Artificial Intelligence. The laymen understanding of Artificial Intelligence comes from dystopian futuristic landscapes where the Robots have taken over and mankind is forced to survive on scraps of food and steampunk cosplay. And if these movies are supposed to represent a post-apocalyptic landscape, where are all the roaches and where is Keith Richards? Let’s be honest with ourselves here, I doubt even the sentient artificial intelligence can figure out how to kill Keith. I don’t believe in a God of sorts, but I do believe in Kieth Richards.
But that’s the key to the dystopian hellscape that these movies depict; sentient artificial intelligence. The fear that our modern minds have manufactured about AI is that it’ll start thinking for itself, realize humanity isn’t awesome and then resort to genocide. That’s a very human response for a sophisticated piece of technological advancement that was meant to get us to utopia. The fortunate thing is that as of right now, we are not that close to any piece of technology getting that much sentience. We’re still fucking around with Bluetooth, let alone a large scale walking talking killer Austrian.
Over the last decade AI, Algorithms and Automation have become a bigger part of the cultural zeitgeist and narrative surrounding jobs. This has taken us into the 4th Industrial Revolution and much like all Industrial Revolutions, this means less people to do the same job for the same, if not more, profits. The Horse & Buggy was replaced by Cars & Trains. Maybe if the Horses Unionized they wouldn’t be relegated to Kentucky Derbies and old Budweiser Commercials. The manufacturing of cars & trains went from human hands to Giant mechanical hands. And this Industrial Revolution is no different.
And it’s not like we haven’t started to automate things already. For last 20 years we’ve had self checkouts at grocery stores. This has meant less cashiers. Or the company hires more cashiers at less pay. The Bastard of All Billionaires, Jeff “Bad Boy Bastard Billionaire” Bezos, launched Amazon Go a few years ago. This is a store with no cashiers, where you walk in, get what you need and walk out. It’s all charged through the customer’s Amazon Account.
Think of how many people would be unemployed if in the next 5 years, if all Whole Foods were converted to Amazon Go stores. The prices wouldn’t go down, but Bad Boy Bastard Billionaire would definitely get richer. And before you say “Maybe he’ll donate some of it”, a measly $10 million dollars when he cashed out over $20 billion in one month during a Pandemic is like the Average middle class person throwing a dirty penny into the cup of a homeless person and thinking they’ve changed a life.
Amazon Go uses cameras, sensors and RFID to know what you put your cart and what you didn’t and charges your account. Sure this seems like a really cool way to shop, especially in a pandemic, but what happens when Amazon decides you aren’t deserving of food because of your values and opinions? Or worse yet, you can’t afford to eat from Amazon? Technology shouldn’t be used as a gateway drug to power.
ATM’s replaced Human Tellers many years ago, and now with apps like Venmo, CashApp, PayPal and more, we’re replacing ATM’s too! Robots are getting out-roboted! We use software like Turbo Tax and Legal Zoom which have automated paperwork and replaced Tax Accountants & Lawyers. Hell the calculator replaced regular accountants, who were just people that awesome at doing math in their heads!
But in the last 5 years our conversations about automation have become more prevalent because of the introduction of self-driving cars & trucks. With the rise of ride-share companies like Lyft & Uber and Trucking being the most common job in 29 states, 3% of the world’s jobs have become driver based. We’ll get to the issue of jobs and automation in just a little bit. Self-Driving Cars work of a mix of sensors, computer data, navigational maps and algorithms that ensure they’d be able to drive as well as, if not better than humans.
And that’s one of the most prevalent arguments against self-driving vehicles of all kinds; are they better at driving than humans? The answer is a resounding ‘Fuck yeah!’. Have you seen us drive? I was on the highway last year and I watched a man text, eat a burger, do a crossword puzzle and change lanes at the same time! If that guy isn’t dead by now, he’s either a wizard or motha-fuckin Kieth Richards!
Traffic deaths across the world are incredibly high! So these self driving cars just have to be better than that. And in a lot of cases they are. A few years ago, a self driving Tesla was involved in an accident. The car ran into a truck because it couldn’t distinguish between the color of the truck and the sky. Unfortunately there were fatalities. The end result to that is no different than human drivers. Regardless of who it is, a distracted human driver or distracted robot, we’re going to have accidents that lead to lives lost.
But this is only one case out of hundreds of thousands of self-driving cars on the streets. In my hometown of Pittsburgh alone, Uber has put out many self-driving cars on the streets, which have been safe. Now they do have a driver in the car to takeover manually just in case. I know some folks must be wondering why Pittsburgh? Because Pittsburgh’s streets are far more challenging than a lot of other cities. So if the navigation, sensors and algorithms can handle that, it might be able to handle anything.
Sure some folks could say, “well if you wanted challenging drive for the robot cars, then you should’ve driven in Boston!” But once the navigation and the algorithms looked at a map of Boston, they said “no, thanks!”
Self Driving Cars are one thing, but self-driving 18-Wheelers are a totally different thing. A lot of truckers are against the idea of self-driving trucks, not only because its a risk to their jobs, but it’s also harder for automated trucks to drive as precisely as needed in cities or trucking docks. But technology improves and usually at a pretty high rate of speed too so the long term plans should be how are we going to help displaced truckers.
But Truckers and gig economy workers aren’t the only ones at risk of loosing their jobs to Automation. Out of all the probability of loosing jobs some of the highest are Loan Officers, Receptionists, Paralegals, and Security Guards. But now thanks to the advancements we’re making in utilizing automated technology in tandem algorithms, more White Collar jobs are at risk to be replaced by artificial intelligence too!
For the better part of the decade Wall St. has been run by algorithms that make trades. But Wall St. and Capitalistic financial systems are so complicated that even algorithms have a hard time figuring them out, which is why in 2010, an algorithm just lost about a trillion dollars from Wall St. I feel like we need to take a hint here and simplify our financial system. Instead of stocks, bonds, Roth IRAs, Regular IRAs, Money Market Accounts, lines of Credits, what if we just used money as a tool to help each other with good & services?
Algorithms are basically a mathematical equations and a program that is designed to do particular repetitive tasks that involve data sets. This is why lawyers are now using algorithms in their research cases. An algorithm can bring up documents, case files and papers pertaining to a particular subject up in seconds. Does this mean that a robot with this lawyering algorithm can represent someone? Technically a robot could never use the phrase “I’m just simple country robot”, because robots and AI are not simple things. They’re highly complex!
Now the issues with these Algorithms is that they are programmed by humans and therefore will have human biases. Most of the time, these researchers don’t even know that these biases exist until it’s pointed out to them and they have to rewrite more programming to fix it. Because these algorithms can be manipulated there can be both positive and negative drawbacks.
The easiest example of how algorithms rule our lives is in our social media and streaming apps. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube are all controlled by algorithms that feed you the posts, photos, videos, that they think would interest you based on your personality, mood, likes & dislikes and other data they’ve gathered about you. They’re like your creepy neighbor that watches you all the time and gets you the perfect birthday gift. Like you’re gonna accept it, but very cautiously!
They can also manufacture conflicts by showing your things that they know will elicit an argument, which will then get more people involved and keep us on their platform for longer and longer and longer and longer…and all of a sudden we’ve missed our mother’s birthday because you had to p’wn that n00b so you can be smartest of all the like chasers!
Alternative media platforms like Minds[dot]com, Rokfin, Mastadon and others don’t have this level of algorithmic control on their platform. They’re a lot more free form and that has actually led to less conflict and more discourse. Turns out when humans are programmed to receive more likes and cerotonin through the conflict instead of real discourse and understanding, it leads to more fights, less critical thought and shows us how much the algorithms control you!
In fact during the 2016 election it was revealed how a mix of algorithms, psychographics based on personality tests and social media was used to sway voters towards particular candidates. Cambridge Analytica, a British Company paid by billionaire Robert Mercer was responsible for using Facebook ads targeted at voters to sway their decisions towards Donald Trump. When Congress found about this level of election manipulation, they told Mark Zuckerberg to apologize, sit in the corner for a whole 5 minutes and to vote for them next year!
But in this same way, personality, ethnicity, health and financial data can be used by an algorithm to determine whether you’re worthy of a loan, medical care, a job, and more. And corporations that are using this data to make decisions about your life with zero transparency regarding the algorithm. If we are going to let algorithms determine our fates, then we need transparency into what data they are fed and what factors go into making those determinations. I think its only fair to know how racist these corporations are teaching these algorithms to be!
Algorithms are used in dating apps to match you with right person…well most of the dating apps. I’m pretty sure Tinder just wants to you fuck everyone, all the time and that’s a little too much fuckin’. Tinder is clearly the horniest of all the algorithms.
The positives of using this gathered data is in the way it’s used in Call Centers. People with similar personalities are going to solve problems are lot faster than those with differing ones. They lead to happier resolutions. But having a good call center experience, pales in comparison to being denied your healthcare or a loan for a house.
With this use of data, algorithms are being used to make music and movie trailers. But so far, they have not figured out how to become comedians because Algorithms haven’t figured out how to be so sad and that narcissistic at the same time. But algorithms are boiling creativity down to numbers, data and patterns. They’re taking the genre of Math Rock a little too seriously.
We can use these algorithms to help instead of punish. Rather than use this to determine whether you can or can’t get medical care, it can be used to determine what kind of medical care you need and how to get any sort of assistance you might need too. It can match you with right doctor, lawyer, or car mechanic! It could be used to prevent recidivism instead discriminate against it. Imagine how much difference this kind of technology would make with a Mutual Aid mindset rather than a Capitalist one! Denial can become obsolete.
The next phase of AI and algorithms would be to start Deep Learning. Google’s Deep Learning AI, DeepMind, was trained to form a memory. Which would mean that any automated device would be capable of learning and improving its actions based on prior knowledge. They did this by teaching DeepMind to play Atari 20 millions times.
Yes, the dystopian aspect of this is AI can be used to predict human behaviors and actions, but we’re quite a bit away from that considering DeepMind just figured out the PS 1 and even I can kick its ass in Tekken 3. Regardless, it should be something we should be aware be ready to confront if & when the time comes!
Automation, AI & Algorithms aren’t on their way, but rather they’re here. Human innovation and the need to make our own lives easier and more efficient will lead to the use of technology to help us get there. But each time we approach these points, we teeter on the verge of dystopian nightmares and utopia. Regardless the one thing we can be sure of is that Kieth Richards will be there for us at the end.
Krish Mohan is a socially conscious, Indian standup comedian and writer who regularly tours the country. He performs at small theaters, bars, comedy clubs, colleges, DIY and house venues. With his quirky attitude, charming personality, and intelligent humor, Krish captivates and engages audiences of all backgrounds, tackling hot button topics like race, religion, war, immigration, while adding an optimistic, philosophical & sociological twist!