Humans Need Not Apply

Are you familiar with CGP Grey? If you’re not, you should be. The man is awesome at what he does, which is producing short videos that explain things. Like what the difference between Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom is. Or why retiring the penny might be a good idea. Or why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. I’ve watched all of his videos at least a couple of times.

Well, his latest video came out recently. It’s a bit longer than the others. And it scared the bejeezus out of me. Set aside fifteen minutes and take a gander for yourself:

Now I’ve seen a lot of news about robots and software bots. I’ve seen the videos of DARPA’s running robots and the small drones. I’ve wondered what it would be like to ride in one of Google’s self-driving cars (or “autos”). And I followed Watson’s run on Jeopardy (and even blogged about it). But I’ve never connected the dots the way Grey did.

So what happens as more and more people are pushed out of the job market? What will happen to them?

RobotAnd at first, I thought that maybe I would be safe. Yes, I know that there are creative-type ‘bots out there (such as Emily Howell). While hundreds of monkeys banging away on typewriters may never produce a masterpiece, I wonder how long it will take a self-teaching ‘bot to figure out how to write a best-seller. But there’s no way that anyone would be able to come up with a robotic pastor, right?


Okay, so maybe that link isn’t the best example. But if Watson the super-smart computer doctor can learn to correlate medical symptoms and make diagnoses, how hard would it be for a similar program to learn how to cross-reference Biblical passages and offer spiritual advice based on what someone says to it? If a ‘bot can stitch together a news article today, how long until it can figure out how to pull together pithy stories and write a sermon? I doubt the day would come where my venerable denomination would consent to the ordination of robots, but the numbers in that video make me worried.

What will society look like if close to half the population’s jobs become automated?

It almost sounds like the seeds of a story, doesn’t it?

I better get working on that before a story-writing ‘bot beats me to it.

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