Let me first clarify what we mean by AI and robotics:
Firstly, we have industrial robots installed on factory floors, carrying out repetitive tasks such as pick and place or transporting goods autonomously. They are programmed to achieve very specific tasks in very constrained environments and usually work behind fences with no human contact.
Increasingly, so-called collaborative robots are deployed on the shop floor which can work in close proximity of humans and do not need a security cage any longer.
A second category consists of professional service robots used outside traditional manufacturing. Typical examples include surgical robots in hospitals or milking robots on farms.
Consumer robots form the third category: they can be used for private purposes, typically at home, like vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers etc.
Finally, there are the purely software-based AI agents. Such systems are used, for example, to help doctors improve their diagnosis or in recommendation systems on shopping websites.
AI-based software, in conjunction with sophisticated sensors and connectivity, is also increasingly used to make all kinds of devices and objects around us intelligent. The most notable example in this context is probably the self-driving car.
While many of these robots and AI systems are impressive and have progressed a lot recently, they are still very far from exhibiting intelligent, human-like behaviour or are indistinguishable from a human. In other words: they don’t pass the Turing test yet. This futuristic vision would need a debate at a different level, including asking very profound ethical questions.
I wanted to write a story about how technology can be used in times of disaster to let us work together,” Doctorow explains. “The Internet has given us a lot of high-profile flame wars and trolling and such, but the Internet is primarily used by most of us to be kind to other people, strangers and loved ones alike. Writing a story about how we might consciously craft technology to give society a graceful failure mode where we use it as connective tissue to tie together our collective rebuilding seems to me to be a way to counter the kind of weaponized narrative about humanity’s fundamental evilness that carried the last presidential election.
First of all, to call the privilege of not responding to after-hours work-related emails “the right to disconnect” is misleading at best. As it stands, such a narrow definition excludes many other types of social relations where permanent or temporary disconnection by the weaker party might be desirable and where the urge to be connected means a profit opportunity for some and a blunt abuse of power for others.
Can one really afford to “disconnect” from insurance companies, banks, and immigration authorities? In principle, yes – if one can afford the associated (and rapidly increasing) social and financial costs of disconnection and anonymity. Those seeking to disconnect will ultimately have to pay for the privilege – in higher loan rates, more expensive insurance packages, more time wasted on trying to assure the immigration officer of one’s peaceful intentions.
Second, if those prophesying the arrival of digital labour – the idea that, in generating data, we also produce immense economic value simply by using the most basic digital services – are even half-right, it follows that responding to personal emails, rather than just work-related ones, also counts as “work”.
However, displacement due to automation isn’t just limited to transportation, it will sweep across a number of industries, and Musk argues that the government must introduce a UBI program in order to compensate for this. “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice,” he said. “I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.”