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What Future for Humans?


The term “artificial intelligence” was invented by the US computer scientist John McCarthy in 1955. He believed that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it”.

Innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics could force governments to legislate for quotas of human workers, upend traditional working practices and pose dilemmas for insuring driverless cars, according to a 120-page report by the International Bar Association (IBA), which acts as a global forum for the legal profession. The survey, which suggests that a third of graduate-level jobs around the world may eventually be replaced by machines or software, warns that legal frameworks regulating employment and safety rapidly become outdated.

The competitive advantage of poorer, emerging economies — based on cheaper workforces — will soon be eroded, as robot production lines and intelligent computer systems undercut the cost of human endeavor, the study suggests. While a German car worker costs more than €40 an hour, a robot costs between only €5 and €8 per hour. Nor does a robot become ill, have children or go on strike, and is not entitled to annual leave.

Government quotas for humans?

Looking into the future, the authors suggest that governments will have to decide what jobs should be performed exclusively by humans. “The state could introduce a kind of human quota in any sector” and decide “whether it intends to introduce a ‘made by humans’ label or tax for the use of machines”, the report says.

Increased mechanical autonomy will make it difficult to define legal responsibility for accidents involving new technology, such as driverless cars. Will it be the owner, the passengers or the manufacturers who pay the insurance? The liability issues may become an insurmountable obstacle to the introduction of fully automated driving. Driverless forklifts are already being used in factories. Over the past 30 years, there have been 33 employee deaths caused by robots in the US, according to the report.

“A no-go area in the science of AI is research into intelligent weapon systems that open fire without a human decision having been made,” the report goes on to explain. “The consequences of malfunctions of such machines are immense”.

The end of the traditional workplace

Among the professions most likely to disappear are accountants, court clerks and desk officers at fiscal authorities. Even lawyers risk losing their jobs. “An intelligent algorithm went through the European Court of Human Rights’ decisions and found patterns in the text,” the report says. Having learned from these cases, the algorithm was able to predict the outcome of other cases with 79 percent accuracy.

Robots may soon invade our home and leisure environments. The Henn-na Hotel in Sasebo, Japan uses “actroids”, robots with a human likeness. In addition to receiving and serving the guests, they are responsible for cleaning the rooms, carrying the luggage and preparing the food. The robots respond to the needs of guests in three languages. The hotel’s plan is to replace up to 90 per cent of its employees with robots. A few humans will monitor CCTV cameras to see whether they need to intervene if problems arise.

The traditional workplace is disintegrating, with more part-time employees, distance working and the blurring of professional and private time, the report observes. It is being replaced by the “latte macchiato” workplace, where employees or freelance workers work from their laptop in cafes. Some day, the only purpose of the workplace may be to maintain social networks among colleagues.