The Robots are here. Let’s party!

It’s easy to be seduced by visions of dystopian futures. It’s also wrong. There’s more to celebrate than to worry about, as technology finds new ways to help us be more human.

It’s easy to be seduced by visions of dystopian futures. It’s also wrong. There’s more to celebrate than to worry about, as technology finds new ways to help us be more human.

My journey into work yesterday was more hellish than usual. Not just because I was pressed into the nearest armpit on the tube. On top of that was the creeping suspicion that the Central Line had taken me into a parallel universe.

Every newspaper I saw screamed of a technology-ravaged dystopia. A world where people are condemned to death…by an NHS computer, locked out of their bank accounts or manipulated drone-like through social media.

The thought that artificial intelligence is wheeling us to some sort of hell in a digital shopping cart is seductive. Some of our greatest thinkers have suggested so.

This isn’t anything new: The luddite movement of the 19th century destroyed machinery to protest automation and there are many more examples.

Our brains are always looking for patterns, so lumping all the latest news stories together and drawing a single conclusion isn’t helpful.

We aren’t averse to innovation (we all want clean drinking water and damp-proofing), but we fear where it might end.

Technology isn’t inherently evil, despite what the tabloids try to tell us. Things certainly aren’t perfect, but there’s lots to celebrate. As technology advances, it supports our fundamental needs and wants; the very things that make us human.

Yes, we’ll have to learn from our mistakes, and quickly, but we continue to make progress. With the recent breast screening scandal in the UK the answer is not to vilify computers but to reflect that they’ve revolutionized healthcare. A national screening program wouldn’t be possible without them; we need to work together to make processes with computers better. In fact, we’re beginning to see how personal data can be used to transform healthcare and disease prevention.

Fear of progress

The underlying fear is that we may be made redundant by our own inventions. Every sector, from lawyers to finance, manufacturing to healthcare, is nervously eyeing the advance of the robot.

Artificial Intelligence doesn’t eliminate jobs, it creates them.

When we automate a process we free our minds and resources to solve new problems. That is to say, it helps us do more with the time we have.

Computer scientists and app developers won’t dictate our future. In fact, the reverse is true: We need the humanities now more than ever to ask questions and challenge dogmas which we can then task computers and networks to solve.

The disruption caused by advancing technology can be unsettling, and that’s where a fear of the future is born. Technology only exists to help us solve problems, but poor application can lead to problems and unintended consequences. When technology is poorly applied it creates divisions and affronts to our core values.

We must avoid the unthinking use of tech and stay firmly in touch with our humanity. Technology, used properly, can allows us to be more human: We can connect more deeply with people, solve inequalities and live more comfortable lives.

That’s something to celebrate rather than fear.

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