Strasbourg, May 20, EYMD 2016
by Yulia Gottstein
Will robots and super-intelligent computers threaten the future of humanity? Will ever-smarter computers take away many of our jobs? Or will they help humanity to develop? Let’s take a quick ride into the future with prominent European experts.
Session called Science or Fiction: Will robots rise to power? have assembled three quite well known and at the same time very different speakers. This is pertinent, as the topic itself is very controversial. A lot of today’s technology reporting is focused on the potential threats that cause people to fear losing their jobs, or to be generally concerned about the future of humanity. In opposition to technophobia, however, there is a widely-held view that robots will actually make our lives much easier and better.
According to entrepreneur and innovation activist Cristina Andersson(@winninghelix), we shouldn’t be afraid of advances in artificial intelligence, although governments should develop certain programs to keep the process under control.
Head of Automation and Robotics Section of European Space Agency Gianfranco Visentin has admitted that in his way of thinking robots actually can rise to power, but this is the possibility of a really distant future. “Artificial intelligence isn’t enough, there would have to be super intelligence, a much greater motion and manipulation ability, and finally self reproduction/self repair.”
At the same time Mr. Visentin mentioned that there is another side of the coin. People will actually delegate more and more tasks to machines, and this process will only accelerate. “I am sure some of you have grandmothers or grandfathers who have implants, they already have mechanical parts in their bodies, and this will only grow. In the end probably we will be something different from what we are today.”
Mrs. Andersson agreed with this idea, pointing out that robots are here to solve problems first of all. “I am doing what I am doing, because I believe that people have a possibility to live in a dignified way in their homes more independently for a longer time, than without the help of robots. With this we can bring dignity and independence to those who don’t have it.”
— Patryk Pawlak (@patrykpawlak) May 21, 2016
Florian Kondert (@federwerker), digital director of Zukunftinstitut GmbHstarted his speech with two very simple questions: How many people in the audience think that robots can actually take over humanity? And what could be their motive for taking over? If after the first question around 30% of the audience raised their hands, on the second almost nobody did. Mr. Kondert then admitted that he has spent lots of time trying to find the answer to the question why robots should, or would wish to, take over this world, and has ended up nowhere. And after that he decided to focus on the completely opposite problem: How could robots help people by doing specific tasks. “There I found answers indeed and I think it is very important to think about this concept. We are coming from an industrial age when everything was about efficiency, KPI, productivity. We also come from age where we achieved a lot, especially here in Europe. Now that robots are coming, the fear that they will take anything from us is pretty widespread. The historical truth is that everything that could be automated eventually was automated. When you think about steam engines, there was a big fear that humans would lose their jobs, if you think about electricity, same fear. But it took us at least 200 years to understand what the real improvment performence of electricity could be within industrialisation. It is the same with robots today, I guess.”
Mr. Kondert pointed out that it is very likely that robots will take over some of the jobs people are doing right now. According to him it will not be the jobs that entail alot of manual work, but it will be the jobs that entail a lot of information gathering. However, that doesn’t mean that human prosperity will end up here. “Nobody, in fact, can force you to agree to wrong circumstances. And I think when it comes to robots and all the fear and all the opportunities we have, it is not a policy thing, it is not a technology thing. It is indeed that we as a society will decide what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.”
What the final cost of the latest developments will be — whether in terms of incomes, jobs, lives, prosperity or disaster is really hard for anyone to predict. But let’s hope, that Florian Kondert is right and that it still depends on us, as a society.
© European Youth Media Days 2016 (EYMD 2016)