What Are We Worth?
Start writing a post

My good friend Gary Buckley and I are, apparently, both obsessed with the societal impact of economic automation. He wrote two consecutive articles about it, and I wrote three—not that there is any kind of competition going on here, mind you, because that would just be silly. But to throw one more article onto the pile, I wanted to address a couple of questions that he raised in his last article, "Are Humans Better Than Machines?":

Can robots replace human simplicity? Will robots ever be creative or feel empathy? Do the superior productive capabilities of automation reduce human value?

To put each respective answer succinctly: yes, most likely, and absolutely not.

Robots can replace our simplicity because their efficiency in any task they can perform improves at a rate we simply can't match. Gary accurately pointed out that, at the moment, "Humans can write more colorfully [than machines can]." But humans are not getting better, faster, or cheaper at writing, at least not at the rate that machines are. In fact, one news-writing bot was recently released for free - and research into automated creative writing is underway right now. Gary also said that, at the moment, "[H]umans can fold laundry better [than machines can]." But the same principle applies to laundry as to colorful writing. In fact, a robot by the name of Baxter can already be taught to fold laundry. And as CGP Grey said, "Even if Baxter is slow, his hourly cost is pennies' worth of electricity while his meat-based competition costs minimum wage. A tenth the speed is still cost-effective when it's a hundredth the price."

Software and hardware updates will soon be available for Baxter, but probably not for us. We cannot improve at anywhere near the rate that machines can, so they must eventually surpass us in economic productive value.

Gary also used the argument that "[h]umans will always continue to invent and create, which will continue to supply work for humans." First of all, this is an assumption. It has been true throughout history, but that does not mean it will remain true—just like the non-existence of instantaneous global communication was true for thousands of years, until it wasn't. It is a fallacy to say "what has always been true will always remain true," especially when available evidence indicates that the winds of change are blowing. Second, it is accurate based on current trends and predictions that the percentage of paid work done by humans will decline even if a shrinking group of humans can still find paid work as innovators or because of innovators.

Finally, it is possible that human capacity for innovation will be outdone by AI. While most machines right now are incapable of creativity, it is likely that more software complexity and processing power will lead to more creativity. One way that AI can become creative is by making connections between seemingly unrelated data points that humans never could due to their inability to crunch vast swaths of data from a huge variety of sources. It can also incorporate a random number generator into its idea generation process, in selection or creation of data, to reach a wider variety of possibilities and to be more "genuinely creative."

Automation will replace a huge percentage of human workers, and there are ways that AI could become creative. But can a machine feel empathy? It depends on how empathy is defined. The Free Dictionary defines empathy as "The ability to identify with or understand another's situation or feelings." Google defines empathy as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." Wikipedia has a similar definition: "the capacity to understand or feel what another being (a human or non-human animal) is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference." Under these definitions, which are what most people I have encountered usually seem to mean when they say "empathy," several non-human social animals appear to show empathy, including dogs, elephants, chimpanzees, and some rodents.

Even with today's young supercomputer technology, we have simulated part of a rat's brain, which is the first step in a project that aims to simulate a human brain. Another project using simpler representations of neurons simulated a mini-brain that scored almost as well as humans did on math tests. We could give a machine empathetic software by virtually simulating the brain of a human or another animal capable of empathy, or potentially by reverse-engineering parts of such a brain and incorporating them into an AI program. This may be impossibly difficult at the moment, but there is no time limit for humanity to disprove the sentence "machines cannot replicate empathy."

However, if we define empathy as requiring a soul, then we wade into much murkier waters. For example, do the aforementioned animals capable of empathy as it is commonly defined have souls? Also, computer processing power has been increasing exponentially over the past few decades, and is likely to grow even faster in the future due to advances in quantum computing. If we eventually simulate a full human brain, would that simulation have a soul? And if you say no, how would you respond if it asked you why?

I will not pretend to have an answer to these heavy metaphysical questions. My point is that defining empathy as "requiring a soul" is inconsistent with how the term is generally defined, opens a huge philosophical can of worms and, if only humans have souls, leads to a circular argument: "only humans can have empathy because empathy is something that only humans can have."

With all of that said, humans will still be valuable even if machines and AI eventually surpass our simplicity, creativity, and empathy. Human intrinsic value is not reduced by automation or advancements in AI because a human's intrinsic value is not measured by comparison to machines, especially in terms of how much money they make or how many widgets they produce. It is very dangerous to conflate the intrinsic value of the human experience with human economic productive value, especially when the latter is in decline.

Gary did hit the nail on the head with his eloquent description of the intrinsic value of the human experience, which he describes as distinctly different from human economic productive value: "the simple is what makes life worth living. Feeling the sunshine on your face, snapping your fingers, breathing fresh air—all trivial occurrences. Yet perhaps the most faithfully joyful ones. Humans can enjoy the relational aspect of chatting with an old friend or getting lost in the world of a novel…To truly live — to thrive — human beings must love and be loved. People must feel raw pain and pure ecstasy to know the human experience."

All of these simplicities are a vital part of what makes life worth living, which is true whether or not "machines simply cannot replicate" them. And they are not only still possible but easier for us in a world where a human does not need to work for a living because machines, our beautiful creations that represent one of our greatest accomplishments as a species, do the undesired grunt work that is necessary for our survival.

Even if robots take over everything that we currently consider "paid work," including the simple work, humans can work at and enjoy all kinds of unpaid activities. There is no economic incentive to automate an unprofitable activity, so unproductive fun is much less likely than productive work to be "automated away." And even if an activity (e.g. productive fun) is automated, humans can still do it without being paid if they enjoy it for its own sake, so very few activities will be "automated away" that are intrinsically desirable. Robots will simply alleviate the need for a precarious "work-life balance" by taking our work and thereby giving us more life. They will give us the time and resources to live freely as we see fit, free to enjoy our simple and relational humanity.

For more information on this subject, check out some of the articles that Gary and I have written:

Gary's Automation Articles: "In Defense Of The Robot Painting" and "Are Humans Better Than Machines?"

My "Automating the Workforce" Series: "Part 1: The Crisis Is Here," "Part 2: Meet The Machines" and "Part 3: The Future Of Humanity"

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

1843
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less
Entertainment

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series

303942
Netflix

Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

190567
Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

92732
Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?

286102

Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less
Swoon

14 Last Minute Valentine's Day Gifts Your S.O. Will Love

If they love you, they're not going to care if you didn't get them some expensive diamond necklace or Rolex watch; they just want you.

172244

Let me preface this by saying I am not a bad girlfriend.

I am simply a forgetful one.

Keep Reading... Show less
Student Life

10 Helpful Tips For College Students Taking Online Courses This Semester

Here are several ways to easily pass an online course.

114736
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels

With spring semester starting, many college students are looking to take courses for the semester. With the pandemic still ongoing, many students are likely looking for the option to take online courses.

Online courses at one time may have seemed like a last minute option for many students, but with the pandemic, they have become more necessary. Online courses can be very different from taking an on-campus course. You may be wondering what the best way to successfully complete an online course is. So, here are 10 helpful tips for any student who is planning on taking online courses this semester!

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

Take A Look At The Extravagant Lane Woods Jewelry Collection For Valentine's Gift Ideas

So if you are currently looking to purchase jewelry for yourself or as a romantic gift for your S.O., you should definitely look at the marvelous and ornately designed Lane Woods Jewelry collection

335093

Just like diamonds are a girl's best friend, so are pearls, rubies, gold, emeralds, and any type of luxurious jewelry you can get your hands on! A woman is incomplete without a piece of jewelry on her and it is a gorgeous accessory required for all occasions. So if you are currently looking to purchase jewelry for yourself or as a romantic gift for your S.O., you should definitely look at the marvelous and ornately designed Lane Woods Jewelry collection.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments