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The Techy and the Human

Technology has developed constantly along human existence, but it seems that in recent years its development has also accelerated, crazily accelerated. So much so that we feel pushed back against our seats, just as when we are taking off in a plane.

In a technology timeline I found on the internet[1] (published by Explainthatstuff.com) out of the 205 entries, 15 happened in 1700’s and 50 in the 1800’s; but the list literally skyrockets to 107 after 1900; i.e. more than half of the most important technological landmarks in history have happened in the last century.

No one period is isolated and started from zero; but the fact that today we are going at this pace should tell us something about the role of technology in our lives, because technology has been present since humans started to walk on this planet, and it will continue to be… that’s clear!

Two years ago, CGP Grey published a video in his YouTube channel[2] where he showed how technology is taking over most of human activities. “Humans need not apply” anymore, he says, to get some traditionally human jobs.

This should not be that surprising. Technology[3] could be defined as the use of a skill or method to produce goods or services more efficiently; ever since the beginning humans have tried to do things as easy as possible with the most efficient procedures, optimizing resources. Technology substituting man in processes of production should not be that surprising—what is surprising is to think how far this could go.

We are glad it is easy to get clothes, food and daily news thanks to mechanized processes in which very few people are involved; just imagine if shoes, meat and newspaper were still produced totally by hand! We wouldn’t be 7.5 billion people in the world today[4], for sure.

However, from saying that ‘technology helps humankind live better’ to say that ‘bots will take over all our jobs’ seems to be a bit too much. Yes, there was a time when it was impossible to think of machines helping us calculate numbers, sending mail, or printing documents, nonetheless that is something we take for granted today. We are going so far that in 1976 Richard Dawkins affirmed that he thought machines could not beat humans playing chess; but in 1997 Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, just about the best chance we humans had…

Ok, that is calculating, but what about machines driving, doing heart surgery or imparting justice?

CGP Grey argues that it is possible for machines to take jobs such as drivers, physicians and judges! At first this makes us want to say, ‘Come on!, a machine could kill me, be it driving, working on a heart surgery or judging me worthy of death-penalty!

His argument, though, is that for us to allow a machine to drive us home is not necessary that it be perfect; it just has to be better than we humans are: and that is very, very easy. A machine, for example, will not fall asleep, get distracted texting, or modify its driving behavior because it gets mad at other drivers. The same can be said of doctors: surgeries could be more effective if a machine can operate and evaluate immediately bodily vital signs; and whereas a human doctor relies only on previous exams, a machine can correct and change its course of action based on, literally, lifetime information.

Even justice could be imparted more justly if machines enter into the process; they can read information faster, compare present cases to historical ones almost immediately and make a decision based on best practices. Art and creativity are put into question too; humans cannot be as creative as a machine could! A computer could, CGP argues, authentically create beautiful patterns of music, poetry and painting in ways still unknown to all humans. So “guess what? You are not that special!”

Now, I do not think CGP Grey is saying we humans should step aside and let machines continue on with civilization; what would be the purpose of that? Technology was created precisely for the wellbeing of human beings.

Apparently, CGP Grey is only pointing at what is actually happening; and he affirms: “As mechanical muscles pushed horses out of economy, mechanical minds will do the same to humans […] a huge problem if we are not prepared, and we are not prepared.

I am not going to discuss here the impact of economic interests and social injustice when it comes to the use of technology in disadvantage of many people. However, we cannot neglect the fact that at times technology serves the purpose of those who have, and want to have more, material means and power, at the expense of those who do not have any of that.

The question here, my point, is whether there is anything, we, as individuals of the human species, can provide to society, something machines cannot. Or perhaps has humanity reached the point where humans themselves need not apply? Have men created machines to replaces humans themselves?

Here I present an argument in favor of us, humans! An apology for the human spirit.

First, technology cannot truly and completely replace human beings. We human beings continually create technology precisely for our own wellbeing. A complete replacement of our input (even if that were possible) would defeat the purpose. We use machines in order to improve the quality of our lives, to live better.

Humans need to continue applying for jobs because there is something, rather, many things only humans can provide: intention, love, and meaning! Machines will never be able to do that.

Work should not be seen as a tragedy in our miserable existence; it gives us the opportunity to see how capable we are. Granted! In the morning upon waking up nobody wants to go out and work! But we all have to acknowledge that when we get something done out of our own effort we experience an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Machines lift pieces of rock, only men build Cathedrals!

We have reached a point in history where we coexist with technology in a way that makes difficult to stay out of it. This, instead of diminishing the value of our activities, will make more valuable human creativity and originality. There is a way we do things that cannot be replaced by anything. Just think of the love we get from our moms, the good laughs we have with our best friends, and the real wisdom old people offer.

A machine is not properly superior to human beings; it is superior only partially or analogically. If you have tried to program anything, a workflow, a macro, or in C++, you know that the whole point of it is to reflect in the process what you actually do, and then have the program do it on its own. If the thing works out, it gives the impression that you have created an independent being, intelligent and capable of processing data, more or less complicated. Well, no. That is not what happens. Behind any program there is a human mind that worked hard to imprint the human process into a machine that would repeat it. The more complicated a machine or computer is, the more it is evident that we humans are amazing! A computer is not a new intelligent being doing its own thing, the same way we do not say a shovel is strong because it put a rock in the right place.

Deep Blue did not defeat Garry Kasparov; a group of men did.

We are unique. Each one of us has not only the right to expression, but also has the duty of sharing what we know, what we love, what we fear. It is when everyone is involved that we become truly human.

So continue applying to love, to serve, to care for people. Apply to cry, to get angry, to eat.

Machines can forget, only humans can forgive! If you are human, continue applying, we need you!

 

Notes

[1]Explainthatstuff, Technology timeline, last update August 14 2016 http://www.explainthatstuff.com/timeline.html

[2] CGP Grey, Humans need not apply, August 13, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

[3] Technology (“science of craft”, from Greek τέχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογία, -logia) is the collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation // Definition from Wikipedia, under the voice Technology. October 8 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology

[4]Worldodmeters, Current population 2016: 7.5 billion, http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

 

Photo Credit: Jiuguang Wang

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