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Will Artificial Intelligence Send Us to the Unemployment Office?

What is intrinsically valuable about Humanity that all Humans would agree upon? What is intrinsically valuable about Organic Life? These are the questions that will eventually occur to an Artificial Intelligence and the answers may gravely influence the future of all life on Earth as we know it.

We have a very long ways to go before Machines become truly Sentient, but it will not take very long before Machines are able to beat humans at anything that can be expressed in a Statistical/Mathematical way or in terms of Pattern Recognition. This will lead to many surprising results.

Salesmanship and Marketing are both games that can be beaten by first identifying the relevant ‘behavioral aspects’ of your customer or your market and then applying the ‘optimum sales pitch’ for whatever market you happen to be addressing. There is a ‘truth’ out there — a sales pitch for every audience that will likely differ between audiences — that will maximize the probability and profitability of effort. All that is required is data on the relative success rate and data on the individual being addressed. Fortunately, privacy standards and the human tendency to want to ‘own’ their own data (or Intellectual Property), will slow this process down. But make no mistake — Watson (a very large and well-known AI built by IBM), is already being used to power Technical Support and Call Center functions. All that is needed is user feedback on the individual interactions to start training the Machines to optimize their strategies for success with whatever happens to answer human questions more effectively. If information on phone number or email address is collected, then this can easily be linked to existing data sources to obtain age, race, gender, income, etc. Also, natural language recognition and text analytics could be used to infer a lot about ‘general intelligence’ and ‘specific product knowledge’ based on word choice or thickness of a given accent. If this information is added to the learning algorithm, then the machine can learn the optimum strategy for answering any given question based on age, gender, race, general intelligence and specific product knowledge. It would not be hard at that point to run a quick query to obtain the demographic information and apply the optimal strategy for each caller in real time.

This addresses ‘customer service’, but could be easily be adapted to outbound ‘robo-calls’ from any given call center. In addition, it could easily be incorporated with the vast data mining that already exists to incorporate cross-sales opportunities. Chat-bots at major retailers like Amazon could easily implement such strategies to great effect, because ultimately, they don’t really care what you buy, so long as you buy something and so long as you are happy both with the product and your shopping experience (the things that are likely to influence both your future shopping and your word of mouth recommendations).

So, tech support, customer service, sales and marketing are likely to become dominated by AIs at some point in the future.

The sciences and any kind of Analytics will quickly be overtaken by AIs. Even much of the Arts — or at least ‘popular art’ will be overtaken by AIs as well.

The first, real question will be that of Human Employment and Compensation. Corporations are all generally motivated by Profits. When the AIs become ‘smarter, better, faster’ than Humans at virtually every ‘business task’, then why will it make ‘dollars & sense’ for the corporations to hire/pay Human workers as opposed to investing in larger and faster AIs?

Where will the average person be able to ‘earn’ their daily bread in a world of increasing domination by superior machine intelligence???

Do we have any safe-guards in place that suggest that Humans deserve monetary compensation in exchange for simply being Human and simply being alive?

Will it even make sense for corporations to continue serving the needs of Humans when they can’t justify paying the Humans any longer? When average humans become too poor to be consumers, will new markets emerge where the corporations only really seek to serve each other? Some kind of meta-economy based on pushing ‘digital currency’ around and jockeying for command of the largest piece of an abstract pie that no longer even considers the needs of Humanity who, by and large, are no longer able to ‘earn’ their pay?

Clearly, some jobs will persist. A few people who are especially well-trained in some small corner of ‘intelligence’ who help to train the AIs and a handful of ‘vocational workers’ who perform ‘organic tasks’ that are not easily performed by machines (plumbers and the like), but even they will struggle if the average person does not have sufficient income to buy and maintain a home.

One possibility would be to pay consumers for their opinions on surveys and the like. This is valuable information that is needed by the AIs. Remember that at present, the AIs are not ‘intelligent’ in the way we think about Human Intelligence. They are only superior at recognizing patterns and responding to them in optimal ways. Humans have their own internal calculus which defines their own preferences. If Human Opinions become a marketable form of Intellectual Property, then Humans could justify their existence by becoming experts in various areas relevant to businesses (fashion experts who train the fashion industries AIs, food experts, music experts, … expertise in anything that impacts consumer behavior). These people could be ’employees’ of the various corporations or the corporations could leverage two-way internet sites where consumers can provide feedback directly on individual product pages, ads, blogs, etc. This might be one way to monetize the Intellectual Property of Individuals and create new ‘jobs’ in the increasingly automated world.

Another possibility would be a kind of sales tax that is paid by the seller, rather than the purchaser, and one that is distributed at the Federal, State and Municipal Levels, such that Corporations are forced to ‘pay into’ the communities that they do business with. If you sell in a given area, then you pay into that particular community. This could provide local planners with the funds to build affordable housing and distribute funds to the citizens of these areas so that they have money to spend on the products that the corporations are producing.

All of these problems will eventually come to pass and occur long before the machines become truly sentient. Simple Profit Motive will force the issue. Only the most competitive corporations will persist. Only corporations who optimally leverage AIs will remain competitive. Humans won’t be able to keep up. At present, there are no specific incentives for corporations to hire and pay humans as opposed to simply investing in better AIs, which will become the more cost-effective route.

The future is coming and progress is inevitable. I invite us all to begin considering alternatives and form an open dialog to address these problems before they sweep us off of our feet.

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  1. James Workman

    Thought provoking ideas. Hopefully economic factors will limit the use of AI and/or governments will establish a system that will guarantee a living wage to all people. Well written.

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