Editors commentary: Robot wars?


A much-reviewed book grabbed me recently.

It is The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment by Martin Ford*, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur. His well-informed thesis is that any job which involves ‘routine’ can, with the astonishing advance in computer technology, be ‘learned’ by robots. They are set to become as available and as ordinary a sight as a motor car.

The idea that computers can only do what they are programmed to do is of course true at one level, but now computerised robots are programmed to learn. Things have moved on vastly since IBM’s ‘Deep Blue’ beat world champion Gary Kasparov at chess. The computer ‘Watson’ can win quizzes in which the answers are intuitive. ‘Eureqa’ has algorithms which can ‘do science’ – studying data and finding laws and equations. An artificial intelligence programme called ‘The Painting Fool’ can produce ‘original’ works of art.

Loss of jobs and Europe

So a House of Lords report from February 2015 estimated that 35% of UK jobs will fall victim to automation within 20 years. These jobs are not simply those of warehouse workers or those in service industries but the jobs of journalists, project managers, doctors, lawyers and more. Because of burgeoning technology, companies can make vast profits with far fewer staff. Whereas MacDonalds at present employs 1.8 million people worldwide, Google needs only 55,000. Robot factories have become so efficient as to undercut the lowest costs of Third World textile factory workers.

In coming months there will be much agonising over the referendum concerning whether Britain will stay in the European Union. Prime Minister Cameron is trumpeting the (debatable) concessions he has won from Brussels concerning benefits to which migrant workers might be entitled. But actually border controls and quotas might all be beside the point. Via computer technology…(to read more click here)

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, subscribe to en or visit our website www.e-n.org.uk.