back to article The sharks of AI will attack expensive and scarce workers faster than they eat drivers

Although sixty years old, artificial intelligence remained mostly a curiosity until half a decade ago, when IBM’s Watson trounced the world’s best Jeopardy! players in a televised match. At the time, you might have thought nothing of that - what does a game show matter in the scheme of things? It didn’t stop there. IBM sent …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

    The AI is not going to kill the real lawyer jobs (the ones which have passed the bar exam and are allowed to argue a case in court).

    Now paralegals, filing clerks, etc - all the small cogs which make a legal shop work are a different story. They do have something to worry about.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Ever heard of WebMD ? Any idea of how many people go there before/in place of seeing a real doctor ?

      I don't, but I Google anything I don't know in most other domains, so I wouldn't be surprised if a fair proportion of people consider WebMD to be their doctor.

      Now, how about someone creates WebLawyer ? How long do you think it will be before people are logged in by the millions to search how to divorce (continuously trending topic), how to write their will, etc ?

      That is what actual lawyers have to fear. Obviously, court cases will continue to exist, but there's a chance that they will be less frequent when the population uses a rather reliable tool to do the gruntwork for them.

      And I'm guessing WebLawyer will probably be more accurate than WebMD, because the margin of subjectivity is much, much smaller when it comes to law.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Obviously, court cases will continue to exist, but there's a chance that they will be less frequent when the population uses a rather reliable tool to do the gruntwork for them."

        Maybe in the US with plea bargaining even the innocent will continue to plead guilty. Over here I doubt those who insist on pleading not guilty even when bang to rights will take any more notice of a WebLawyer than they currently do of their barrister.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Maybe in the US with plea bargaining even the innocent will continue to plead guilty. "

          As they also do in England & Wales due to the mandatory minimum sentencing rules. An innocent person faces many hurdles put in their way by the legal system. At each step protesting their innocence raises the stakes for the cost and sentencing penalty if they lose.

          The police may offer a caution - knowing full well the CPS wouldn't prosecute for that particular "stretching the boundary" case.

          A magistrate depends on his legal advisor as to the letter of the law - but pleading guilty may give a conditional discharge.

          A Crown court depends on an unpredictable jury. Plead guilty because your legal advisers think a jury would be biased against you - and you may get probation. Fight the case and you are facing a prison sentence.

          Take it to an Appeal Court and the costs rise. If you are lucky you establish case law that may help someone else - if their legal team find that ruling. You don't necessarily get your costs refunded.

      2. knarf

        WebMD

        Doctors in the UK are already using a WikiMD as the basis for their consults. This has been mentioned in the reg already.

        1. Ben Liddicott

          Re: WebMD

          Of course doctors did that even before the internet - they just called it a Medical Dictionary.

      3. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        "And I'm guessing WebLawyer will probably be more accurate than WebMD, because the margin of subjectivity is much, much smaller when it comes to law."

        Really?

        It used to be said of a certain top QC that he earned millions every year from his ability to confuse the Law Lords as to what the law actually meant.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "earned millions every year.." "..confuse the Law Lords as to what the law actually meant."

          Exactly.

          That's why lawyers won't be going away any time soon.

          Nor will judges.

          UK and US judges make "case law" every time they interpret a law or decide one precedent is more applicable than another.

          "I am the law" is not just a line in a comic book. It remains a literal statement of fact.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: "earned millions every year.." "..confuse the Law Lords as to what the law actually meant."

            "That's why lawyers won't be going away any time soon.

            Nor will judges."

            True. And it would take a change in the law to allow AI to present or judge cases. It's quite possible the people who make the laws, who are mainly lawyers, might have a bit of vested interest.

            Anyway, what we are talking about is not AI. It's very clever search algorithms. Or has the definition of AI been dumbed down again?

      4. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        "Now, how about someone creates WebLawyer ? How long do you think it will be before people are logged in by the millions to search how to divorce (continuously trending topic), how to write their will, etc ?"

        http://www.lawdepot.ca <-- this site has functionally been my lawyer for years now. What do you mean "when"?

    2. Ye Gads

      Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

      I think the issue will be for people at the lower levels of the firm. Imagine not having to research judgements or points of law; being able to bring up, for a given case, all points of law that are relevant and all case law that pertains to it in order of importance.

      This is what Watson can do right now.

      I think the issue is that it's not just simple manual process jobs that are at threat from automation, it's the complex process jobs (lawyers, doctors, accountants) that will be under threat.

    3. Ubunut

      Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

      Basic misunderstanding of how AI works. When the decisions are made by a computer it's only the paralegal jobs that will remain.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

        Basic misunderstanding of how AI works.

        Basic misunderstanding of how the legal system works, especially in countries which do not have a deterministic law system (aka Napoleonic law) - USA, UK and most of Commonwealth.

        You have on average at least 5 possible ways to argue a point in court. Some of them are contradictory too. The AI can dig up the points of law and precedents, prepare you the alternative arguments and do all the preparatory work. This is what paralegals, clerks, trainees and junior partners do in a law firm.

        You still need a human to chose out of these 5 strategies which one to apply as this depends on jury, judge and god knows what else. This is what determines a good experienced lawyer - he does not just argue the points of law (a graduate can do it). He also determines which ones to raise and which ones to skim over for this particular court - it is not just "law" - it is also strategy in a "game" which involves dealing with humans based on a guesswork assumption of the way they will perceive an argument.

        We are still decades away from an AI being able to do that as this means AI being able to assess human emotions and predict them (something tough even for humans).

        1. M7S

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          "as this depends on jury, judge and god knows what else"

          I believe that there's been a recent comparison of judgements made by an AI that shadowed a real court, something like 79% accuracy and of course the fleshies don't get it right all the time (thus causing the need for Courts of Appeal and the like). Presumably this percentage will go up as programming improves, so you could end up with a system that is entirely automated at the processing/disposal stage.

          There have been utopias and dystopias written about this from Mega City One (already mentioned by some other commentards) to the Culture novels. My main fear for any such system would be the ability to manipulate this once it has gained broad public acceptance, as I recall one R. Blake and his brief found in "The Way Back"

        2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          You have on average at least 5 possible ways to argue a point in court. Some of them are contradictory too.

          Very true. There's another important difference between the AI process and that followed by the doctor or lawyer or other professional. AI works with the corpus of information provided as input, whereas the professionals are in a position to search out new information.

          I haven't used WebMD, but I'd be surprised if it isn't at least partially driven by some kind of input form. This means the designer is constraining the knowledge domain before the AI even gets a look-in.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

            "I haven't used WebMD, but I'd be surprised if it isn't at least partially driven by some kind of input form."

            Just a google search will work if a reference site is covering defined symptoms.

            Last week I had a lump in my palm - almost certainly from over-exercising. A quick search and it is clear that it is a "ganglion cyst" - only needing medical attention if painful and very persistent.

            A persistent pain in my shoulder and biceps on extreme movements. Doctor says "gentle exercise". The web agrees - adding that age-related shoulder joint wear and tear is relieved by strengthening the muscles.

            My doctor is a firm believer in patients using the web to research the condition he has diagnosed - so that they become "experts" in their own case.

            1. Edward Ashford

              Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

              >>> My doctor is a firm believer in patients using the web to research the condition he has diagnosed - so that they become "experts" in their own case.

              Yes, but I bet like mine he isn't a fan of people who diagnose themselves using Google.

              Start with "flu-like symptoms"... now is that AIDS, Meningitis, Eastern Equine Encephalopathy... my God! I must be dead already!

              It's been coming a long time. Here's a Very Bad Poem wot I wrote in 1993 (in a mock Folk singing style to the rhythm of the bicycle pedals going round)

              Robots - or the Engineer's Revenge

              EMA 21-FEB-2023

              I was a jolly engineer

              In nineteen ninety three,

              But now a robot does my job

              There's no more work for me.

              The clean and shiny robots

              Were the population's choice,

              For engineers remind them

              Of the acid rain and noise.

              A robot does my laundry,

              And another cleans my plates,

              One more decides to pay me,

              And one decides my fate.

              There's robots in the factory,

              And robots that are toys.

              There's even robots making,

              Little robot girls and boys.

              The engineer takes tea-breaks,

              but the robot never shirks;

              For homo sapiente,

              But cyborg only works.

              But we have had the last laugh,

              Though it took ten thousand days;

              We built a thinking robot

              - and it wanted to be paid!

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          suggest you read about the machine learning programme developed by UCL and University of Sheffiled universities that already predicts 79% of ECHR torture cases correctly .. not just processing case law but making more "moral" judgements too ... much of the run of the mill lawyering such as conveyancing, contract disputes, probate etc is already starting to be eaten at by AI

        4. strum Silver badge

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          "You still need a human to chose out of these 5 strategies which one to apply as this depends on jury, judge and ...." ....the AIjuror.

          If the senior partner in Sue, Grabbit and Runne gets that far, so can the senior partner in the opposing firm. And, in between them, a judicial AI tosses a digital coin and pronounces one of them a winner (and depletes the appeals process in 3 microseconds).

        5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          "You still need a human to chose out of these 5 strategies which one to apply as this depends on jury, judge and god knows what else."

          You seem to be assuming that the even more expensive judge won't be the first one replaced by an AI.

        6. Bob Dole (tm)

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          >>You still need a human to chose out of these 5 strategies which one to apply as this depends on jury, judge and god knows what else. This is what determines a good experienced lawyer - he does not just argue the points of law (a graduate can do it).

          When the AI can read the facebook, twitter, etc of the judge and jurors then it'll be able to make recommendations as to the approach to take in that particular setting. Given the ability to sift through large amounts of data quickly - it will likely be far better at picking those approaches.

        7. Cris E

          Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

          Huge slabs of "law" are not court cases. Most of it is contracts and estate and divorce and real estate and all sorts of stuff that isn't going to go to court. That stuff, most of it, is pretty process and rule bound and ripe for pre-processing by an AI.

          And even a lot of the stuff that might go to trial can be looked over for a recommendation. For example, in the US, the insurance company side of personal injury cases are almost always settled by formula to avoid scary payouts by jury, or by the plaintiff to avoid a lot of messy costs that would diminish profits and introduce risks. Regardless it's in everyone's interest to settle rather than risk no money or way too much.

          There's always going to be need for experienced attorneys to assess risk and read juries and counsel people, but most law is just talking to prospective clients to choose cases or rote pounding of the main highways of legal process. That leaves plenty for AI to do in support of lawyers.

      2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

        Basic misunderstanding of how AI works. When the decisions are made by a computer it's only the paralegal jobs that will remain.

        I wish you the very best of luck in teaching an AI to interpret law!

    4. Stretch

      Basic misunderstanding how AI works

      The AIs will ace the exams. Eventually no one will want a meatsack to represent them. Much better than have a decent AI that won't rip you off.

      1. oxfordmale78

        Re: Basic misunderstanding how AI works

        Until the AI learns to rip you off too:-)

    5. kmac499

      Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

      And a basic misunderstanding of how the public sees law firms. Once a Watson backed practice can operate at a fraction the cost of a Carter-Fuck (tm Private Eye) firm and starts winning.who is going to hire the extremely Fat-Cat lawyers..

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

        "Once a Watson backed practice can operate at a fraction the cost of a Carter-Fuck (tm Private Eye) firm and starts winning."

        I do not think you understand how the law works.

    6. Naselus

      Re: Basic misunderstanding how law firm works

      Screw that, the article begins with a basic misunderstanding of how history works and then gets everything else wrong from there.

      AI will replace the easiest jobs first, because it's easier to write the AI for them. In fact, it already has in many places; if we take AI to be a simple chain of actions which may vary by input then we're been replacing the 'dumb' jobs with it for a couple of hundred years already. Far from AI replacing jobs 'from the top down', it's been working it's way up for so long that people like Mark Pesce have ceased to even recognize that low-end automation used to be done by hand. The genuinely hard jobs? Those are the creative leaps required to do real research (original research, not just 'let's make this existing thing smaller), or to come to a political compromise between hundreds of competing interests using wildly different value systems.

      If doctors and lawyers have things to worry about, it's only because we've been able to get a robot to answer the phone or build a car for 30 years already.

      There's a reason why many of the high-paying jobs in the world come under the term 'liberal arts'. They're arts. Consider the job of the editor, for example - it's not just reading text and correcting typos. The editor's job extends to determining the political line of the paper, which changes over time and by issue and adjusts depending on the market buying the paper; it involves a great deal of social networking and negotiation and just downright human interaction which is not going to be AI-ified until we have something that passes the Turing test.

      IT doesn't 'owe it to the world' to create new jobs for people because we took the old ones away. That's not really our problem. We created tools that have produced conditions of unprecedented wealth and plenty. The matter of how the fruits of that are distributed have never really been in our hands; mostly because Economics is the science of doing that. Most of the world's present problems are down to the epic failure of that discipline, and we can't automate them away either.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When no-one has a job because it's been replaced by a machine...

    ...where's the money for the 1%?

    Will the human workforce be forced to scratch out a barely fed existance as slave labour doing menial tasks for the wealthy.

    Zero hour contracts, piece work,no guarantee of a living wage, child poverty...

    Sounds like we are already there.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: When no-one has a job because it's been replaced by a machine...

      Amongst themselves is the answer. They'll close off their walled garden, hash it out amongst themselves, and leave the redundant proliteriat to the wolves.

      1. thegroucho

        Re: When no-one has a job because it's been replaced by a machine...

        If you have no job how can you pay the AI lawyer or AI doctor?

        Buy an iThing?

        There needs to be some sort of income for the unwashed masses (yours truly included) in order to be able to continue selling them services and goods produced by AI workers.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: When no-one has a job because it's been replaced by a machine...

          "If you have no job how can you pay the AI lawyer or AI doctor?"

          They don't. They die off, leaving all the rest who can pay. At some point, like any tournament, the time comes to cut out the losers. The 1% may well be at a point where they can just ignore the masses and hash the rest out amongst themselves.

          1. Naselus

            Re: When no-one has a job because it's been replaced by a machine...

            "The 1% may well be at a point where they can just ignore the masses and hash the rest out amongst themselves."

            Almost certain someone in the French court was saying that exact thing in 1788. You don't 'ignore the masses and hash it out yourself', because then the masses notice how many of them there are compared to you... and then they kill you and take your stuff. Avoiding that happening is more or less the hard work of being an elite; you need to figure out exactly how much you can skim off the top before everyone decides to just get rid of you.

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Learning to live

    > Education needs to become a constant part of our diet: real education,

    To what end?

    As the article points out, "education" or more precisely: vocational qualifications have failed some professions already and are increasingly likely to be a lost bet in terms of time taken and money spent, verses lifetime monetary returns. So what will be the point of education, when anything and everything that an education confers can be made available from an AI or automated / robotic source?

    In that respect, professionals are facing the same problems that airline pilots have. So much of a flight is run by the autopilot that many real pilots, while having 000's of hours in the big chair, have little clue what to do during an emergency and need constant refreshers to keep their edge.

    What will be the state of professions in, say, 50 years when there are no more human lawyers, surgeons, teachers or actors. No more drivers, shop assistants, bank staff or administrators? Will it matter that having an IQ above 85 becomes a liability since you can question the reason for your existence, but have no means for self-improvement? And with no opportunities to improve ourselves or earn a bean, where will future innovations and progress come from?

    1. Hasham

      Re: Learning to live

      Excellent point. If machines can be educated faster than humans, what is the point of the newly unemployed re-training for other work? Education will have to take on a different purpose than a road to employment.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Learning to live

      But machines still lack dexterity, fine motor skills, so things like surgery, construction, other positions that require contorted or delicate physical labor on site are still pretty safe. Same for jobs that require a face like certain retail, hotels, etc because of Uncanny Valley.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Learning to live

        "But machines still lack dexterity, fine motor skills, so things like surgery, [...]"

        Surgeons are already using IT assistance in retina microsurgery. Work too delicate for the unaided human eye and hand.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Learning to live

        @Charles 9; You're deluding yourself if you think that it's not going to be possible for AI to overcome the problem of fine motor skills sooner rather than later as well.

        And do you think that the uncanny valley's never going to be overcome? Not that there will be as wide a need for such people anyway if all the wealth is in the hands of the 1% and the rest of us have gone to hell.

      3. The Mole

        Re: Learning to live

        "But machines still lack dexterity, fine motor skills"

        No they don't, machines can be made to do any physical task that humans can do, generally faster and more accurately. Humans currently have the advantage in cost, size, and energy density/recharging and adaptability, the first three will definitely disappear and the last is basically what this article is about.

        "Same for jobs that require a face like certain retail, hotels, etc because of Uncanny Valley."

        Numerous places have already started trialing robots checking in guests etc, people adapt to the new normal removing and children will be trained out of Uncanny Valley as it will just be normal - in the same way talking to a customer agent robot online has become more routine.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Learning to live

          Re: fine motor skills...

          Machines also have the benefits in surgical processes of being able to use narrower "limbs" and joints able to spin on their axis unlike human ones. They also don't suffer from shakes (even minute ones - think about the eye surgery example above) or errors in judgement of geospatial location.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Learning to live

            "Machines also have the benefits in surgical processes of being able to use narrower "limbs" and joints able to spin on their axis unlike human ones. They also don't suffer from shakes (even minute ones - think about the eye surgery example above) or errors in judgement of geospatial location."

            But what if the patient moves? Can the robo-surgeon correct for Murphy moments as easily as the human can (and the human may even do it instinctively, something the machine lacks and can't be taught it since we don't know how our own instincts came to be--they come untaught)?

            1. Filippo

              Re: But what if the patient moves?

              The answer is yes, they can correct for patient movements, faster and more accurately than the human.

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Learning to live

          "in the same way talking to a customer agent robot online has become more routine."

          And too many people (including young people, BTW), still respond to this by pressing 0 and demanding to speak to a live person. And Uncanny Valley is an instinctive (meaning untaught) aversion to pseudo-humans because something about them isn't perfectly right. So young people will still get creeped out by Unacnny Valley. That's why we still have the Turing Test, which gets tougher the more elements you have to incorporate. Turing Test with text is within reach, but then you have the voice and finally the look.

      4. Edward Ashford

        Re: Learning to live

        >>> But machines still lack dexterity, fine motor skills,

        Ermmm... have you seen those things that let a surgeon in Chicago operate on a patient in Manchester?

        Google remote surgery

        1. Cris E

          Re: Learning to live

          Regarding remote surgery, it clearly looks the the future, but I always thought it a funny proposition that a hospital or clinic that had enough technology to have the fancy remote robot surgical gear would not be large or affluent enough to have surgeons on hand.

          Clearly at some point the gear will be cheaper or easier to maintain at remote sites than a person, but it could be a while. The types of places without surgeons that have this kind of money are pretty limited (maybe Antarctica, space, remote mining or drilling stations, etc.) Poor or sparsely populated places like Indian reservations in South Dakota or the interior of Australia certainly make sense for this but are going to have to wait for it to become cheap.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Learning to live

      Vocational education rarely keeps up with fast-moving changes. The people running courses tend to live off the fat of when they were practical leaders in a field.

      I remember when a highly regarded university's IT professor gave a talk. In the Q&A session it turned out he was unaware of FPGA technology - which we were already using to improve the performance/cost of leading edge products.

      The only way you learn fast enough in those situations is to do it yourself.

      Of course AI might take over the compiling and provision of courses too.

    4. quxinot

      Re: Learning to live

      >in, say, 50 years when there are no more human lawyers,<

      Stop teasing.

    5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Learning to live

      The article more-or-less states that we need to earn our keep by joining an impossible rat-race with AI, but maybe by that time we must learn to use the free time we will have gained. We must unlearn treadmill habits, and indeed learn to live. Ultimately, we may have to learn to actually pay attention to our fellow humans, to care for one another, to be good companions, and no, "your plastic pall who's fun to be with" is no replacement

      Utopian? Perhaps, but a man may dream

  4. Andrew Commons

    Two points.

    First, this relies on the Internet which can be taken away at any time because the technology it is built on is not up to the job. The temptation/motivation to take it away will only be increased by this sort of shift. You would have to be mad....oh.

    Second, you can always change the economics...don't pay them as much!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Two points.

      Problem is machines distort the market because they don't have to be paid, plus their long-term costs tend to be less than the equivalent in humans (and machines have a multiplier in their favor).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Automation's erosion of work will proceed from the top-down

    like auto-car assembly line folks, shelf-stackers and drivers

  6. Mage Silver badge
    Coat

    Watson?

    No big change, just the incremental development of Big Data and human curated databases.

    It's only AI in a very narrow sense. The application has to be trained and curated by expert humans. Thirty years ago we called such computer databases with specialist front ends "Expert Systems". Neither they nor Watson has matched the marketing hype.

    Probably such a system, if well designed and trained (curated by expert humans) would improve on the USPTO. I doubt it would reduce the job count much. They also need to charge more for accepted applications and less for rejected ones. It's the wrong way round right now.

    No doubt these specialist AI applications will reduce the job count in some companies. However technology has been affecting jobs seriously since about the 1790s, power looms and later the Jacquard attachment (1801).

    The effect and capabilities of "AI" is oversold and hyped with a "biological" jargon.

    The 1930s saw paper tape driven automated production of many items.

    "The first power loom was designed in 1784 by Edmund Cartwright and first built in 1785. It was refined over the next 47 years until a design by Kenworthy and Bullough made the operation completely automatic.

    By 1850 there were 260,000 in operation in England. Fifty years later came the Northrop Loom that would replenish the shuttle when it was empty and this replaced the Lancashire loom."

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Watson?

      But that was automation of base labor: repetitive motions, the same thing over and over again. What do you do when machines begin to replace SKILLED labor? When both base and skilled labor can be done by machines, what's seven billion people to do?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watson?

        " But that was automation of base labor: repetitive motions, the same thing over and over again."

        Weaving, especially of complex patterns, required skilled labour. Machining components was skilled work - until templates and then CNC took over. The advent of 3D printing has replaced some skilled casting jobs.

        It is not just repetition that is being replaced but also judgements. Josiah Wedgwood produced little cones that melted at different temperatures. Pottery kiln firings then no longer needed vast experience to judge the firing adjustments to give the correct temperature for a particular product. Nowadays the ware just goes on a conveyor through an automatic tunnel kiln. Even a leisure pottery studio has an electric kiln with automatic cycle control. Put the ware in. Then dial in the type of clay etc - and away it goes for the next few hours. Open the door and take out the fired work.

    2. EricM

      Re: Watson?

      Could not agree more. To sell Whatson as "AI" is mostly overhyped marketing. It is not really sold or even used besides some very publicized areas of specialization - and specialized trainers/users. Commercially, this is more or less masked by nice HAL-like commercials and the fact that IBM now calls everything "cognitive" that has the slightest thing to do with analytics, big data or even basic BI.

      There is not really a quality-difference to "Expert Systems" from the 90's. More data, more power yes, but still the same principle ...

    3. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re: Watson?

      Probably such a system, if well designed and trained (curated by expert humans) would improve on the USPTO. I doubt it would reduce the job count much. They also need to charge more for accepted applications and less for rejected ones. It's the wrong way round right now.

      Charging less for accepted applications and more for rejected ones makes sense. Think about it. Charging more for acceptance only encourages it and I think we have enough shitty applications. Charging more for rejected applications "encourages" better thought out applications, but this depends crucially on the extra cost. In essence the desired outcome is reflected in the pricing. To change it would encourage a worse result.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Watson?

        "Charging less for accepted applications and more for rejected ones makes sense. Think about it. Charging more for acceptance only encourages it and I think we have enough shitty applications. Charging more for rejected applications "encourages" better thought out applications, but this depends crucially on the extra cost. In essence the desired outcome is reflected in the pricing. To change it would encourage a worse result."

        There's also the matter of the labor costs. Remember, someone has to research these patents, and the USPTO is one of the most underpaid bureaus in the country. So they're pressed to investigate as many patents as possible on a shoestring budget, and they can't deny by default because then filers would complain and eventually Congress would get on their cases.

  7. Mutton Jeff

    Block wars?

    Sounds like the beginnings of Mega City 1

  8. SVV Silver badge

    Amazing insights

    " in a world where intelligence, like computing before it, becomes pervasive, then commoditised."

    So computing was around before human intelligence? I presume you mean AI, which is never ever in our lifetimes and many beyond going to rival what nature took aeons to create. It is just a tool that can be used for specialised tasks, a general AI is impossible.

    Apart from that there is some frothy prose dressed up as revelatory that is nothing more than trivial common sense that every reader of this site already knows.

    We need to continually educate ourselves on new developments in IT to keep our skills up to date and stay relevant? Well I never. You can use search engines such as Google to help in this? Well knock me down with a feather!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazing insights

      "[...] a general AI is impossible."

      The human "machine" is proof that AI can get there. Different humans' "intelligence" levels means that some evolutionary combinations are better than others. The only real difference between humans and current AI is the technology and components from which the "machines" are built.

  9. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "MogIA, software that analyzes millions of inputs from social media..."

    End state will be bots monitoring bots.

    Not to mention all the fake news recently infesting FB. Fake news has switched from being an amusing comedy to a serious attack.

  10. Little Mouse

    Got any spare dictaphones?

    Check out "The Raw Shark Texts" if you need advice defeating conceptual AI sharks.

  11. Custard Fridge
    Alert

    Whoops, there goes the Internet - now what Doctor Robot? Doctor Robot?

    This strikes me as a 'bubble' story not entirely grounded in the real world.

    The only hint of truth is for long distance lorry drivers - repeating the same task again and again, meaning everything required can be in one storage location in one lorry with it's own portable power source. If the connection goes down it can either carry on as it knows where to go, or it stops at the side of the road to wait for the connection to come up again.

    AI, like the internet generally, is great for helping the professional reach the answer faster than before. I refer to my books less and less now because I can google the problem. However I know what to google for - most people with an IT problem do now know enough to google as well as I can and usually do not get the right answer, or if they do it takes them many times longer.

    Even when they do get it right they often need me to implement the problem by literally crawling under desks or metaphorically crawling into the computer’s operating system.

    AI would have to interact perfectly to understand the problem and have total control over the physical aspect to implement the fix. Rise of the Robots indeed.

    The big problem for this AI reliance is though that crap happens and connections go down. In times of conflict they go down on purpose. Would we really let a world develop with no doctors around to actually practise medicine for example? Are we stupid enough to actually do that?

    Perhaps one day there will be enough storage, processing power and battery power to power a doctor bot that can work in Aleppo etc. under war conditions for days on end without rest. However, right now I see the dust, dirt and shelling stopping that after the first few plaster boards dustily crash down from the ceiling. Error - please call service.

    Meanwhile on the home front, I would love a robot to help my mother around the house, but she would rather die than see a robot doctor. If I get to her age I will probably think the same thing.

    1. Hasham

      Re: Whoops, there goes the Internet - now what Doctor Robot? Doctor Robot?

      If you have medical robots, it's not inconceivable that basic and advanced knowledge would be baked in. It would perform better when connected, of course, but it could still operate well when offline.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Whoops, there goes the Internet - now what Doctor Robot? Doctor Robot?

        "If you have medical robots, it's not inconceivable that basic and advanced knowledge would be baked in."

        IIRC - when excising cancers there are now scalpels that can determine the difficult boundary between healthy and diseased tissue - much better than humans.

  12. Robert Morgan
    Holmes

    Here's the crux of the argument

    Who's currently telling everyone the world will get taken over by AI? Who's saying be cautious about it? Largely, it's the biggest firms in the world. While I have a huge amount of respect for these companies and the work/people/knowledge they have, they have a cavernous gap when it comes to dealing with smaller companies. Want to Speak Directly to Microsoft? Google? Facebook? Amazon (at a reasonable level, not call-centre scripted fodder)? You'd better be from a relatively large company/service house, otherwise they're not interested. Part of the reason they're not interested is because there is a massive amount of education/conversation to have with a relatively uneducated customer (in industry lingo/technology). These people now are still jaw-dropped at the very concept of cloud computing, but still aren't really sure how to make use of it. Big Data is still a twinkle in the eye to most of them, it's just not something that's even on their radar.

    Talking of which, how many people on here (which is a very business tech focused site) would know the ins and outs of AWS/Azure? How many people know how to use Azure DataLake/ML, How about AWS EMR/ML? Big Data isn't an easy subject, machine learning is even harder. There aren't vast numbers of people that really understand how this stuff ticks, and that's within our own industry.

    Now, imagine trying to work in a normal organisation, a company that uses technology to drive business change. Imagine trying to pitch into the team the AI piece, of how it'll change the world and what not. When you get to grass-roots, most of the "You'll entirely replace a human" so it's cheaper stuff falls flat on it's arse. It's a technology investment that'll for sure, At best, if it goes well, will increase the productivity of said human.

    At the moment, there are simply too many variables, even in the knowledge economy (i.e. being paid for what you know/skills/experience). When it comes to manual labour tasks/real-world environment scenarios, this stuff is even further away from being ready. Imagine Tescos delivering your shopping by robot. How does it navigate the basement steps? how does it figure out where the apartment is around the sidepath? What about un-even ground? Importantly in other industries, how does it charge? Battery technology simply cannot run a robot, nor will be able to in the immediate future?

    I don't see AI going away, I welcome it and think it'll help humans work better, much like other software has. I think the projects that'll work will be the ones that augment humans, I think the ones that hit the wall and bankrupt companies will (mostly, it'll work in some limited use cases) be the full replacement models.

    I see this a bit like the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction). If two businesses exist in the same market, if one has AI, it'll win, if both have AI, they'll likely compete/be close to each other. How do you improve the AI/run better processes? You need humans still. Also, you've paid Microsoft/Google/Amazon a truck load of money in the AI Arms race.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong, and if we're all replaced, it begs the question of what do you do with all the proles that cannot afford to buy your products anymore but want to consume the earths natural resources? Enter Evil Genius played by Samuel Jackson from The Kingsmen? The 1% go for an End of World Party while the planet gets "cleansed"? :)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Here's the crux of the argument

      "I see this a bit like the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction). If two businesses exist in the same market, if one has AI, it'll win, if both have AI, they'll likely compete/be close to each other. How do you improve the AI/run better processes? You need humans still. Also, you've paid Microsoft/Google/Amazon a truck load of money in the AI Arms race."

      The problem with MAD has always been it gets ruined by someone who sees it as an acceptable scenario: IOW, better everyone loses than someone else win.

      "At the moment, there are simply too many variables, even in the knowledge economy (i.e. being paid for what you know/skills/experience). When it comes to manual labour tasks/real-world environment scenarios, this stuff is even further away from being ready. Imagine Tescos delivering your shopping by robot. How does it navigate the basement steps? how does it figure out where the apartment is around the sidepath? What about un-even ground? Importantly in other industries, how does it charge? Battery technology simply cannot run a robot, nor will be able to in the immediate future?"

      Self-leveling rubber tracks to navigate steps. Also would help with the uneven ground problem; Google's already working on adding minutiae to addresses that would allow to include notes like "entrance round the back". As for power, use an engine with a standardized fuel port and an automated refueling station that can aim for these ports. It's something I'm wondering if we'll see in human-driven cars in the near future.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Here's the crux of the argument

        "how does it figure out where the apartment is around the sidepath?"

        Current human deliveries don't always solve that problem in my neighbours' block of flats.

        The visible front doors in a line go 4, 6, 10, 12. They usually solve "2" round the corner of the building from "4" - although on one occasion they misread "24" on the opposite side of the road as "2".

        The one that really gets them is the missing "8" - which is like "2" but round the other corner of the building from "12".

        I am the last house in the odd numbers. A misaddressing referenced a higher number that doesn't exist - and the parcel was eventually returned to the sender.

        What does a robot do when it is a case of "not here mate"?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Here's the crux of the argument

          "What does a robot do when it is a case of "not here mate"?"

          What does a HUMAN do when it's a case of "not here mate"? Take that solution and work from there. It's not like it takes instinct to solve a problem like this.

  13. Forget It

    Have you ever heard of a neural network

    explain their reasoning in court?

  14. DubyaG

    This reminds me of "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops). An interesting read from 1928.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "An interesting read from 1928."

      First published in 1909 in a university magazine - surprisingly from the pen of E.M.Forster. A BBC book programme once wrongly attributed it to H.G.Wells.

      It predicts much of our internet age as we sit tapping our rehashes of other people's online data - while listening to our choice of streamed music.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A friend recently had a crown fitted to a tooth. In the normal fashion the dentist prepared the site and took a cast. A few days later he fitted the crown.

    Several years ago my dentist prepared the site and used a miniature camera to map the contours. We then chatted for a few minutes until the computerised milling machine had produced the crown - which clicked neatly into place. He was applying new skills to the task in picking the matching colour milling blank - and using the interactive screen to clarify a few topology points. Both those tasks will eventually be automated. His remaining skill will still be in diagnosing and preparing the site - for now.

  16. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Isn't this why Universal Basic Income is an increasingly popular idea?

    When there are not enough jobs to go around, but humans still need food and housing, a tax on businesses' profits could fund this (maybe with special focus on those with fewer employees but higher profits, such as Amazon, PayPal, et al). It changes the economic equation, by increasing the cost of automation, thus putting a negative feedback on the trend towards unemployment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't this why Universal Basic Income is an increasingly popular idea?

      At which point reliable contraceptive practices will have to become universal. Sex for pleasure - not uncontrolled procreation.

      Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" looks more possible than ever.

      It also suggests another sci-fi author was possibly on the right lines. A world where people lived most of their adult lives strapped to a VR machine simulating their desired life-style. (Not "The Matrix")

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Isn't this why Universal Basic Income is an increasingly popular idea?

        "A world where people lived most of their adult lives strapped to a VR machine simulating their desired life-style. (Not "The Matrix")"

        The Joymakers?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Isn't this why Universal Basic Income is an increasingly popular idea?

          "The Joymakers?"

          I don't think so. All I can remember from over 30 years ago is that the life of VR was a reward to the central character for some outstanding duty to the state. He chose a wild west cowboy simulation - which was otherwise only available to the very rich. The process involved the flaying of skin to make the connections over the body.

          That title you quote reminds me of another story where an heroic fireman is seriously injured in a fire and gets put into cryogenic storage. When he is revived it is to a hedonistic world with all sorts of toys. The title being an eponymous wand/stick that can emit aphrodisiacs. He then discovers that his accumulated pension pot was the reason he was revived - and it doesn't last long paying for use of these toys. He is finally saved by a Titan held under house arrest on Earth - who he inadvertently helps to escape in a spaceship.

          It seems possible that the linked novel synopsis is to a variation on the story I remember. The author's name rings a bell and the general scenarios are very similar.

  17. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Facepalm

    You missed the case where it has already started.

    Yes, AI will replace the expensive people that generate the biggest profits, not just the expensive professionals. This is shown by how AI is already being used to replace day traders with robo-traders.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: You missed the case where it has already started.

      Automatic Trading isn't AI.

      Also it's actually an immoral type of speculation. Someone wrote a book exposing it. If small guys do it they are sent to jail.

      Can we have a more useful example that's actually AI?

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Mage Re: You missed the case where it has already started.

        "Automatic Trading isn't AI...." Robo-trading is not automated trading. A typical factory robot does not make any decisions, it just carries out the same programmed process regardless. Similarly, an automated trading system simply uses buy and sell figures. However, a true robo-trader makes automated decisions based on a set of rules to predict future stock performance, just as fleshy traders do. Some of those decisions made by robo-traders can be based on very complex algorithms with a vast number of variables, both historic economic and share price data and realtime, not just buy and sell prices. Such robo-traders already exist and advise on funds containing thousands of different stocks and positions, and may be predicting a strategy as long as ten years into the future (longer with bonds).

  18. MyBrainHz
    Holmes

    Basic Income is our only solution

    If you haven't already heard of it - Unconditional Basic Income is the fastest growing topic on the Planet.

    You may set out totally opposed to the prospect, but consider this.

    A robot will produce the goods, but without paid employees, who will buy those goods?

    UBI is a big subject - so look into it for yourselves, and get on board while you still have the means to do so. Once there are a majority of unemployed - it's too late.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Basic Income is our only solution

      But it'll never fly for one very simple reason: the people you have to leech to pay for the scheme will never go along. They'll bail first, and since they have all the money, they'll have the means, too.

      "A robot will produce the goods, but without paid employees, who will buy those goods?"

      Like I said, the ones that still have all the money. When the 1% claim 99% of the money, they'll close off their walled garden and hash it out amongst themselves. As long as there are more than two people left, give and take is still possible.

      "Once there are a majority of unemployed - it's too late."

      That's when the 1% will begin to roll out the robot tanks...remember, by this point the unemployed (or rather, unemployABLE) will be considered expendable.

      1. Cris E

        Re: Basic Income is our only solution

        The 1% still need their corporations to make a profit, and in order to do that they need customers with money. As the workforce continues to shrink because of improved efficiency or jobs physically moving to cheaper workforces, corporations will demand some way to keep the money moving.

  19. ntevanza

    meta-aptitude and productivity growth

    The article makes the useful point that a front-loaded ETL style education already looks like last year's hipster beard. This is where you extract a bounded corpus of data from trusted (old) sources, transform it to please your teacher, load it into your brain, and then dispense it at zero marginal cost and get paid forever. This may seem improbable in our sector, and it is partly a myth, but it is how large swathes of the population think of education - as something you can finish.

    In contrast, I don't know whether learning how to learn is the answer to automation, but I don't have a better one. There are two problems.

    The first is that although employers rely heavily on employees' meta-aptitude, that is, on their raw learning ability, they wouldn't recognize it if it bit them on the leg.

    The second is that a generation of left behind people are at this moment being sold the notion by Donald Trump that if only we can make Apple make the iPhone at home, then ETL education will be good enough again, retrospectively. We'll just bring back the jobs like in pappy's day, and then productivity growth won't matter so much.

    That is a flat lie. The truth is way scarier: If you don't have the neural infrastructure to bootstrap your way into Spanish or monotonicity or erosion or stakeholder management or royal prerogatives or Bayes or the Persian Empire or recursiveness from a standing start, no matter what you studied, you're a goner, Trump or no Trump.

    P.S. You might be a goner even if you can.

  20. Bob Dole (tm)
    Holmes

    Some days I wonder....

    Some days I wonder if the history of man is really much longer than we believe. I wonder if sometime in the distant past we turned over our lives to machines only to have it all eventually crash down forcing us to start over.

    It just seems that if modern man is roughly 200,000 years old that we've had plenty of time to rise up, see a population explosion, create AI and have it take over most of our lives, experience a population implosion due to said machines, then fade away nearly into oblivion at least a few times...

  21. Nocroman

    AI VS Human Factor

    Ai's may be able to give you all the correct answers to your inquiry. But, They will never be able to determine what is the best for the patient as a good doctor can. They will never be able to hold the hand of a traumatized client and help them through a disastrous situation like a human can. An AI cannot be programmed to learn or show human compassion. It can only supply answers that have been programmed into it. An AI would find it impossible to design a vehicle that would be comfortable for 90% of the human beings that would use the vehicle.

    No, An AI loses on every front when it verses a human being except providing information and only if a human being thought to provide the information in the first place.

    Mankind will never be idiotic enough to give AI's free will if they are ever able to reach true consciousness.

    1. Seajay#

      Re: AI VS Human Factor

      What you're describing is not a Doctor, it's a Nurse. Sure we can keep some of them around to hold hands and show compassion, they're cheap so not worth automating. Certainly a lot cheaper than putting someone through a decade of medical training. Maybe they'll even be allowed to press some of the buttons on the doctor bot which can do the actual diagnosis and treatment.

      That's the most extraordinary thing about the potential for AI, it doesn't eat the jobs of the cheapest workers as previous automation did. It eats the jobs of the professional classes.

  22. Esme

    You've only just realised this?

    Seriously? The reason my career as a mainframe operator didn't result in a stellar top-dollar salary and a life of luxury is because software replaced most of what mainframe operators did - and did our jobs more efficiently and cheaply too. Now, granted, that didn't take anything that could sensibly be called AI, but it's been blindingly obvious for decades to anyone with an understanding of IT and the possibilities thereof that automation of one sort or another is going to remove the need for vast numbers of jobs both mundane and more technical.

    Humans generally can't compete with robots on monotonous assembly-like work, nor with software systems when trawling through huge amounts of data is involved. Which may sound like a boon to society (yay! no drudge labour physical jobs, and more reliable results in data-heavy tasks!) but the problem is that it reduces teh range of options open to us meatbags - not everyone is going to be able to handle the jobs left over after automation and computerisation has been implemented.

    This exposes the great fallacy of capitalism as we know it - capitalism is a creation of a world in which humans - the capita part of capitalism - do all the work. Add automation and AI into a capitalist system and why, the system will get along fine with fewer and fewer humans engaging in any economic activity. Bad luck on the humans dependent on handouts, of course, but hey, the money;s the thing, eh? That's how we tell who's winning, no?

    Well, bollocks to that, IMO. And the answer isn't neo-Luddism, but the development of a new economic system. Capitalism replaced barter due to the needs of its time, and I feel sure that in due course we will arrive at some system to replace capitalism that embraces the existence of both humans and pervasive automation and AI. Trying to either prevent the future (Luddism) or hold onto the past (clinging to capitalism when it;s clearly not fit for societies purpose under current circumstances) are both doomed to failure. So the sooner people start thinking about what a post-capitalist economic system might look like and how it might operate the better The longer we leave it, the messier the change from the system we have now to whatever will replace it is likely to be. IMHO, of course.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: You've only just realised this?

      "Well, bollocks to that, IMO. And the answer isn't neo-Luddism, but the development of a new economic system. Capitalism replaced barter due to the needs of its time, and I feel sure that in due course we will arrive at some system to replace capitalism that embraces the existence of both humans and pervasive automation and AI. Trying to either prevent the future (Luddism) or hold onto the past (clinging to capitalism when it;s clearly not fit for societies purpose under current circumstances) are both doomed to failure. So the sooner people start thinking about what a post-capitalist economic system might look like and how it might operate the better The longer we leave it, the messier the change from the system we have now to whatever will replace it is likely to be. IMHO, of course."

      But there IS no better system. Capitalism at least draws on natural human instincts to make it work. Any other system would have to compete with that, and the problem with AI is that it butts directly up against a human instinct: that of getting the leg up on your neighbor so that it's your genes comprising the next generation, not his.

      IOW, the natural result of an AI takeover will inevitably be a lot fewer humans: not because the AIs kill them but because a lot of us will be rendered expendable, and the law of the jungle still applies in civilization; in fact, it applies more when civilization is strained.

  23. Seajay#

    Can we just have the singularity now?

    The post-war, "just do your job and you'll get pay and a pension for the rest of your life" set up was perfectly tolerable.

    I'm greatly looking forward to a post-scarcity society something like Iain Banks Culture.

    But the transition is no fun. People really like security so rising living standards with rising insecurity is making us worse off in happiness terms despite living in an age of unprecedented plenty.

  24. gregoryg1

    Millennials need to get a clue

    The most interesting thing about AI is how it is turning over a century of human advancement in terms of leisure time on its head. Even if people can spend most of their free time continuing to learn, where does that put society and family? Back into the 1800s only the wealthiest few had any free time to think, philosophize about life and come to realizations that do not pertain to simply surviving. Everyone else struggled and life was not that great at all.

    Believe me, this kind of world where only the wealthiest have any free time is exactly the world neocons like Trump envision. No time to think equates to no time to rebel against the transgressions of the 1% against the 99%.

    Damn glad I am not that young is all I have to say. This potentially bleak future is the millennial problem and they better get a clue sooner rather than later.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Millennials need to get a clue

      "Believe me, this kind of world where only the wealthiest have any free time is exactly the world neocons like Trump envision. No time to think equates to no time to rebel against the transgressions of the 1% against the 99%."

      Or it could just mean they call Sod This and devote ALL their time to rebel, figuring they'll survive by plundering the 1%. The 1% better have a backup plan.

      1. Seajay#

        The 1% better have a backup plan

        The back up plan is easy and has been well tested by despots all over the world. Triple the size of the Armed Forces and Police (very easy to do when they are the only jobs going). Declare a state of emergency to justify tighter surveillance, curfews, and shooting looters on sight. Buy western military tech to outfit your security forces.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: The 1% better have a backup plan

          Problem with that is how you control a military that large to keep them from making YOU redundant. Plenty of juntas and military coups in history to back up that concern.

  25. Phlogistan
    Terminator

    Trade schools have been unfairly maligned for too long.

    Plumbers, pipefitters, welders, electricians, mechanics etc. etc. etc.

    Super-deluxe-3D-printing-robo-wonderbots with *true* waldoes are the stuff of science fiction dreams/nightmares. *BUT* a humans abilities for physical object manipulation will be pretty low on the tree of jobs which get taken over in the short term.

    Humans brains are amazing and the bodies are built to manipulate the world around us with stunning alacrity. Production costs are surprisingly low and replacement units can be generated through the use of unskilled labor.

    What's not to like?

    (*EVENTUALLY* the nanites will take over. But not today.)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019