The idea that the machines are taking over is certainly not a new idea, one that is as old as technology itself. In more recent times, the full integration of digital technology into our daily lives has led to the realisation of just how dependent we are upon it, sending even the more sensible among us into raving paranoiacs every time a story on AI pops up in your Twitter Feed. Inevitably, every news story segment of a self-driving car or of a drone dropping a parcel or something more destructive leads to exponentially rising cortisol levels.
It seems unlikely that there is any base for these fears for the immediate future – we’ve been worrying about this since Frankenstein and the aborted Luddite movement – and it is far more likely that it instead betrays a much deeper fear stemming from the stresses and insecurities which characterise our age. Long gone are the certainties we once had, such as in the free market, religion and the belief that each generation’s lot would be better than the last. Living in the 21st century is a difficult task with financial crises, terrorist threats, climate change, not to mention the more nearer term fears such as higher costs of living, declining opportunities for the young and poor and all before you start worrying about Siri’s imperial ambitions. Given these trends and the great pace of change we’re experiencing, it is entirely likely that the way in which Tudor society appears to us today will be similar to the way our grandchildren will look back at us in the future.
Whether you believe that AI will enslave the human race or not, in the short to medium term, millions of jobs will be lost – 15 million in the UK according to the Bank of England recently – without an immediate uplift in jobs being created. Automation will transform and disrupt not only blue collar jobs but also professional occupations in law, accountancy and financial services. Wanting to end on an optimistic note, however, these innovations have the potential to remove drudgery (both physical and administrative) from human existence with the remaining jobs serving to harness our natural creativity, interpersonal skills and will make working life a far more rounded and fulfilling experience.