The Ethics of Automation
As AI develops, it will have to be imbued with the set of values that we call morals. Just as humans are fast becoming aware that we have a duty to all the other creatures that share our planet, so the Autons will have to be persuaded to adopt the same morality (or better) and allow humans to exist alongside them.
Now remember that automation and job losses have been happening apace while industry has been under human control. In the UK and US, around a million cashier jobs (as at July 2015) have been lost to automated checkout machines. Humans are supposed to be ethical. It turns out that we are not. We will happily throw millions of workers onto the scrap heap, piously telling ourselves that they’ll find equally rewarding jobs elsewhere. Most of the time they do not.
And yet we have the gall to demand that AI adheres to a far higher morality than we ever did.
But let’s look at the global landscape fifty years from now, when Autons are in charge. No president of any country, no matter how powerful, will be able to command that the machines be switched off. That means that humans will have no jobs and will starve.
Or will we?
Can’t we run our own parallel economy?
No, we could not. Economic activity arises out of the need to satisfy the practically infinite range of human wants. We satisfy those wants by manufacturing some product or providing some service.
But if the Autons can manufacture those products or provide those services far better, cheaper and quicker than humans can? Then humans will only be able to scrape a living by operating in those niches that Autons find not sufficiently profitable to occupy.
It’s said that if Bill Gates sees a ten-dollar bill lying in the street, he doesn’t bother to bend and pick it up. In the few seconds it would take him, he could instead have made ten thousand dollars doing something more profitable. And in the twenty seconds or so it would take him to explain this to you, he could have made a hundred thousand. (Although on the other hand he does take time out to publish the Gates Notes blog.)
So let me retract part of my assertion. Autons may not bother creating products and services for humans any more. It won’t be profitable enough. They will trade with each other. Their economy will grow exponentially and rapidly. It could double in size every day, every hour.
Although computers keep on getting smaller and smaller, they will still occupy space. Say that the size of a single Auton could be reduced to 1000 atoms. Say that the number of Autons doubled every day. In six months, every atom on earth would have been used up to make Autons.
Assuming that the atoms in humans escaped being turned into Autons, we wouldn’t have anywhere to live, would we?
How about from the Auton point of view? They would foresee running out of terrestrial resources and reach out to grab atoms from the rest of the solar system. That would only delay hitting the limits for a few more months. What then?
Autons would not need the Sun for energy. Conceivably they could use every nuclear particle in the solar system, including those in the Sun. And then they’d end up with something like the… nahh I’ve been watching too much Star Wars.
Besides, if this is what Autons do, then we would expect to see many other Death Stars in our galaxy. How would we detect them, if they’re not emitting any light? Simply because when they passed in front of another star, or “transited,” the light from that other star would dim. Perhaps only slightly and briefly, but astronomy has reached a level where that blinking would be detected.
Also I’m assuming that Economics is an exact science that we humans have not been able to solve for the simple reason that we are irrational and our choices cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty.