4 April, 2018 - 14:43 By Tony Quested

Searching for survivors in the realm of the robots

I recall a cartoon by Birkett which showed Daleks standing at the foot of a very steep flight of stairs and the leader pronouncing: “Well, this certainly buggers our plan to conquer the universe.”

In FutureWorld, humanoid robots will have no such problems; if a tad rusty they can always hitch a lift on a passing drone.

I mention this in the wake of some apocalyptic predictions by software entrepreneurs that the current unemployment rate in the UK of 4.3 per cent – 1.44 million people unemployed as opposed to 32.21m in work – would be closer to 75 per cent of the population by the end of the century because of the unstoppable march of the robots.

We have been warned. The AI Armageddon is inevitable. The new model armies of Generation Z at least know what is coming and can arm themselves for the fight by embracing AI, AR, VR, machine and deep learning skills – and all the derivatives and amalgamations endemic in these advanced technologies.

People of all ages could also do more to stave off humanity’s decline to a sub-species obeying the voice or hand of metal masters.

The point was driven home to me by a Cambridge cabbie who is henceforth refusing to buy anything from a company whose main phone line is not answered by a human and cannot put him in touch with a human voice.
“These things are doing the jobs a real person has been sacked from,” he argued. “If we use them we are supporting their policy of replacing real life human beings – our family and our friends.

“Not only that, we are hanging on to automated phone lines for ages and then having to wade through stacks of options to ask a simple question that a human could have sorted in seconds.”

It was hard to fault his logic, especially as I had just spent an inordinate amount of time trapped like a fly in the automated spider’s web that the Post Office Ltd jokingly calls its call answering service. And even more time negotiating the UK Passport Office set of options. At the time of calling simply to ask a one-second question there were eight automated options.

I say, eight but having waited to reach that heady pinnacle I was told by the robovoice: “Option 8 is not available.” It was when I called today and as the last option is obviously the one that gives you the chance to hang on for another several minutes to speak to an adviser.

Revisiting the eight options it was obvious why they had left the only human one until last. The first option? “To continue this call in Welsh, press 1.”

Call me Mr Cynical but according to Wiki the last UK census recorded that only 19 per cent of people aged three and over who live in Wales can speak Welsh – a figure that thins considerably when people living in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland are calling Peterborough.

People are beginning to make their voices heard around the world, standing up and marching against all manner of injustices: the gender pay gap, gun control (or lack of it) in the US, leaving the EU and many more.

While the memory was still in gear I revisited the cranial archive and mined that old gem, Survivors – a British post-apocalyptic fiction drama TV series created by Terry Nation (no Daleks in this one) that concerned the plight of a group of people who had survived an apocalyptic plague pandemic which quickly spread across the world via air travel.

Referred to as ‘The Death’, the plague killed approximately 4,999 out of every 5,000 human beings on the planet within a matter of weeks of being released. Are we going to let robotics do the same so that we have to scour a scorched earth landscape for human survivors? Time to start seriously computing the potential implications – not to play Canute and try to stem a technological tide but to ensure sensible implementation of advances so that having a pulse doesn’t prove a precursor to a generational Jurassic Park and ultimate extinction.

Stephen Hawking put it rather better. He acknowledged that AI as it had developed today had proved useful but if it “continued its march unchecked could change humanity for the worse and eventually machines might even replace humans.”

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