What is our relationship with technology?

Oct 13, 2022
Are we doomed?

We are living on a fragile ecosystem which Human’s driven by greed, ignorance and apathy are doing their best to destroy.

Last week I discovered something that, I believe, is an even more imminent threat.

It is called RPA.

I was on a Zoom call with a group of people who are creating The World Ethics Organisation.  They have the wonderful mission of bringing ethics into business. I was put into a breakout room with an American guy, who I will call Rob.  His image looked a bit strange, and I asked if he could adjust the lighting to show more detail on his face.  He said, no, that is my avatar. I asked if he was really present and why he wasn’t showing his real self. His answer was that he was at the forefront of helping businesses install RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and the use of the avatar was part of that.

His Nirvana was to have RPA and AI taking over all menial and repetitive tasks.  This would be simpler, cheaper, and much more reliable than using human beings.  The scope went way beyond manual work into professions such as lawyers and accountants where AI, with infinite knowledge, could do a much better job than a person behind a desk.

When I asked him what would happen to all the humans in his Nirvana, he believed that companies would be able to afford to keep paying their non-working staff.  I suggested that this was extremely unlikely and that, even if they did, many humans robbed of a purpose and social interaction would probably eat and drink themselves to death.

Rob’s view was that increasing use of avatars and AI was inevitable as Gen Z and beyond were so used to engaging with them in their virtual worlds of gaming and social media.  Even if us ‘oldies’ were unhappy with the idea, it was going to happen.

I was left with a horror of this dystopian world that we have planted the seeds of. What is the point of humans if RPA can do our jobs better, cheaper, and more consistently? Maybe there will be a role for a couple, let’s call them Adam and Eve.  Their job will be to stand by the world controlling computer and, if there is a problem that it cannot self-diagnose and fix, they will turn the power off and, after 10 seconds, turn it back on again.

Isaac Asimov set out his three laws for robotics in 1942.  They seemed a wonderfully simple and elegant way of preserving humanity:
The first law is that a robot shall not harm a human, or by inaction allow a human to come to harm. The second law is that a robot shall obey any instruction given to it by a human, and the third law is that a robot shall avoid actions or situations that could cause it to come to harm itself.

What can we do to ensure that computers improve our lives rather than control them?