These days, everywhere you turn, there is talk about AI, and one primary theme is the human fear of being replaced by robots, thus resulting in huge waves of layoffs and job loss, which then leads to social turmoils, revolutions, and government collapses. Horrible.

    But if you think of it, it isn't new. Not only it isn't new, I think it is one of those topics that is perpetual true and perpetually horrible, whenever you bring it up. Like a nightmare, the only way to deal with it, is to wake up (in other words, not to think of it). As long as you put yourself into that scene, man, it's certainly gonna be bad.

    Exaggerated? Just take a step back and name all the parallels you can think of —

    1. when there is a more efficient way in production → job loss
    2. when there is a new way in production → job loss
    3. when an innovation emerges that takes the fantasy of everybody → job loss

    I think you get the idea. The theme is the same, that the old way of doing things are bound to be changed, and with that change, many positions will be eliminated, and people lose their old jobs because they are not needed anymore.

    So in the core, the fear is about not feeling needed anymore, an abandonment if you will, by the society. Isn't this the same as being abandoned by love? I have always been thinking that if only one knows where the next relationship is, the agony of breaking up wouldn't be that hard at all. Borrowing from the Hunger Game, the only thing that is more powerful than fear, is hope.

    I recall the book of The Affluent Society, which argues that with the prosperity of America, many will be rendered idle because high production efficiency simply doesn't need that many labor. The author said this new class, the ideal class, is not only natural, but actually good, so might as well embrace it instead of fighting it.

    Doesn't it sound the same arguments we are hearing about AI? Yes, I think so. That's why I say this topic isn't new, and is going to be repeated over and over and over. Different trigger, same talk.

    Your job, isn't ready

    Then I was thinking, what type of jobs will be eliminated? The immediate reaction will be — low skill jobs. They can be easily replaced by machine power, can't they?

    But, what if, your job, isn't ready!?

    Robots/computers aren't monsters who just eat everything on its way and still digest well. They pick; they have an appetite of certain things, but not all. So the question becomes, what do they like? They like logic, reasoning, and deterministic result; their stomach doesn't do well if you feed them ambiguity. What are these about? Not sheer machine power, your arms vs. his hydraulics. It's about decision making (in today's glorified term, it's about intelligence).

    In any computerized application, there is an inherent decision making process, which is derived from offline domain knowledge. Computer is really brainless, actually. Unless you tell it there is a decision to be made, and these are the if-else you need to make your decisions based on, it has no idea. So who knows there is a decision point, and here are the 4-5 options, and condition to pick one over another? — someone who possessed this domain knowledge, be it from experience, from business requirement, from management needs, from a genius stroke — they are all offline and domain specific. Computer can model, implement, and enforce them; but it can't invent them.

    So what type of jobs are ready to be, computerized? Corporate jobs, because they are usually better defined (what to do), better structured (how to do it), better documented (models), better understood (explicit domain knowledge), and often repetitive (wow, this is paradise for computers). To replace a guy shoveling a sidewalk, his labor can be easily done by a robot, but his pattern of shoveling and his experience of digging here versus there because of the difference of soil or his tool, if there is any, well, nobody has ever spend time to extract that domain knowledge, therefore computer is clueless about him, therefore, his job is just not READY!

    The fundamental law here is the cliche that there is no free lunch. Extracting that domain knowledge and modeling it into a computer bears a cost (cost of someone else to understand you, and you willing to open up your secrets), and that cost does not justify someone to study and figure out how a robot can do that shoveling job. Human labor, as long as it is cheaper than this cost, is plainly safe, for economic reason.

    So, as long as your job sucks to a degree that it is boring, making only reasonable profits, and disgusts many people, your job is safe. Of course, here lies the other extreme of the spectrum, that the job is challenging to the point that human simply doesn't know how to model it or even understand it, say, write me an awesome novel, play the piano like Mozart did — unless you can define awesomeness and can model Mozart style, you are out of luck.

    — by Feng Xia


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