Should We Fear or Welcome Artificial Intelligence?
How Politics will affect technical changes
Should we fear or welcome Artificial Intelligence?
Within the next 20 years, artificial intelligence and full automation of all routine or regular tasks will be available.
Do we welcome the escape from boring humdrum tasks or feel machines are going to replace us?
Please stay with me through the next paragraph. I was born and raised in the town of Braintree (Essex, England); it was a strange mix of a town, since it was a market town still with weekly cattle and livestock markets but also had a large industrial manufacturing base. Around 25,000 people lived and worked there. Just about everyone cycled or walked to work in the local factories. The town and local districts were administered from the Town Hall, an imposing building right in the centre of town. By modern standards not very big, but it housed the council meeting chambers and the administration; this was long before the computer age. Everything was still done by hand. Now, 60+ years later, the population is much larger, but the industry has gone. Most people commute to work at places out of town. The administration is housed in a building about 10 times the size of the original town hall and employs countless more administrators, all with sophisticated computerised systems that replaced typewriters and hand-filled double entry account books.
So computerisation did not cut the number of people employed; the nature of their work has changed, but the numbers increased. The number employed by the governing administration, locally, has grown by a very large factor despite all the technology that was expected to take over so many lower level clerical jobs. Certainly there are not rooms full of typists or the need for a dozen telephone operators, but the numbers of those employed has risen. Looking around at just about every area of employment, the same thing is noticed. Retail shops in the 1950s were all small, usually family run, accounts were kept by hand, the ordering of goods was from wholesalers, and service was personal. Now we have supermarkets buying direct from manufactures, automated checkouts, etc., and still the number of people employed by the retail industry is probably larger than it was in 1950. The obvious factor is the size of the population; the service industries have a direct ratio of employees to total population, and so a falling population will reduce the numbers of people employed in service industries.
The double hit effect of artificial intelligent automation coupled with falling population numbers is going to cause changes. Whether these are viewed as good or bad will be variable, depending on how the individual is affected and by how governments and businesses use these changes. Because of the development and installation costs of fully automated systems, especially ones guided by AI, it is tempting to think they will only be used in large scale operations, global manufacturing, and central governments who have hundreds of thousands of clerical type employees. Remember, when computers were first developed, it was thought that eventually every large town may have one. Development of smaller, more adaptable versions of self-adjusting and reacting automated systems will make them more applicable to smaller and smaller uses, eventually into every home.
If this process is relatively slow and matched by falling populations, we may get lucky and the new systems will simply fill the vacancies caused by having less people of employment age. This is where politics gets in the way of sense. The socialist party in Britain have a policy of total open immigration into Britain. If they are in power, the population will not decline; it will increase and the additional members of the population will, if present situation continues, be employment-age people who would have needed the jobs the machines will now be doing. Any advantage of the new technology will be lost in Britain.
Finding any political party that combines long-term thinking with an absolute priority of the long-term well-being of all the indigenous people of a nation and the intelligence to look way beyond political dogma to find ways to use scientific advances to benefit people is not going to be easy. Look at the way the political bandwagons are notionally hitching themselves to the “green“ movements. Promising (on behalf of others) that arbitrary chosen numbers will be legal requirements without applying any actual thought. They are pushing all of us into a lithium-dependent economy as opposed to a petrochemical-dependent economy. Frying pan to fire is a good analogy, but who lets sense and understanding get in the way of a good election ploy? Certainly not the politicians, or the media, but what makes it very much worse, it seems the public are also going along with this farce.
So, should we welcome or fear Artificial Intelligence? Unless we can change political governance to one based on rationality and long-term purpose, to replace the existing short-term political dogma based governance, the fear is justified. If we can govern by rational, coherent thinking and understanding, coupled with a genuine desire to improve the lives of everybody in the nation, then we can welcome AI.
The key is the size of the population. Let it increase unconditionally, while at the same time rushing to grab short-term economic benefits for individual employers who gain by shedding human labour, then we are going to be in trouble, socially, politically and in the medium term, economically, as the social disruption destroys any benefits gained.