Over the last decade or two, most people got used to the fact that different forms of artificial intelligence are present daily and on many occasions in our life.
We no longer perceive it as quasi-miraculous when the same data that is stored in our cell phone is magically also stored in our tablet although we did not put it there, or that when we watch a Netflix movie on the tiny screen of our cell phone and suddenly decide that the movie is so good that we would like to experience it on a large TV screen, we can simply turn on our TV and watch the same movie from the last scene we watched on the phone because we understand that what is happening is that the same data is now being downloaded from a cloud to a different device.
We also became quite blasé when it comes to many other types of artificial intelligence, such as car navigation, and simply can’t understand it and become furious when the voice coming from our cell phone ends up navigating us to the wrong destination, which does happen occasionally.
Nobody’s perfect, and that includes the omnipresent little fellow that we can call artificial intelligence.
Some of us understand how dangerous it is when so much of our personal data is stored on a cloud when we have no idea who can have access to this data.
And some of us even understand that the artificially intelligent fellow can be kind of dangerous, even kind of very dangerous. Artificial intelligence has been eliminating jobs like the Grimm Reaper for several decades. Think of all the jobs that you have had in your own life. Are they still there, or have the jobs for people like you been for the most part already eliminated by a computer pretending to be interacting with humans just like another human?
My first job after I arrived to San Francisco in 1982 was working as a Visitor Services Representative for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. For three years, I sat behind a counter at the Visitor Center in the middle of downtown dispensing advice to tourists while practicing my languages with visitors from all around the world. Is the Visitor Center still there, in the middle of Market Street just below the cable car turnaround on Powell Street? I don’t know, but I think that if it survived the bloody attacks of artificial intelligence on jobs for humans, just one underpaid person may have survived there, perhaps a not very knowledgeable intern or a senior citizen volunteer directing tourists and local residents to a row of computers instead of to good restaurants, Yosemite and the Wine Country. There were generally four other people working with me at the information counter, their jobs are probably gone now too.
There was an elderly, tiny, fragile lady at the main office, her first name was Elisabeth and I think her last name was Edwards although I am not sure about that now. She must have been in her late seventies or perhaps eighties. Whenever a visitor asked a complicated question about the history of the city, we could call her because she knew everything about everything. Everything. Her job must be gone now too. It’s so very good for the bottom line when friendly, caring, knowledgeable, sometime even multilingual people can be replaced by a few computers!
Pretty soon, the only jobs for which people will still be needed at an information center in a major city in America will be mostly just jobs for security guards trying to guess which visitor is hiding a semi-automatic military style attack rifle under an overcoat and employees making sure that the credit card machines are working properly.
In the 21st century, it suddenly became clear to so many employers that human intelligence and human knowledge is overrated and unnecessary! As far as most employers are concerned, computers do a much better job than humans and they do it faster and most importantly, virtually for free. And if a job must be done by humans, it will be done by faceless humans who speak imperfect, accented English and live thousands of miles away, somewhere where one can somehow still survive on a small fraction of a salary that would need to be paid to a human who lives in a place like San Francisco.
It is not just translators whose jobs are threatened by computerization and globalization. Mid-level managers, medical doctors such as radiologists and anesthesiologists, engineers, taxi drivers … all of these jobs are threatened.
When is artificial intelligence coming to get you too? It may not do as good a job as you would, but who cares when it is so much cheaper than overrated and overpriced human intelligence such as …. yours!
Because some of my favorite writers of mysteries have been also paying attention to the danger inherent in the marriage of artificial intelligence with an infinitely greedy corporate culture, it so happens that during the last few weeks I read three books on this very subject.
Two of them are medical mysteries written by medical doctors featuring artificial intelligence in the role of a villain killing people to give a boost to the bottom line, the third one is about a clever algorithm that eventually develops human-like attributes.
Here is a short summary of the three books describing how artificial intelligence is wreaking havoc in our world in general, and in medical technology in particular:
- Robin Cook, a writer of medical thrillers, (he started in the seventies and so far he wrote 32 of them and I see that I now have 20 of his books in my extensive library of mystery novels written by various authors), writes in his book “Cell” about an app called iDoc that is downloaded by a greedy private health insurance company to smartphones of its patients, while a tiny chip is surgically implanted under the skin of these patients to communicate with a smartphone app so that the iDoc basically replaces a human doctor. iDoc (fully compatible with Obamacare and eventually required by most private health insurance companies) is better than a human doctor because it constantly measures patient’s temperature and other vital signs so that for example the proper insulin dosage can be instantly injected from tiny storage containers accommodated in the chip into the blood stream of patients with diabetes. In the end it turns out that when the program is designed to act in the most cost-effective manner, the algorithm starts murdering patients who based on the software are too sick to be treated cost-effectively by giving them a lethal dosage of insulin …. which is much more efficient, and most importantly much more cost-effective than trying to treat patients who in the algorithm’s opinion are likely to die soon anyway because they are simply too sick to continue the treatment. The insurance company saves a lot of money, and since all of these people have been sick for a long time, it looks like a natural death.
- Michael Palmer, another doctor/author of medical mystery novels, died three years ago at 71 while going through customs at Kennedy International Airport. Given that I am 64, I have to remember to try remain calm in endless lines at useless security checks at airports. He writes in his book called “Resistant”, published in 2014 after his death, about a doctor who uncovers a plot to put in power a totalitarian, proto-fascist government in the United States by a shadowy group of rich, power-hungry people known as One Hundred Neighbors that has infiltrated our institutions and is trying to dictate its terms by threatening to unleash a deadly germ onto the society against which there is no cure … except the cure that can be provided by One Hundred Neighbors if the government accedes to its demands, such as eliminating Social Security, which is a major drain on their wealth. But when both the human and the artificial intelligence employed by the research team working for One Hundred Neighbors fails, there is no way to stop the terrifying germ which literally eats an infected person alive.
- The main protagonist of The Kraken Project” by Douglas Preston, which is not a medical thriller, is not a person, but a software algorithm. The novel is about software designed by NASA for a probe to land in the Kraken Mare sea, the largest sea on Saturn’s moon Titan. The probe must contain highly advanced artificial intelligence software capable of learning from events as quickly as they occur and making its own decisions because given the enormous distance between Earth and Saturn, it takes months or years (can’t remember which now) before a command sent by NASA from planet Earth can reach the probe. When the probe explodes before being launched during a lab experiment, the intelligent algorithm given the name Dorothy by its creator, a brilliant programmer by the name of Melissa Shepherd, decides to escape from the probe into the Internet to survive there.
But the algorithm, which can run on any operating system available on the internet, or download itself basically onto any electronic device such as a robot, is now being hunted down by a ruthless, murderous Wall Street banker who wants to capture Dorothy to turn the powerful algorithm into a slave working for Wall Street the way most humans on this planet have been already turned into mere slaves working for big banks and big corporations.
Will Dorothy, the algorithm, which unlike so many humans is capable of learning from its own mistakes and eventually develops a human-like conscience and sensibilities, something that probably cannot be said about hedge fund managers, against all odds eventually survive being hunted down by greedy humans?
You can probably guess the ending of the book, although I am not going to tell you, because what would be the point of reading the book if I did reveal the whole plot?
So if you are worried that artificial intelligence in the form of machine translation is out to get you and steal your job, I hope that the realization that artificial intelligence is after everybody’s job, not just yours, and it is only a matter of time when most jobs will be eliminated by it provides a measure of consolation to you.
Not only the jobs of translators and interpreters are about to be eliminated – most jobs will be probably gone soon no matter what we do – with the exception of the jobs of hedge fund managers, of course, because without them, our civilization would simply stop functioning.