We must ask the above question, as we read the recent (March 21, 2017) article, Job-Stealing Robots? Millennials See Hope, Fear in Automation, by Cathy Engelbert (Pulse/LinkedIn). I must state at the outset, that this author identifies herself as the CEO at Deloitte, which I believe is a technology company! Therefore, I think there is a strong tendency for her to be technologically-biased! Nevertheless, Cathy Engelbert makes some very important points, and states quite valid concerns about robots and humans on the job!
“Mom, are robots going to take my job someday?”
The author volunteered that her 15-year-old son asked her this most fearful question! She did point out that Deloitte Global’s latest survey of millennials, “… shows that many are asking the same thing. ….. 40 percent see automation posing a threat to their jobs. 44 percent believe there will be less demand for their skills. 51 percent believe they will have to retrain; and 53 percent see the workplace becoming more impersonal and less human. Which is news that should make every CEO sit up and take notice, given this generation’s use of social media.”
Her following paragraph, however, is naively comforting: “I told him: ‘Don’t worry – – I’ve never met a machine with courage and empathy.’ We’ll still need those in the new economy. To be sure, technology will change what we do. Tasks that are highly manual, routine, and predictable will be automated.”
Enter Affective Computing and “Emotional” Machines!
There is a big problem with the author’s well-meaning, “Don’t worry,” reassurance to her son. It is given the technical name of Affective Computing! This term, affective, literally, “refers to feelings or emotions.” Thus, in affective computing, one important goal is for the machine to “read” or “understand” our very human emotions! Perhaps our LinkedIn author, Cathy Engelbert (as the sheltered CEO of Deloitte), has “… never met a machine with courage and empathy.” The Bad News, however, is that Affective Computing has simulating human empathy as one of its major goals! Hence, Cathy Engelbert just needs to visit an Affective Computing lab, and THEN she will, indeed, “meet a machine with empathy“!
Now, Affective Computing is an interdisciplinary field involving both computer science and psychology. So, one thing that the computer programmers are seeking, is to create machines that are good at both facial and voice recognition of humans! The main goal is to allow robots and computers to “understand” a person’s emotional state. – – Why is this?
They want to make our Robotic Companions, such as digital pets, more “real animal-like” to the human user! These techniques are also used at bank ATM sites, in order to assess the emotional state of the customer (without their knowledge or consent)!
According to Norberto Andrade in The Atlantic (6/9/14), “Computers Are Getting Better Than Humans at Facial Recognition,” and, even more alarming, “Computers are now adept at figuring out how we feel.”
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Our main author to critique – – Cathy Engelbert – – summarizes her LinkedIn article by voicing a bold prediction: “I believe that the future of work means cooperation between humans and the robots. Making us, in the words of my teen, ‘co-bots.’”
My own reaction is not so sunny and optimistic! Now, if we REALLY HAVE TO work right alongside robots in our jobs, then creating robots with some human empathy could certainly make them more tolerable as our mechanical “co-workers.” I have to ask this larger question, however: WHY DO WE HAVE TO ALLOW ROBOTS TO WORK RIGHT ALONGSIDE US, AT ALL? WHY DO WE HAVE TO GIVE UP OUR HUMAN RIGHTS TO BE LEFT ALONE WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS ON THE JOB?
Even worse, WHAT will be the long-term effects upon our own human psyche and self-image, if we begin to lower ourselves to the level of the machines, and merely become their subhuman “co-bots“? Will we not be falling down into the Black “Job Holes” of the Future? Will we ever be able to GET OUT of those Deep Job “ROBO-Holes”?
[SPECIAL NOTE: Please see our two “sister” sites – -LinkedIn/Pulse, and Facebook.com – -for their own versions of this article.]