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Archive for November, 2013

Et tu, Brute?

I love reading. When a percipient writer penned down his words with perfection, I love reading.
Writing in its good form is thinking on paper, and speaks directly to me in beautiful words.

I love that.

I love it when I read intelligence, expressed in a clear, simple, brief and human way.
Reading good writing begets more reading; it’s oxygen for the brain.

And the thing I love about reading is that it lets me discover something. Not only with the author’s insight, but my own as well. Writings are best without them telling me everything.

And so, what I don’t like is presumptuous and pretentious currency I get too often in exchange for my faith. And every time I see a good publisher fall to the clutches of mediocrity, the poetic words by Shakespeare come to mind; ‘Et tu, brute?’

Language is a living, evolving thing. That is fine, and I’ll accept that ‘epic’ is no longer a word to describe only tales like the Iliad and the Odyssey. I’ll accept that the word ‘amazing’ no longer means ‘something so wonderful, it is hard to find words for it.’ And I’ll accept that words like ‘mindblowing’, ‘heartbreaking’, ‘lovely’ and ‘beautiful’ have all watered down in their meaning. The very definition of these words, and many with them, have paled in their overuse.

What I find hard to accept is reading these pale words all the time, especially from publishers I greatly admire, or at least once did. I might expect sensationalism from BuzzFeed or The Onion, but seriously; Mashable, The Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Techcrunch and Quartz? Even you, Wired?

Here’s what I’m talking about:

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Nothing makes me cringe like a headline, telling me to cringe. I imagine the face of the writer who writes headlines like ‘Epic photographs that will leave you in awe ‘, to be completely neutral. At least mine is when reading it. Does the writer who pens down ‘must-see’ even know what that implies?

And it’s not just the headlines, it’s the whole pretence of the article. Mashable wrote an article about the US Army building an Iron Man suit, while the suit simply had embed electronics, which is nothing new. It’s a far-fetched metaphor – acting as click-bait – for people vulnerable to wasting time under the illusion they’re reading something meaningful.

I think many writers are writing articles closer related to instruction manuals than journalism; ‘here’s what you should feel’; ‘here’s what you should think’. ‘Oh yeah, and don’t forget to share.’

Jokes are bad when you have to explain them, and so are writings. Good writings leave something to discover for the reader, thus they are interactive by nature. Even Shakespeare’s play on Julius Caesar. That was written in 1559, so can we please go back to quality?

We’re building our successors

Quake 3 is a first-person shooter video game – launched back in 1999 – that came with the innovation that the bot AI (artificial intelligence) could learn and adapt new scenarios and situations, based on tactics that worked and didn’t work.

Basically; the longer you played, the more it would learn about you. Matches usually don’t last very long in Quake, but one anonymous gamer left a server on for four years, hosting a bot-vs-bot match, setting no score or time limit.

Upon logging in earlier this year, he discovered that the bots where standing still, not doing anything. So, in his next step, the gamer joins the game.

The bots didn’t fire at him, they only rotated to look at him, and continued to do so as he walked around the map. The gamer than decided to shoot at one, to which the bots, all together, killed the gamer.
Whether this story is true or not, it does raise the question;
Could artificial intelligence be smarter than us, and figure out what humans can’t? That the best way to live, is to not kill each other. And that in fact, humans are the main threat to peace?
This probably sounds an awful lot like science-fiction. God knows how many books are written about robots taking over our planet.

However, last week I was listening to a Dutch politician stating that in the next few years, about two thousand new truck drivers are needed in the Netherlands. Yet, no matter how much they are needed now, I firmly believe those truck drivers will be unemployed by 2020.

See, like Quake, tech companies are developing droids with senses like understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering and writing, at a rate quicker than politicians can understand. It’s gone outside of computer games, or science-fiction books.

This really shows itself best in driverless cars. Driving a car requires many skills, and humans are pretty bad at it (1.2 million deaths occur in vehicle accidents every year). It’s very likely that you know someone close, who has been injured or killed in a car accident. So computers don’t have to be very good to be better than us. But they will be.

There’s a lot of talk about how laws will cope with driverless cars, and who will be responsible for accidents, the driver, or the programmer. But that’s not so interesting, I think, as what it’ll mean for our jobs.

When cars will drive themselves, it’ll be the end of jobs for truck, bus and taxi drivers, postmen and waste collectors.

However, the bigger picture is that with superior drivers, no accidents will occur, ever. So there’ll be less need for police, firefighters and doctors. And that means less police and fire stations, and less hospitals. And, to single out hospitals to make an example, it’s not just some doctors losing their jobs. When a hospital will close down due less accidents, cleaners, cooks, electricians and many more will lose their jobs.

Then there’s other vehicles such as trains, boats and planes, which will be controlled by a computer.
Hopefully you’re seeing the bigger picture here.

Even more jobs will become non-existent thanks to 3D printing, as for instance clothing won’t be made by humans anymore. It allows local production, so the shipping industry will suffer a lot. Also; no need for storage, if you can print directly on demand. It’ll be good for the environment, but bad for jobs.

Then there’s ‘normal’ bots: they will replace fishers, miners, farmers, inspectors, construction builders, soldiers – basically, anything.
‘But wait. Wouldn’t somebody need to make those bots?’
Wrong. Already there are self-assembling robots.

And if you look at SIRI or Google Glass, you’ll realise that no-touch interface will automate help desk services, and probably schools as well.

 

Software developed by BETC Euro RSCG in Paris, generated ads like this one. This ad is from 2010.

Software developed by BETC Euro RSCG in Paris, generated ads like this one. This ad is from 2010.

Of course, all these developments will create some new jobs as well, but not as much as two billion. (That’s the number of jobs, evaporated thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence.) But replacing those new jobs might be a matter of time as well.

‘But wait, there will still be creative jobs right?’ Maybe, but know that computers are already showing creativity. The ad on the right here is made by BETC Euro RSCG Paris in 2010, and there’s a piece of software called AARON, developed by artist Harold Cohen, which creates art since the 1970s.

Science-fiction? No.
Will we let this happen? Yes.
Can we stop this? Maybe.

But stopping this will be difficult, for what makes sense on a larger scale (buying expensive goods from companies that use humans), makes no sense on an individual scale (buying cheap products from companies that use bots). And since individuals mostly pursue what’s best for them, we will all buy from non-human companies. Of course governments could help, but as said earlier, their awareness develops slower than technology. Also, they have a rather bad rep for choosing money over human resources.
And this isn’t my opinion, you know. I simply looked for information and put it together, which is what any proper journalist should do.

I started writing this article with the question; ”which jobs will become non-existent in the future?’, but the inevitable answer could very well be; ‘all of them’.

 

Sources:
Artificial artists: when computers become creative
Quake 3 bots
Don’t Tell the Creative Department, but Software Can Produce Ads, Too
Meer vrachtwagenchauffeurs nodig
Eerste ‘F-16-drone’ maakt testvlucht
17 Jobs That Robots Were Supposed to Have Stolen By Now
Self Assembling Robots
Which jobs will become non-existant in the coming years?
The forever recession (and the coming revolution)
Data Shows Google Robot Cars Are Smoother, Safer Drivers Than People
Jobs of the future, #1: Online Community Organizer
Machines on the march threaten almost half of modern jobs