How robots and A.I. are actually encouraging the next evolution in human creativity
In a recent trip to NASA Johnson Space Center, we were taken on a private tour and shown all the advances in space exploration and robotics. On this tour, the permeating feeling was the beautiful advance on robotics, and how present they are and how present they’ll be in the daily activities of current space explorers and future explorers of Mars and the rest of our Solar System. They’re doing that with Robonaut 2, a marvel of engineering and human accomplishment, and they’re doing that with the more human-like Valkyrie robot.
Then, last weekend we went to the ReWork Applied AI Summit, and the Women in A.I. Dinner and we kept on hearing about the actual state of the A.I. In our day and age, A.I. is not actually artificial intelligence, it’s not this separate entity. Yet. It’s more like augmented intelligence, that is only as good as the database that it’s being fed, and the rules that it’s being told to apply. We’re not there yet, we’re nowhere close to this universe that Elon Musk is fearing, where A.I. will take over the world so swiftly that we wouldn’t even know that it happened.
But we are in the clear and present reality of living with robots and we, humans, are delegating a lot of our dangerous tasks to them. But that’s not all. We’re bringing about the knowledge economy, as we have built ourselves a society of robots, human and mechanical, to automate every possible job that we can automate.
To thrive as a knowledge worker in this new knowledge economy, and to survive past the move by corporations to automate every single job, we’ll have to differentiate ourselves from the robots, the menial and repetitive task workers, robot and human alike, and offer value, massively more value than any robot could.
No, it’s not an article about artificial intelligence, or about the end of the world in a dystopian version of reality where the robots have taken over. It’s an article about the origins of the word “robot”, and what it means and how it’s evolved to mean what we know it means today, it’s ramifications into automation, and where will the workforce be in 20 years. It is an article about how we, humans, are born to be more than robots, and how to get to the future that we’ve been dreaming about.
First off, let’s start with the origin of the word “robot”. It was first used by Josef Čapek, a Czech artist, writer and poet, and coined into immortality by his brother, the science fiction writer Karel Čapek in the 1920 play R.U.R.which stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). In the first literary mention, the word robot, “roboti” was used to describe something akin to clones, not the image of mechanical anthropomorphized automated / intelligent machines we imagine when we think of the word robot. The actual word robot is derived from the word “raboti” which means “work”, “to work”.
The robots in this first-ever literary work that mentions them, are very much human-like, can think for themselves, and are cheap to make, built out of malleable, synthetic proteins, more clones than what we’d call robots. With the introduction of cheap labor into that fictitious economy, comes a price reduction in the manufacturing process, and a lowering of cost on the products that these robots build. They, the robots, become an economic necessity. To remind you, this was a theater play created in 1920! How prophetic was that?
The word was created to describe a species of subhumans that were created to do man’s bidding. Today, it still means that. But it means so much more. The fact that with the introduction of robots, we have been able to reduce the cost of manufacturing and production in general, is also something not to be ignored.
Today, the word could mean one of the following: mechanical humanoid machine, automated robotic builders that help build cars, A.I., anything/robot that does repetitive work. What it does Not mean anymore is a clone that can pass for a human, enslaved version, made to perform automated tasks. We have created new words to describe that. Today’s robots are created to help man with automated and dangerous tasks, like assembling cars, deep ocean and space exploration.
But I argue that that’s what we’ve become, as a society. Interchangeable automatons, doing higher function repetitive tasks, and we learn, like all good robots, how to do things better.
Many of the jobs that we do today, like assembly, big data analysis, even fast food order taking, are already done by computers, a.k.a., robots. Soon, more jobs are going to be automated. We, as a society need to be prepared for this knowledge economy. Transportation is next, and I am actually very excited about having more robots / A.I. drive us, instead of us driving ourselves. Maybe the number of accidents will drop, and there’ll be no more traffic. I think L.A. should get very excited about that.
Today. it is easier and cheaper for corporations to “hire” a robot than to hire a human. In the drive for profit and efficiency, we need to think about how we can deliver value, how to improve even a small aspect of someone else’s’ life.
The human value is not in doing repetitive tasks. We have, and we’ll continue to have better robots for that. Our value, as human capital, is creativity, innovation, thinking out of the box, embracing the unknown and letting our minds explore all that is possible. We’ll soon have robots to take care of everything else.
We don’t need to work at McDonald’s, taking orders. There is a robot for that already. We don’t need to be the computing machines we build. We need to build better machines. Building our future in the knowledge economy should be our priority.
What we need to do is figure out what the society of the next 100 years will need, and start building towards that. We need to focus on bringing about the knowledge economy.
We need to focus on improving the quality of life for the entire planet, eradicate disease, provide solutions for all the issues in energy, food, water, environment. We’re better at that than at doing the same task over and over again. We have built ourselves into this version of the present. It is not a coincidence.
We have imagined this version of the present, and we’re bringing it to reality, one day at a time.
Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it, and start thinking about what you have to offer. It is the knowledge economy, after all.
Yes, the sharing economy is hastening the process of liberating resources and incorporating robots and automation into our everyday lives. And it’s a good thing. Within the sharing economy, we have freed transportation, and lodging, and food, and a whole lot more. There is still a pushback from the old, the establishment, but they cannot stop progress. The current zeitgeist is more about equality and freedom of resources than it’s ever been. The internet has freed us all. The internet has allowed us to collaborate and become ONE planet, ONE species, not divided by socio-political borders. Innovation knows no borders. Scientists from Norway work with scientists from Guinea and Canada and the United States to eradicate Ebola. Knowledge is not guarded by borders anymore. Knowledge has been liberated.
The knowledge economy is the next step. We’re seeing how the jobs that we can automate are disappearing fast. We’re seeing how a bigger part of the workforce is returning to an entrepreneurial way of life, more freelance, less employee. It’s not a bad thing. We’re exerting our independence. We’re using our minds for creativity and bringing innovation with it.
In the knowledge economy, knowledge is king! What I mean by that, is that, like always, the more you know about a subject, the more value you can bring to that field.
A way to thrive in the coming years is to embrace what’s been told to you as a kid: DO WHAT YOU LOVE! The more you love what you do, the more you’ll do it, and the better at it you’ll be. By becoming an expert in any niche, you can add value to others and THAT is what will differentiate you from the robots, the automatons, the “yes” people and “yes” machines.
We are made for more. We are innovators. We are creators. We are explorers. It is time to get back to that, and leave the repetitive tasks behind and focus on building a future we’re all going to like living in.
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