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’.


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Quake 3 bots
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