If the Robots Outdo Us

A while back on Facebook, or maybe it was twitter, someone asked what would be left for our own lives if artificial intelligence ever came to exceed our own.

Or similarly it could be asked, if the robots ever became better than us at everything, what would be the point of life?

I don’t know the limits of artificial intelligence, but one answer to these questions is that we would be freer to focus on learning, exploration, self and group development, social interaction and play. If these robots ever became so amazing that they could compose better music than us, create more captivating movies, engineer sturdier bridges, devise smarter phones, play a more riveting style of football and produce superior widgets of all kinds in next to no time, then by learning from the robots, their activities and their output, we could be educated in all sorts of ways that would enable our own human improvements. We might never match the robots, but our own understanding and appreciation of life and the universe would expand tremendously.

Such a prospect need not be daunting so long as we manage the social transition. It would be necessary either to disassociate income from labor time or to re-envisage the nature of paid employment to encompass a far richer set of human activities.

If the transition can be accomplished, the prospects seem bright.

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7 thoughts on “If the Robots Outdo Us

  1. Increased leisure supplies time for increased creativity and increased exploration.

    No worries. Humans will be fine — as long as the distribution problem is cleared up. Otherwise.….

  2. That’s an interesting question.

    I’m not sure if you guys have noticed this or not, but from observing myself both in times where I have been working (paid employment) and times where I’m laid off or injured that the whole concept of ‘idleness’ takes on a different meaning – in other words, when I am working my butt off (because i’ve been taught idleness is bad), all i can think of is how can I find a way to retire early, and yet when I am unable to work and I’ve been told I need to rest, I can’t sit still, I feel I need to be busy, and it drives me mad!!

    Provided I am not some freak and what I observe in myself is somewhat the general feeling of most people, then it might not be so much a matter of whether or not AI can even exceed our intelligence or not but rather, can we change our attitude to idleness? If we begin to think of idleness as good, it may actually promote far more productivity in us than we can currently imagine, and not from a quantitative perspective, but a qualitative one, pretty much in line with what you said above Peter about how people could spend their time. This means we may not need AI to achieve this, but to challenge a belief that was created at a time when England was ravaged by the plague and population shrunk massively, but which still persists today for no real valid reasons.

  3. When Native Americans on the West Coast invented the fish wheel It allowed more leisure time. The fish caught by the fish wheel were shared with the community, so everyone benefited. Wealth accumulation was frowned upon, and the Natives held “potlatch” ceremonies to give away their wealth. The person who gave away the most of his possessions was held in the highest regard.
    .
    But when a capitalist invents a fish wheel, all the benefits accrue to the capitalist (in the absence of a union or a pro-labor government to redistribute the fish) and some people become involuntarily unemployed. The fish are sold to rich people far away, while poor locals do without. Perhaps some of the poor locals will find a job in the service sector, cleaning the fish wheel owner’s toilet.
    .
    Of course there are policies that might address the problems of unemployment and distribution in a capitalist society, but the people who run capitalist societies are typically not interested in such policies because capitalist societies tend to be run by people who believe in capitalism. As Erich Fromm pointed out, economic systems, value systems, and political systems tend to be linked. If you embrace an economic system that says selfishness is natural and good, that’s probably going to carry over into your values and your politics, and you may not lose a lot of sleep over “public purpose” or fairness.
    .

  4. Such a prospect need not be daunting so long as we manage the social transition. It would be necessary either to disassociate income from labor time or to re-envisage the nature of paid employment to encompass a far richer set of human activities.

    If the transition can be accomplished, the prospects seem bright.

    I like the way Spartans supposedly answered a Persian threat: “If…”

  5. Tom Hickey: just a slight modification: the issue is not the distribution problem per se, so much as egalitarian CONTROL over the means and outputs of production.

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