their own priorities.
So if you manage even a read and a comment, I would be grateful :)
An explanation of the diagram
I hope it’s straightforward enough. I struggled with this for a while and am still not sure I have the right angles. I’m not referring to the arrows :)
I grappled with how to characterise the trajectories of the three arrows. I mean what did they constitute. I concluded that they were learning priorities. Wether by humans or machines, they were directions of learning intent.
By machines I mean AI for the most part. In the case of super AI even more so. By definition it is self learning and its intent is to become super intelligent.
Robots are something that are going to take over physical work. They have mechanical capability more than intelligence. Their intelligence will come from computers that drive AI.
Together you could see them as a whole – machines.
If all projections on AI are correct, then its trajectory is due for a massive jump soon. Capacity to learn as well as intelligence will rise exponentially.
Human learning is different. Learning directions and priorities are often imposed. By schools that teach who are often lead by organisations that hire based on skills taught.
I have distinguished between STEM based learning directions and creativity based.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (as an educational category). This has dominated learning priorities for at least the last fifty years. As mentioned, institutions of all kinds impose it.
Creativity, if seen beyond the narrow confines of education in the arts, has lagged. That in my view, should change and I’m not the only one. I’m suggesting we will need to see a massive increase in learning emphasis, both at school and at work.
Creativity is as important as literacy. Sir Ken Robinson
I assume there is going to be a need for humans to take care of the machines. Even if humans will not remain on a par, they will have to maintain their STEM focus. They will need it to maintain the machines – at least in the near term. So the STEM based learning trajectory continues roughly on par with past trends.
As for my vertical axis, here too I grappled. I was thinking what is the point of all this activity. For the moment I have couched it in the familiar. Innovation and productivity are after all the holy grail that many organisations aspire to achieve.
So that will do for now on my current standpoint. My hypothesis in essence is as follows:
Machines are self learning and will become super intelligent. There will soon be an exponential rise in their capability. They will outstrip our current STEM based capabilities. We will no longer need the capabilities as much since we can rely on machines. Mastering our creative capabilities is the next frontier. We will use them to put ourselves and machines to work and solve the biggest challenges humanity face. We need to start preparing now.
Below I describe some of the main influences on my thinking so far.
Main influences on my thinking so far
Tim Urban: The Road to Superintelligence
I attended a Tim Urban talk at Transition, an event my company hosted last year. We didn’t record and share the full presentation. Luckily this Google talk he gave was and he spoke about the same topic.
He makes compelling arguments simple, as he is know for doing. A couple of things stood out for me. That we are at the cusp of exponential growth in AI’s capability for self learning. And the distinctions between standard and super intelligence blew me away.
The latter especially lead me to believe we are not thinking big enough about AI. In essence he showed me the limits of my imagination.
He didn’t project futuristic outcomes, he only shed a light on the possibilities. Extrapolate from only recent progress and a super intelligent future is hard to deny.
Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative
The title is not mine – here is the article: Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative. The title alone is what nailed it for me. Then on reading it several points jumped out. The first was this one:
Cheap computing power and rapidly advancing AI mean that machines already outperform us on tasks that involve retaining, processing, and repeating rule-based information.
Then their point about STEM learning which I incorporated into my diagram and thesis.
There was also the link to the NESTA report (pdf). This provided rich, research based evidence. The results confirm that “creative occupations are more future proof to computerisation”.
They also define a far broader concept of creativity than common perception holds. That it’s more than the arts. It encompasses “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”.
The part in italics is what stood out for me .
That lead me to Richard Florida’s paper: The Creative Class and Economic Development (pdf).
Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs
Independent of all this, I wrote a post some time ago that seemed to resonate with many from all the likes and shares it received (in the thousands).
Based on Maslow’s model I positioned the Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity and innovation were at the pinnacle of organisational actualisation.
What I left out was the AI and robots element. I’m convinced I should include it. I created a survey to try and get feedback from others to see if my hunch was correct. I’d love you to respond to it – it shouldn’t take longer than 3 minutes: Advancing the Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs
I propose to remodel the hierarchy and include those considerations. I’ll make this a core part of my trend report. I’ll use it to advocate how organisations should change to refocus their efforts.
Any feedback at all on my initial thinking would be great. Please add a comment.