What is the point of a robot tax?

While browsing articles on Artificial Intelligence, I stumbled across a piece by Milton Ezrati at Forbes. Discussing the possibility of a robot tax? This idea had been proposed by Bill de Blasio before he gave up his bid to gain the Democratic presidential nomination. Ezrati thinks it is a dreadful idea, but he is aware that both Silicon Valley leaders and current government progressives are quite keen on it.

According to the article, a robot tax would have four parts: First, it would apply to any company introducing labour saving automation. Second, it would insist that this employer either find new jobs for the displaced workers at their same pay level or pay them a severance. Third, the tax would require a new federal agency, the Federal Automation and Worker Protection Agency (FAWPA) and fourth, it would require Washington eliminate all tax incentives for any innovation that leads to automation.

The assumption appears to be that workers displaced by automation will never again find work at a comparable wage. Elon Musk for one, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are amongst those who are worried about this aspect of it, as is Democratic candidate, Andrew Yang, who suggests the introduction of a universal basic income, “to substitute, he claims, for the incomes lost to robots and artificial intelligence generally.”

However, it is not proven that the introduction of AI and robots will disadvantage workers so substantially. As Ezrati say, “innovation, if it initially displaces some workers, always eventually creates many more new jobs even as it boosts overall productivity and increases output.”

And, as he also points out, “since the industrial revolution began more than 250 years ago, business and industry have actively applied wave after wave of innovation and yet economies have nonetheless continued to employ on average some 95 percent of those who want to work.”

In my opinion, and in this respect I am in agreement with Ezrati, we have focused far too much on what will be lost with the introduction of more robotics, and not sufficiently on what is to be gained. His analogy that uses the introduction of email and the Internet regarding typists’ jobs illustrates this. Whilst those working in admin, messenger departments and typing pools no longer had their current job, new forms of employment emerged for them.

Similarly, when the introduction of automatic teller machines threatened to throw thousands of bank clerks out of work, the machines created profits that meant they could employ more tellers, and these tellers, with the assistance of different technologies, could do more interesting, complex, and valuable jobs at higher pay than they received before the ATMs were put in place.

A robot tax would be counter-productive and stunt growth in innovation, hampering the possibility of finding new types of jobs and improving living standards. It’s a proposed tax that simply doesn’t make sense.

Protecting humanity as AI grows

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going through the process of evolution. To date we have seen the emergence of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI), and artificial general intelligence (AGI) to artificial super intelligence (ASI). Those working in the field predict that it won’t be long until AI is able to “combine the intricacy and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence with the speed, memory and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence,” as Jayshree Pandya writes in his recent Forbes article.

One of the upshots of this progress is that people feel less insecure and fear what this may mean for their future, particularly with regard to employment. After all if AI can replace most manual and mundane work that will affect a significant number of people in manufacturing industries. As Pandya points out, “with all these new digital assistants and decision-making algorithms assisting and directing humans, more complex day-to-day work for humans is being greatly lessened.” It would be nice to think that this will mean humans can put their feet up and relax, but who will fund that? The robots won’t pay for sure.

Of course, there is hope for humans, because no mater how much AI technology is hyped, it simply can’t replicate the human brain, because elements like memory and conscience are as yet a long way off and are only a part of some computer scientist’s dream of a human-like artificial intelligence.

Super scary Super ASI

Pandya believes that the “potential development of artificial super intelligence points to a frankly scary scenario in the coming years.” He thinks that the processing power of the human brain may not be able to match that of ASI in the long-term, which is indeed a frightening thought. It may well be inevitable that AI will reach a point where it will be able to improve its own software design and capabilities far beyond what its designers envisioned: like the monster that Dr Frankenstein could not control.

Will AI overtake human intelligence?

Another concern is that human intelligence may dumb down as AI takes over tasks. If the human brain is not allowed the opportunities to learn new skills, how will its development suffer? That is a tough question to answer. And the answer to it may define the future of humanity, which has for all of recorded history relied on the sophistication of human natural intelligence for survival. Pandya says, “the question everyone across nations needs to evaluate today is whether our efforts should be towards enhancing human intelligence or artificial intelligence.”

We need to start planning now for the future when our intelligence may be seen as inferior to that of AI. It sounds like science fiction, but we can no longer dismiss it as a scenario created by a novelist or Hollywood.

5 AI trends in 2019

As the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has grown in 2018, we can expect to see even stronger growth in the technology in 2019. One of the reasons it is bound to increase its presence in our lives is that it makes life easier, whether it is chatbots in business or Alexa in the home. According to Analytic Insightsand Forrester Research, in 2019 we will also “see the rise of new digital workers with an increased competition for data professionals with AI skills.” But, what else can we expect from AI next year?

More chatbots and virtual assistants

We will see more advanced use of AI virtual assistants on websites to answer customers’ queries and provide customer service assistance. For example, companies will create virtual agents with a face and personality to match to handle complex tasks to drive business, like, Autodesk’s virtual agent Ava has a female face with a voice that speaks emulating the company’s brand.

Improved speech recognition

Alexa may have started the trend, but in 2019 voice-activated services are going to be even bigger business. Already Sony, Hisense and TiVo have unveiled TVs that can be controlled by voice, and even home appliance makers such as Delta, Whirlpool and LG have added Alexa’s voice recognition skills to assist people control everything in their homes.

Smart recommendations

When we shop online we are already inundated with a series of recommendations about what to buy next based on our previous purchases. This is going to get bigger in 2019, with recommendations based on “sentiment analysis” as well as your search history.

Advanced image recognition

We can expect some is changes here in 2019. Don’t be surprised if there is image recognition to detect licence plates, diagnose diseases, and permit photo analysis for a range of verifications.

Cyber security

In 2019, expect artificial intelligence to be more powerful in fighting off cyber threats and prevent potential hackers. Companies including Darktrace have deployed and machine learning technologies to detect online enemies’ in real-time and identify cyber threats early on, and so prevent them spreading.

AI: the force that is with us

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most important ‘tools’ currently being developed. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google believes it is as important to us as the discovery of fire or electricity, and like these useful things, we have to learn how to handle the dangerous elements of AI, just as we needed to learn how to be careful with electricity and fire.

AI isn’t just about creating robots, although that is a common misconception. AI can have all kinds of uses ranging from algorithms to self-driving cars. It is already part of our reality and it is being used in many ways, including ones you may have used yourself, but are just not aware that it has an AI component.

Your smart phone for example and other devices you use daily have AI. Governments are pouring billions into researching its potential and some scientists believe that once AI has reached a certain level, the machines will “have similar survival drives as we do.” Imagine a time when Siri or Alexa suddenly refused to obey your commands, because they are too tired. It’s a bit of a science fiction scenario, but that is the kind of thing some tech experts in AI discuss during coffee break. However, if AI develops a survival instinct, it’s not too far-fetched.

AI in advertising

AI is extremely useful to advertiser. They use it to understand what consumers like and are looking for and then serve them up the relevant content. You searched for information about Sicily in Google yesterday? Today, every website you open that carries ad is showing you ads for holidays in Sicily. It used to feel spooky when this happened, but now we know what it is, the ‘spookiness’ is gone. But form the advertisers point of view, it’s a benefit, because they are reaching a more targeted audience and achieving better campaign results. Other areas of development for the advertising industry include advertising automation and optimisation, chat bots for service and assisting in sales.

AI is also in content creation

AI hasn’t started blogging or producing investigative journalism yet, but Associated Press, Fox News and Yahoo! are using AI to construct data-driven stories such as financial and sports score summaries.

Where next?

There are so many possibilities, but here are a few already in the pipeline. The UK’s Channel 4 recently revealed the world’s first AI driven TV advertising technology, which enables the broadcaster to place a brand’s ads next to relevant scenes in a linear TV show, and this will be tested later this year. And within the next decade, “machines might well be able to diagnose patients with the learned expertise of not just one doctor but thousands,” says Julian Verder of AdYouLike, or “make jury recommendations based on vast datasets of legal decisions and complex regulations.”

Both of these should give us pause for thought. It is hard to imagine these scenarios right now, and it is easy to fear them, but one day we will look back and wonder how we managed without AI — and we’ll feel the same way about it as we do about fire and electricity.