By Abel Merawi
January 12, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- Choosing a career path has been an integral part of one’s youth life. After graduating in a specific field of study, most people stick to their profession and live the rest of their lives by remaining faithful to their job. For them, professional growth implies only getting promotions and salary increments. Eventually, family responsibilities make them more rigid and the prospect of changing a profession a difficult task. The years spent receiving formal education result in specialization or becoming an expert only in one particular area. If the job security of that specific profession is jeopardized, most people are left clueless – unable to redefine themselves and learn something new. This was not problematic in the past because most professions were assumed to remain functional for all times, at least with some adjustments. This seems to be changing. The jobs we trusted are slowly being replaced by technology or even computerized algorithms. The future is becoming unpredictable, making the usefulness of our current education questionable. By examining the current trends in our world, we can get a glimpse of the future and finally attempt to prepare ourselves for such a future.
When we examine the various professions in the world, we can broadly categorize them into three main sectors: agriculture, industry, and service. During the industrial age, people feared that they will be replaced by machines as manifested in the industrial revolution. This fear gradually subdued as most people switched to the service sector. The sector included anything that required the intellectual ability of people. For a long time, people were confident that the service sector will not be replaced by technological advancements since we assumed that intelligence is a unique quality of human beings that no machine will match. Currently, advancements made in biotech and other fields are testing our intellectual limit. In relation to this, Yuval Noah Harari in his second book, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ asks, “What will conscious humans do, once we have highly intelligent, non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better?” Through human ingenuity, we have managed to ease our burden by finding efficient and effective ways of doing our work. When the agricultural sector was taken over by machines, people switched to industries, and when machines replaced human labor in industries, we switched to the service sector. When the service sector is replaced by technology, we are required to make a switch, as before. The question is to what?
To show the issue clearly, let us look at some of the areas in which non-conscious algorithms have proved to be very effective. Upon looking at famous games that require human intelligence, we find that computers have beaten human beings. In the famous American question and answer game called Jeopardy, the IBM machine called ‘Watson’ defeated former champions in 2011. Also in the game of Chess, IBM’s invention called ‘Deep Blue’ defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1996. David Cope is a musicology professor at the University of California, who proved that AI can also play music very well. He invented EMI (Experiments in Musical Intelligence), which imitated the style of Johann Sebastian Bach and composed 5,000 chorales à la Bach in a single day. When he played the performance to an audience, people actually assumed that they were the real works of the classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Later, David Cope published ‘Comes the Fiery Night: 2,000 Haiku by Man and Machine’ in 2011 and challenged readers to distinguish between the poems of humans from machines. If artistic works that require genuine human intelligence can be executed by machines, then the claim of higher intelligence of humans becomes questionable. And this is now because, moving forward, these machines will learn and grow in capability much, much faster than humans, who are limited by slowly evolving genes.
The same fate awaits common professions that currently sustain the life of the majority of the people. A study was conducted in 2013 by two Oxford researchers, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, with the title: ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?’ It was conducted to see the probability of replacement by computer algorithms in the US by 2033. The result indicated that, at the top of the list, the probability is 99 percent for telemarketers and insurance underwriters, 98 percent for sports referees, 97 percent for cashiers, 96 percent for chefs, 94 percent for waiters and paralegals, 91 percent for tour guides, and 89 percent for bakers and bus drivers. Although this study was conducted in the US and for the US, a country which is more advanced than most others, it doesn’t mean that the same will not happen to workers all over the world. The invention of the telephone, specifically mobile phones, has dominated the world in both developed and developing countries. The question is not if but when the next technological revolution will dominate the whole world.
Our inventions are not intended to cast aside workers but to make our lives easier and better. We should not imagine that there is some ‘evil-genius’ here, who is trying to destroy jobs. In reality, the inventors are simply looking for ways to do things better. We should observe that most jobs exist because there is something people try to get or avoid. We have doctors not because we want to provide the people in the profession with a steady income but because we want to avoid diseases. If artificial intelligence can identify and cure our diseases more effectively, it is only logical to support such inventions. In the same manner, we have farmers because we want food; we have teachers because we want knowledge; we want drivers because we desire to get to a certain place. For instance, Google and Tesla have invented automated cars that do not require human drivers. They have proved to be safer because they have not caused accidents compared to humans. Most car accidents are caused by human errors, including drunk and reckless drivers, as we often see here in our country. An automatic car does not get drunk or sleep or day-dream since it is designed only to drive with full focus on the task. As long as our primary consideration is a better life, we will adopt this technology, too, and employment for others will be secondary.
The fact that human beings are becoming replaceable is a serious issue that requires an explanation. Our education focuses on specializations, which makes our work more and more of an algorithm. If things are done in a set of steps or algorithm, then it is easier to teach an artificial intelligence to do the same. In the past, agriculture and industry were dominated by machines because the work became an algorithm that can be repeated automatically. The same thing is happening to many professions that require our intellect because, through specialization, they have become algorithms, too. Harari remarks, “In fact, as time goes by, it becomes easier and easier to replace humans with computer algorithms, not merely because the algorithms are getting smarter, but also because humans are professionalizing. Ancient hunter-gatherers mastered a very wide variety of skills in order to survive, which is why it would be immensely difficult to design a robotic hunter-gatherer.”
It is difficult to predict the future because we don’t know what the future holds for us. Some think human beings still have an advantage over Artificial Intelligence (AI), because we are the inventors. And they believe we can still be useful if we shift our focus to performing inventions and managing these inventions. Computers can repeat our actions but we are still the ones who create them, the inventions. However, others are not as hopeful, including Elon Musk, one of the foremost thinkers of our time and the founder of Tesla. They argue, if we invent machines that can learn and grow at the speed of light, machines that do not sleep or age, machines that can only get better, they will surely pass us in knowledge at some point. The question is then, what guarantee do we have that they don’t control us, perhaps with the help of other humans, even with ones they create? Thinking how far we have come in just five thousand years - the end of the stone age - Elon Musk went as far as questioning whether we ourselves are the creations of such higher intelligence.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
The Shift From Racism to Culturism
Sacrificing Meaning for Power?
Culture and Market Forces
Seeking Cosmic Justice
National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations
Are We Truly Free?
Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy
Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
Join us on social media:
Like Ezega.com on Facebook and get Ethiopian News updates regularly.
Get the latest Ethiopia News by following us on twitter @Ezega_Official.
Follow Ezega on LinkedIn for Ethiopia Jobs and Ethiopian News Today.