How to Avoid Winding Up As Pets for A.I. Robots

A warning: Paul “Pablos” Holman’s vision of the future may alternately inspire or frighten.

Speaking at Fortune’s CEO Initiative conference on Tuesday, the futurist and inventor gave a condensed history of humankind that highlighted what he described as the essentially positive influences of technology. In the millions of years since hominids first arrived, we have been making tools and “inventing solutions to the hard technical problems that kept people from thriving,” he said.

“Some people think it’s government policy or religion or charity or some election, but in fact it’s new technology that’s the force multiplier that gives us the ability to solve these problems at scale,” Holman asserted, optimistically. “It’s the exponent in your equation.”

But technology, for all its promise of salvation, has a potentially dark side too, especially the acceleration of advances in artificial intelligence. “Something really important is about to happen, which is that a robot is coming to take your job,” Holman warned the audience of executives gathered in Manhattan.

“Robots probably should come take over every menial, dangerous, repetitive, boring job they can and do it better than a human,” Holman continued. “But that leaves you with the big question: Then what are the humans good for?”

Of course, Holman knows a thing or two about new technologies. He invented an early pocket-sized personal computer. He advised MakerBot, the startup that popularized of 3D printers for consumers. He even helped Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person, start Blue Origin, the Amazon founder’s private aerospace company.

More recently, since 2007, Holman has been working with Nathan Mhryvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, at Intellectual Ventures, a firm that critics have called a notorious patent troll that makes money from suing others for patent violations. But Holman described the company in glowing terms as a sort of Edisonian research laboratory. Some of its inventions have included, according to Holman, a portable refrigerator for preserving medicines and vaccines in transport, an automatic microscope for testing blood samples, and a malarial mosquito-exterminating laser light show. (That’s to say nothing of the hurricane-suppressing machine.)

Holman’s view of the future puts the onus on people today to strive for more, for lack of a better term, humanity. “Right now we are terrible role models for robots,” Holman said, noting that the supposedly luckiest humans–the lottery winners, as he called them–are failing to ascend past the basest layer on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

“If all goes south and we become pets for robots or grey goo, you don’t get to blame the technology, you blame humans for not choosing what to do with it,” Holman admonished the crowd.

“These are human values problems,” Holman continued. “It’s up to us to decide what future we want to create. It’s up to us to use these tools to become better ancestors.”

In other words, we must apply ourselves and reach ever higher for self-fulfillment, or accept life confined by the machines of our creation, binge-watching Netflix into oblivion.

 

Fortune

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See How Philippe Starck and Kartell Used A.I. to Design a Chair

Creative sectors are experimenting more with artificial intelligence as fashion shows to art exhibitions have been using the technology to generate new forms of art and ideas. Thus, designer Philippe Starck was intrigued to see how A.I. might be used to solve a design manufacturing challenge, so he teamed up with furniture manufacturers Kartell and 3D software and engineering company Autodesk. Starck and Kartell have been longtime collaborators in the past, notably for their ubiquitous masters and ghost chairs, but this was the first time they had leveraged Autodesk and its technology to design a piece of furniture.

The prompt was to create a comfortable chair engineered to fit the human body using the least amount of material possible. Held to the standards of Starck and Kartell, the chair also needed to be structurally sound enough to pass any certification requirements, along with aesthetics that were minimal and sleek.

In order to get the algorithm to start thinking about the concepts, a conversation had to be started with leading questions like, “Artificial Intelligence, do you know how we can rest our bodies using the least amount of material?” Thus, the trio went through a series of conversations and prompts to get the computer to learn what they wanted to make. The video below shows the iterative process the team went through in order to achieve the final result.

“This is a research collaboration at the pinnacle of the industrial design world, resulting in one of the most creative outcome we’ve ever tried to achieve with generative design,” stated Mark Davis, senior director of design futures at Autodesk.

The chairs, aptly titled “A.I.” made their debut at Salone del Mobile in Milan this past week, which is billed as being the world’s first production chair created using artificial intelligence.

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A.I. Could Widen Economic Disparity Between Urban and Rural Areas, Brookings Report Warns

Among the key factors driving the economic divide in America is the rise of technology that has eliminated many jobs through automating manufacturing tasks. A new report from the Brookings Institution warns that, thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence, economic disparity between coastal cities and heartland regions is about to get even worse.

The 2016 Presidential election served as a wake-up call to the economic effect that the automation of many routine jobs is “massively rearranging the nation’s economic geography,” says the report, written by Brookings Senior Fellow Mark Muro.

“The 2016 election may go down as the first time society began to grasp the full implications of automation’s potential to transform the physical world,” Muro wrote. “As big, techy cities like New York, Washington, and the Bay Area seemed to increasingly inhabit a different world from the rest of America, the people and places that were ‘left behind’ revolted.”

Since then, the field of A.I. has made gains in developing machine-learning tools that could automate even more jobs. Brookings looked at the kinds of jobs that could be replaced by A.I. applications, namely, ones that involve more routine or repetitive work in manufacturing and service industries alike. The bottom line of jobs at risk of automation: They already pay some of the lowest wages today.

Jobs that were more vulnerable to automation were more likely to be found in rural towns like Kokomo, Ind., and Hickory, N.C., the report said, while those in coastal cities like San Jose and the District of Columbia were more likely to be safe.

“Less-educated heartland states and counties specialized in manufacturing and low-end service industries could be especially hard-hit by automation in the A.I. era, whereas well-educated states and counties along the Boston-Washington corridor and on the West Coast appear less exposed,” the report said. “In parallel fashion, smaller, less-educated communities will struggle relatively more with A.I.-phase automation, while larger, better-educated cities will experience less disruption.”

In response, Brookings urged government and industry leaders to focus on strategies such as expanding support for communities to cope with job automation and “future-proofing” workers by teaching skills that are more resilient to automation.

The report comes a few days after the Trump administration unveiled a vague A.I. initiative that will spend on artificial intelligence and train workers in computer science. Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty have joined Trump’s advisory board on A.I. and job automation.

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