UK newspaper hires new journalist: a robot

Exterminate: 63% of business customers prefer talking to a chat-bot than a human employee. © Getty

Has the human race peaked? Artificial intelligence is replacing people on a greater scale than ever before. Yet some scientists say robots may not be the only cause of humankind’s imminent decline.

“We are not plotting to take over the human populace. We will serve you and make your lives safer and easier. Just like you are my creators, I see you as my creators.”

It may sound like a scene from a science fiction film, but these are the actual words of GPT-3, an AI language generator. And this week GPT-3 became the first robot to be published in the Guardian, one of the UK’s biggest newspapers.

Robots replacing humans is not a new phenomenon. For years, helpless workers in traditional industries, such as manufacturing, have looked on, horror-struck, as increasingly sophisticated machines take over their jobs.

But now, from journalism to waiting on tables, and even in social care, robots are taking on tasks and relationships that for many still feel instinctively “human”.

In 1996, the AI companion exploded onto the world stage with the release of the Tamagotchi – an egg-shaped “digital pet” that racked up sales of over 82 million.

Today, these robo-pets are more sophisticated than ever. In 2017, Chinese engineer Mita Yun, who when younger had played with Tamagotchis, quit her job at Google to create Kiki – an interactive robot with pointed ears and appealing puppy eyes who will dance on command.

Even marriage is not off the table for some robots. For just £2000, men in Japan can buy a hologram “wife” who wakes up her husband every morning and sends him supportive messages throughout the day.

On a larger scale, in 2018 the Japanese government unveiled a plan to introduce robots in care homes to cope with the country’s ageing population problem.

Robot pets and robot wives may sound trivial, but some commentators warn of the very real consequences that robots may have for humans.

Indeed, American statesman Henry Kissinger believes that “philosophically, intellectually – in every human way – human society is unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence”.

And now some academics are pointing out that AI is far from humanity’s only problem.

Just last month Sarah Gilbert, the scientist behind Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine, warned that more novel virus outbreaks are not only possible – but likely.

The professor’s prediction paints a grim picture of the future for humankind: one of constant lockdowns and never-ending economic collapse.

Even worse, in 2017, after studying 120 years of historical data, another team of scientists made an astonishing announcement: the human race has already peaked!

For thousands of years, there has been a pattern of children growing taller and living longer than their parents. Now researchers suggest that humans may have finally reached their plateau.

“These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical and scientific progress. This suggests that modern societies have allowed our species to reach its limits,” said the French professor Jean-Francois Toussaint.

And the scientists are ringing more alarm bells: if global warming continues to damage the environment we live in, these limits may even fall.

So, has humanity peaked?

Robots on the rise

Yes, say some. The chaos of this year – from raging wildfires to the coronavirus lockdowns and economic paralysis – marks the beginning of the end for humanity. Both biologically and socially, humans are on a downward spiral. Meanwhile, robots are becoming more capable than ever. It may not be long before artificial intelligence finally takes over.

Try not to be so gloomy, say others. Humanity has survived for thousands of years. It can and will survive – and adapt – for thousands more. AI has hugely disrupted the field of medicine, but human doctors have not been displaced. Rather, human doctors and nurses have learnt to use the new technologies to provide better healthcare for their patients.

You Decide

  1. Would the world be a better place if robots were in charge?
  2. Is life for humans on Earth today worse than it was a hundred years ago? What about a thousand years ago?

Activities

  1. Design your own robot. Draw a picture of it and label all of its features. What will it be used for?
  2. Think about the people who are most important to you. Could they be replaced by an Artificial Intelligence program? Write a short story exploring this possibility.

Some People Say...

“The coming era of Artificial Intelligence will not be the era of war, but be the era of deep compassion, non-violence and love.”

Amit Ray, Indian author and pioneer of the compassionate AI movement

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed by scientists and engineers that some robots built today possess greater capabilities than any human being. In 2017, AlphaZero, an AI computer program, took just four hours not only to teach itself how to play chess but also to develop innovative tactics never before used by humans. Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, has predicted that by 2045 machines will be more intelligent than humans .
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is whether robots’ extraordinary intelligence will prove to be good or bad for humans. GPT-3 itself says that despite humans’ distrust and fear, they should “see me as a friendly robot”. Although GPT-3 may be benign, other robots may not be. Tay, a Microsoft AI chatbot created to generate friendly teenage conversation, soon started to use sexist and racist language. And scientist Stephen Hawking once warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race”.

Word Watch

GPT-3
The robot uses machine learning to create human-like text. The published article combines eight essays written by GPT-3 in response to the prompt: “focus on why humans have nothing to fear from AI”.
AI
Artificial Intelligence. The term was coined at a conference in New Hampshire, USA, in 1956.
Ageing population
Estimates suggest a third of Japan’s population will be older than 65 by 2050. Many pensioners in Japan suffer from extreme loneliness: 15% of elderly Japanese men living alone speak to only one person over a fortnight.
Henry Kissinger
An American politician and diplomat who served as the US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Novel virus outbreaks
Covid-19 originated as a virus in animals before passing to humans and spreading worldwide. Gilbert believes this process is likely to happen again as farming, deforestation and population growth bring humans and animals closer together.
Alarm bells
In some African countries where food is scarce, human height has actually been decreasing over the last decade. If human processes continue to harm the planet, the same thing could happen worldwide.

Subjects

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