Is a Robot About to Take Your Job?

We acknowledge an oversight.

We have been so deeply entranced by the Ukraine war, by the alleged United States destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline, by the sudden profusion of unidentified aerial objects in American skies, by the high comedy of the White House “press conferences” attending them…

That we have neglected a topic of much recent discussion. That topic is the accelerating march of artificial intelligence — AI.

Here is a run of recent headlines:

“Aviation Milestone: Artificial Intelligence Flew Modified F-16 Fighter Jet for Over 17 Hours” (we understand Ukraine has requested F-16s. They mention nothing of pilots?)…

“Waking up to the Art of the Possible in Artificial Intelligence”…

“ChatGPT’s Stunning Results on the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam”…

“Four Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Benefit Robotic Surgery”…

“Corporations Can Use Artificial Intelligence to Make Positive Social Change”…

“Is Artificial Intelligence the Secret to Closing Supply Chain Gaps?”…

“How AI Is Reshaping the Way Movies Are Made”…

“Outlook for Artificial Intelligence in Real Estate Startups”…

Now you have the flavor of it. Yet we present a very abbreviated list of recent articles consecrated to the rapidly approaching glories of artificial intelligence.

Receiving especial attention of note is a contraption named ChatGPT, above referenced.

An outfit calling itself ZDNET describes ChatGPT this way:

ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows you to have human-like conversations and much more with a chatbot. The language model can answer questions, and assist you with tasks such as composing emails, essays and code.

And it can evidently post excellent grades on medical licensing examinations.

We Have Seen the Future

AI’s drummers insist that artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will soon catapult the economic system into vastly more productive realms.

By 2030 alone, they project (prior to the pandemic at least) AI could yield an additional $13 trillion to the world’s gross domestic product.

They further claim that 40–50% of the human occupations will be subject to automation over the next 15–20 years.

Mind you: These occupations are not limited to the driving of trucks or taxicabs. Nor are they limited to the manufacturing of objects or the construction of buildings.

To these, we must add white-collared jobs within the fields of law, finance, medicine, accounting, etc.

What would become of the attorney at law, we wonder — and the human helmsman of the ambulance that he chases?

We begin to wonder.

In truth, we are unconvinced automation will proceed at the rollicking gallop its boosters project.

We believe most human occupations require a dexterity and subtlety of thought of which only the naturally intelligent are capable — at least for a considerable stretch of time.

But suspend all assumption for the moment… and drive on to the inevitable question:

What happens when the artificially intelligent robot acquires the brains to perform nearly all human labor?

Creative Destruction

Economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950) heaved the term “creative destruction” into general circulation.

In Schumpeter’s telling, capitalism represented the “perennial gale” of creative destruction. Capitalism’s lovely, vicious gusts blow away the old and inefficient.

In comes the new and improved.

It is because of capitalism’s perennial gales that today’s serf lives more royally than yesteryear’s king.

Explains the Cato Institute’s Richard Rahn:

The average low-income American, who makes [maybe $30,000 per year] lives in a home that has air conditioning, a color TV and a dishwasher, owns an automobile and eats more calories than he should from an immense variety of food.

Louis XIV lived in constant fear of dying from smallpox and many other diseases that are now cured quickly by antibiotics. His palace at Versailles had 700 rooms but no bathrooms (hence he rarely bathed), and no central heating or air conditioning.

Here is progress itself. All because capitalism’s creative gales flattened all before it.

Capitalism’s obvious glories are why most notice only the “creative” side of the ledger sheet.

Yet what about the equally critical “destruction” side? It exists in equal measure.

The Destructive Side of Capitalism

Innovation and technology have eternally empowered humans to mine fresh sources of productive employment.

The 19th-century farmer became the 20th-century factory worker… who became the 21st-century computer programmer.

The human occupied the central position.

Now introduce an omnipotent robot…

A robotic brute that can drive home a rivet is one thing by itself. It is a useful and productive mechanical slave.

But what about the genius robot capable of any human feat — with the ability to run its circles around the helpless human dullard?

This is another creature entirely.

This robot would tower above the human as the human towers above the beasts of the field.

An Aristotle, a da Vinci, an Einstein is a pygmy next to it.

What human ability would lie beyond this unnatural beast? Artistic expression, perhaps?

A 900-IQ robot might run its circles around the human antique, you say. Yet it cannot appreciate beauty — much less express beauty.

The robot is all brains, that is. It has no heart, and certainly no soul. The kingdom of the arts will belong forever to man and man alone.

Please now introduce yourself to AIVA (Artificial Intelligence Virtual Artist)…

Will the Next Mozart Be a Computer?

AIVA is a computerized composer. Programmers drummed into its ears the musical creations of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and other colossi of the classical canon.

AIVA plucked out their tricks… and taught itself to compose original music based upon their individual genius.

Even professional men of music will tell you AIVA’s outpourings are indistinguishable from a carbon-based professional’s.

They have been featured in cinematic soundtracks. Advertisements. And computer games.

Will the next Mozart be a robot?

Not even the oldest profession is safe from robotic invasion — but let that one pass for now.

What about technology’s impact on the general community?

Winners and Losers

Let us recall Schumpeter’s creatively destructive gales — and the destruction they may work.

Capitalism puts out its tongue at tradition. It yanks the roots out of communities. It swings the human being around hairpin turns of social and technological change he did not request… a man clinging on for life.

Within a generation after Mr. Schumpeter’s gale barrels through, the centuries-old farming community has given over to the assembly line and the punch clock.

A generation later, the factory goes dark as creative destruction blows the jobs clear to China… or Vietnam… or wherever labor is cheapest.

To find labor in his own land a fellow must often rip up his family — to follow the jobs. Thus the man and his family can sink little root in the local topsoil.

Tomorrow the gales of creative destruction may blow him hither or they blow him yon. He does not know.

Meantime, advancing technology makes today’s job obsolete tomorrow. A man prepares years for occupation in a given industry. Yet technology claims his position.

Not all can take up employment in new lines. Many forever lag the march of progress, left behind, broken… and can never catch up.

Many of these sad, sad cases are with us today.

Capitalism, Progress, Must Advance

Please understand it and understand it well: We are heart and soul for capitalism. We do not believe a superior economic system exists in this world.

We have in fact been denounced as a heartless hellcat for our ruthless embrace of unbridled capitalism at the expense of “people.”

Is it true? Here we invoke our right against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Yet as political theorist Kenneth Minogue has noted: “Capitalism is what people do when you leave them alone.”

We are for leaving people alone… as much as we are for people leaving us alone.

Hence we are for capitalism — and very vehemently so.

Besides, the river of progress must carry forward. Do you reject progress?

Then you must believe the man who tamed fire should himself burn eternally… that the inventor of the wheel should be broken upon the very same wheel…

That Franklin should have fried in the electric chair for discovering electricity… that Ford should have been flattened by the auto he popularized… that Salk should sulk in endless miseries for scotching polio.

If this is what you believe, please drive on. You will not like it here.

But let us recognize: The advancing river of progress sometimes takes something of the human note with it. And not all change is progress.

As we have argued before:

Within cold and lifeless economic data, behind dense forests of statistics, exist living human beings with beating hearts.

And many with broken hearts.

To these, our fellow Americans — to all who hew the nation’s wood and draw its water — we hoist an acknowledging toast.

The Daily Reckoning