Are Robots Really the Answer?


So, the title of my talk today is “Are robots the answer?” Are they the solution? Did they make the world
a better place, a richer place, a happier place? Neil is a scholar of the Robotic
Revolution, of AI, of machine learning, and, as I suggested, maybe it’s not
appropriate for me to speak for him, but I think his conclusion is mixed, he’s ambivalent, he’s not sure. And, of course,
the reason why Neil isn’t sure, the reason why we don’t know yet, is because it hasn’t happened. The AI revolution lies in the future. It’s something
that we’re on the cusp of. When you talk more than 10 or 15 years,
you’re throwing your hands up in the air and you’re saying, “Who knows?” 10
or 15 years ago, you barely had Google. 25 years ago,
you didn’t have the internet. So the reason why we don’t know
whether or not robots are the answer, is because we don’t have the evidence;
it’s a question of how you feel. Neil, as an extremely erudite scholar,
is ambivalent. Elon Musk, a great technologists,
is worried, so is Nick Bostrom, so is Stephen Hawking,
so is Bill Gates, so is Jaan Tallinn, the founder
of Skype, so worried indeed, that he’s put his money to founding
a center for existential study at Cambridge University in England. There are other technologists
who are less worried, who says, “Don’t worry.
Computers will never rule us.” So how do we determine
if, indeed, robots are the answer? Is this just speculative? Is this something that we just need
to sit around and imagine the future? That’s one way of doing it, but we can, perhaps,
leave that to the fiction writers, the Dave Eggers of their age,
who imagine the future, who create it,
who tell, if you like, lies about it, the great Science Fiction writers, but it’s the responsibility of people
like Neil and myself, analysts, non-fiction writers,
non-fiction thinkers, to figure this future out. So how do we do it? And this, I think,
is where history comes in. Over the street,
you have a Museum of the Future. I don’t quite know what that means,
a Museum of the Future, because a museum of things of the past,
the future hasn’t happened yet. But I would argue that the real
Museum of the Future is history. The real Museum of the Future
is learning from the past. Because, for us to determine
whether or not robots are the answer, we need to think to ourselves,
“What’s happened in the past?” Maybe nothing exact; there haven’t been robots
in the past, but there have been
vast technological revolutions that have radically upset, disrupted, to use a popular,
Silicon Valley term, society. So what can we learn from history? How do we make sense of this great
revolution that Neil is describing? Because it is a great revolution. It’s as profound
as anything that has happened since the beginning
of the 19th century. Now, some of you may recognize
this guy, Lord Byron, great poet, English orientalist, I’m not sure
if he ever came to the Gulf, but he certainly was a great admirer
of romantic cultures. Byron made a very famous speech in 1812 in the House of Lords
in England, in London, where he defended the Luddites, if you remember,
at the beginning of the 19th century, we were on the verge of an equivalent,
radical disruption of our world; but rather than AI,
rather than robots, that disruption was machinery,
machinery was radically changing the nature of labor,
what it meant to work. We had to put it very vaguely
that machine, the factory, replacing the agricultural labor.
We had this great shift from a rural world
to an industrial, urban world. Byron, like many other romantics, I don’t know whether we would call them
left or right romantics, but romantics bemoaned
this great technological revolution. We’d all like to be
Lord Byron, of course; and we all like to imagine that we’re
defending the rights of people who were bemused by this change. Byron spoke on behalf of the Luddites, these were the manual laborers
of the last part of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century, whose livelihood, whose sense of identity
was radically disrupted, undermined, destroyed
by the Industrial Revolution. Now, some people would say,
“Well, Byron was a reactionary, Byron has to understand that all technology
creates vast dramatic social change.” But if you look into the eyes of that
guy, it’s all very well to rationalize. But most people don’t have this grasp
of great historical circumstance, of great historical change. And today, that Luddite, that manual laborer, whose livelihood, whose essence,
whose sense of identity, of community, was radically disrupted
by the Industrial Revolution, that Luddite might be
all of us, Neil mentioned, the white collar workers, I won’t make any jokes
about white-hatted workers here. But we’re all professionals,
we’re lawyers, we’re doctors, we’re members of the government,
we’re all trained in the erudition, in the science, in the
language of the Industrial Revolution. We’re all at threat,
so look at that guy, he’s not as foreign as some of us might like to think. Now, the Industrial Revolution,
of course, created in 200 years, a period
of great unrest and progress. Indeed, the last 200 years,
I would argue in historical terms, have been dominated
more than anything else by the conflict
between labor and capital, the conflict between the worker
and the owner of the factory, and the demands of those workers. The demands of those workers to be
paid properly, to allow to organize, to improve the conditions
of work in the factory. At the time, when Byron was making
his famous speech in the House of Lords, 14, 11, 10-year-old children
were allowed to work in factories. Over the last 200 years, there’s been
a profound revolution in labor. The working class, over the last
200 years, acquired rights, democracy emerged, the backbone of democracy
being the very professional class, Neil’s white-collar workers, the doctors, the lawyers,
the engineers, the experts, who have given,
in Western democracies, their stability. It hasn’t always, of course, been good,
but government has always been central; it’s really important to remember this. We’re at the World Government Summit, outside there’s something called
the Government of the Edge. I don’t know what that means.
Government is always in the center, it was the center
of the Industrial Revolution, and it needs to be
the center of our AI Age. Now, some of you
will recognize this gentleman, Bismarck, the great
Chancellor of Germany, the man who united Germany
in the last parts of the 19th century, he was the founder of welfare state; he was the one who provided
the infrastructure in Germany for providing unemployment payments, and the other necessary infrastructure
which guaranteed that the workers didn’t revolt,
that they joined this world, that they weren’t Luddites. It’s important to remember
that the history of the last 200 years has been determined
by state policy towards workers, pensions, insurance, unemployment, the creation of a health system, and all
the other centralized achievements which, I think,
distinguished civilized societies from those which are less civilized. It hasn’t always been easy;
the Russian Revolution, of course, broke out because of workers’ rights. The Russian Revolution was a demand
of workers to take control of factors, it was a failure. But again, I think
it’s important to understand that if we’re to make sense
of the AI Revolution, we won’t have a Russian Revolution, but we will have revolutions guaranteed
against what is seen to be injustices. For those of you
who are following the American election, this sense of anxiety,
of a white working class is already manifesting itself
in the enormous support for radical candidates, like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Now, in a sense, of course, the history of the Industrial Age
ended in 1989 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And, in a sense, that was
the apogee of the Industrial Age; the failure of the Russian Revolution to
realize the works of the working class, and the success of Western models
for representing workers, the Bismarckian, model if you like. And at the same time, 1989
that the Wall came down that marked the end
of the great chapter, the great industrial chapter
in the world history, Tim Berners-Lee in Geneva
created the World Wide Web, a new revolution,
a new technological upheaval, which changes everything. Now, as I said
this has resulted, in my view at least, in the appearance
of more monopolies. It wasn’t the democratic outcome
that many people believed. The four largest companies
for example, now in the world are Google, Microsoft,
Facebook and Apple. So, in a sense
this revolution hasn’t been successful. In terms of robots, the idea of the robots
always existed before the internet, before the history
of distributed intelligence. There was a Czech writer
called Karel Capek, who invented the term robots
in a play in 1921. But the idea
of intelligence, of AI, was perhaps founded in many ways by Alan Turing
the great English scientist, Some of you may have seen
The Imitation Game with Turing, and the foundation of computer science and the emergence
of a digital revolution in the 1940s. We see the coming together
of robots and the network, now they exist in a sense in parallel,
but that’s so entangled that it’s increasingly hard
to actually separate, the internet revolution
from the computer revolution from the rise of the robots. this is the name of a book
by Martin Ford, The Rise of the Robots, that won the Financial Times Award
for best book of the year, last year. Ford was warning us about
the implications of employment. Now, Neil is right to say
that there’re many aspects of the robot revolution
which are beneficial, certainly when it comes
to self-driving cars. There’s no doubt
that saving the lives, of many innocent
passengers and pedestrians, is of enormous benefit. But the great issue
that confronts all of us, is still a theoretical issue, and interestingly enough,
Neil and I both show this same slide the Oxford report
a couple of years ago, which reported that 47%
of current jobs will be endangered
by the AI revolution. And who knows
how they came out with 47, it’s a dramatic term,
why it shouldn’t be 48 or 49 or 51 or 45? It’s entirely speculative, but the report of these
Oxford researches shows that many of our most
traditional occupations, from manual labor to driving, that’s of course Neil’s self-driving car, they’re all threatened
by this revolution. And it’s not just manual laborers, it’s not just people working,
in the supermarkets, it’s not just stacking shelves, it’s not just cab drivers,
and bus drivers and gardeners, it’s also the future
of the professions. A new book that argues
that every aspect of the artificial
intelligence revolution is actually challenging
every profession, from law to medicine
to engineering to teaching. Neil said that the artificial
intelligence revolution, he said would blow the hat
or blow the roof of teaching. Neil Diamantes yesterday said
that it would mean that we’d all get free teaching, we’d all get artificial intelligent
friends, apps that help us learn. But what becomes
of teachers in that world? The free revolution
is great for Google who sell advertising around it
but what become of teachers? The backbone, in many ways, of our 19the and 20th century
industrial democracy and cultural democracy. So, all this stuff is increasingly
critical for us to think about. We don’t know the implications yet, but we need to think
of radical solutions. So increasingly, some countries,
Switzerland, for example, and others in Silicon Valley,
are coming up with the idea, of a minimum wage,
a guaranteed minimum wage, because there is an increasing
concern, belief amongst scientists, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, that the jobs aren’t there,
they’re not going to be replaced. Now of course in Byron’s age, the luddite was replaced
by the factory worker, but there is no guarantee of that, because its happened in the past
doesn’t mean, it will happen in the future. And Neil’s AI bots,
these apps, these intelligent algorithms, sure there’ll be jobs for humans,
they’ll manage some of them, not all of us
are going to be unemployed, there will be the emergence
of great new companies in the IA world. But the reality is
that most of us probably, will be not be employed
in this world. It will not be an age
of full employment. There’s nothing guaranteed about that
there is nothing inevitable about it, so what do we do? What do we do in an technological age
where most of us have nothing to do? What do we do
when most of us can’t work? Now we all fall back on education,
I always argue, that when people fall back on education
it means they have no clue. You come to events like this
and everyone says at the end
‘well, the solution is an education.’ That means the no one
really has any idea. You’d give it to the teachers, but we
just made all the teachers unemployed. So, what do we do?
One idea, is to pay everyone a minimum wage, to guarantee that they won’t starve, that they will be able to feed
and cloth themselves and their families. Some of you
may be horrified with this, but what’s the alternative?
Mass starvation? Donald Trump? You laugh, it’s not that funny,
I live in America. Now, Neil is right,
I wrote this piece, ‘Just because robots
won’t enslave us today,’ ‘doesn’t mean AI
will be safe forever.’ But we can’t worry about
the very distant future, that is for science fiction writers,
that’s for the Ballards, that’s for the real
fiction writers, but for us, thinking about
he next 15 or 20 years, we have to acknowledge that we’re
on the brink of something, of enormously disruptive change, much more dramatic,
much more disruptive, than has happened
over the last 25 years. The internet, Facebook and Google
and all these companies, I think, in historical terms
will appear minimal, will might be simply
foot notes to this next grave, next wave of innovation,
of technological revolution, whether its AI,
the internet of things, 3D printing, which are
all kind of put together. So, what do we do?
What do we do? There is only one solution,
there isn’t distributed solutions, there isn’t free technology, there is no third way. This is the role of government. I was talking to an Estonian
technologist at lunch yesterday, and he said to me,
and the Estonians know this stuff, I think as well as anyone,
he said to me, “Nothing replaces government.” In the 19th century
the Bismarcks, and the other statesmen
and the politicians of the age, confronted the problems,
the injustices of this revolution. They gave workers
unemployment pay, to guarantee that they wouldn’t riot, that they wouldn’t rob the rich. We can only rely on politicians, politics has to reinvent itself,
politics certainly isn’t ideal, but the idea of politics on the edge, the idea that politics
can become Uber, or Airbnb is simply absurd. The only way politics works, at our time of great anxiety, is to have trustworthy
credible politicians, who take responsible action. Now my final slide
is of Margrethe Vestager, who is the EU’s
Commissioner of Antitrust. She’s from Denmark,
an elected politician who now has a non-elected
role at the EU, she’s not Bismarck
she certainly doesn’t look like it, but she is an example of a politician
emerging to take difficult decisions, in Europe, we…
or not ‘we’, Europeans have the problem
of the monopolists, and she’s willing to take on
these American monopolists. It’s different
from the challenge of IA, but politicians in this new age
of anxiety have to stand up to this challenge. The thing that most worries me, is not so much
the technological revolution, we’ve lived through that
many times before. The problem is our lack
of faith in politics. The problem is the lack
of credibility of politicians. The problem is
the rise of the outsider, the Trump, the Corbine, the Sanders. The people who blame the establishment,
who won’t take responsibility, who promise simple solutions. So, if we’re going to solve
this next great chapter, and it can be a great chapter, in world history and the history
of our collective civilization. If we’re indeed going to make
robots the answer, we have to, because we can’t
stop technology, it has its own logic,
its own inevitability, we need to reintroduce politics, and politicians and government
into this mix, we don’t nationalize it, we don’t
legislate it or regulate it to death, but without some elements of regulation, without some elements of political control, without the wise
getting involved in this world, and making sure that technology
makes us happy, and doesn’t enslave us, then I’m afraid
robots won’t be the answer. Thank you.

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