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AI Is Not Taking Away Our Jobs — Because It Can’t Do Them

Robert J. Marks talks with KSCJ talk show host Mark Hahn about HAL 9000 and the opportunities and fundamental limits of AI
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In the “Top Gun, HAL 9000, and Jobs of the Future” podcast (September 15, 2022), WBC director Robert J. Marks discusses whether AI is sucking up all our jobs with talk show host Mark Hahn, who can be heard on KSCJ in Sioux City, Iowa. Dr. Marks, author of Non-Computable You is a professor of computer engineering at Baylor University and a pioneer of AI swarm intelligence. This is the second half of the podcast.

A partial transcript, notes, and Additional Resources follow.

Mark Hahn: Dr. Marks, artificial intelligence is something that many people have fantasized on a science fiction level; many shows have been about that. Of course, in Space Odyssey 2001, HAL took over, and that’s what scared people about artificial intelligence. Are we going to be making computers that are smarter than us?

Robert J. Marks: No. Absolutely not. And I don’t know if HAL 2000 was smarter than the people. I think it was just programmed incorrectly. It was programmed to put the mission before human life. And I don’t know if it was actually took over in any sense.

Note: HAL 9000 “was an incredibly knowledgeable AI system that was given one simple order: to make sure that the ship reached its destination at Jupiter.” – (VillainsWiki) As Dr. Marks notes, AI has no natural ethical system so HAL did not hesitate to plot the deaths of crew members in order to guide the ship to its destination: “At one point on the trip from Earth to Jupiter, HAL becomes suspicious that the crew might be sabotaging the mission. HAL then purposely tries to kill all the crew. The most logical explanation for this act is a coding error. HAL was programmed to operate on the basis that the mission took priority over human life. By contrast, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov did not allow his AI to kill. In his work, I, Robot, Asimov proposes three laws for robotics. The first is:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

If HAL were constrained by this or a similar instruction, there would be no attempts at killing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey would be a much less interesting movie.” – “Could HAL 9000 ever be built? (Mind Matters News)

HAL pulls the plug on cryogenically frozen crew members.

Mark Hahn: Well, there’ve been other books too, along the same line, where man makes a computer, he keeps improving the computer; finally, he wants to have it have a little bit of intelligence on its own, based on, of course, the information that you put into it. And that’s what computers are: garbage in, garbage out. If you put good things in there and you build the formats properly for what you want to do, it stays within those parameters. It doesn’t go outside, just as you just discussed.

Mark Hahn

Robert J. Marks: That’s a very good illustration. The idea is that computers and artificial intelligence can take their training data and they can interpolate. They can look inside the box, but they don’t have the creative ability to think outside the box.

Mark Hahn: Are future humans doomed to be replaced by artificial intelligence? And of course you said emphatically, “No.” But what will it replace? Will it replace travel agents? Right now, you certainly have online travel sites that are set up. And you can book in your own travel; you don’t need an agent.

Robert J. Marks: You have to ask yourself, can a certain job be described by an algorithm, meaning a step-by-step procedure for doing something? That’s certainly true for travel agents. They go through step-by-step procedures. You hear other things: toll booth operators, for example. They’re totally gone because they just did a simple algorithm.

Robert J. Marks: So, if your task could be defined by an algorithm, your job is in danger of being replaced by artificial intelligence. But if your position requires sentience, if it requires creativity, if it requires understanding, you’re probably in less danger of artificial intelligence taking over.

What is going to happen eventually is, artificial intelligence is going to be a tool. And that’s all artificial intelligence is. It’s a tool. It’s a tool which can be used by different professions to do a better job. But it isn’t going to replace them…

I would also say that artificial intelligence is going to introduce new jobs. Today we have all of these people that make their living on TikTok … or some of these other social media. And we have people that work for Google that do all the censoring of the content. Not a good job. But nevertheless, these are jobs created by artificial intelligence and technology. So, I guess I’m a big believer in free enterprise. And it might be painful, but I think that we’re going to adapt …

Note: The Employment Situation Summary compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for September 2, 2022, reports that “Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 315,000 in August, and the unemployment rate rose to 3.7 percent … Notable job gains occurred in professional and business services, health care, and retail trade.” 3.7% is not at high unemployment rate, especially if we factor in job changes, etc. If AI is indeed taking all our jobs, it is rather slow about it.

Robert J. Marks: When I was a boy and you made a long distance call, if you went to a payphone, you had to put nickels and quarters in it. And today, I can do FaceTime. I’ve done this simultaneously with somebody in Sweden and another person in Colombia. It’s just like we’re in the same room. AI does incredible things.

But as I mentioned in the beginning, there’s certain walls that it’s never going to go through. And I think some of those walls are things like The Terminator and The Matrix. Those things are never going to happen.

Mark Hahn: Well, that’s true. Are we ever going to have AI campaign managers in political campaigns? Here we are, coming up to the midterms…

Robert J. Marks: I think AI is going to be a tool in this sort of thing. But one of the things that AI doesn’t have is creativity. And you can talk about not only campaign managers but, say, a commander in the field.

Now, campaign managers and a commander in the military field are going to face scenarios that they’ve never seen before. CEOs of companies do the same thing too. Now, the AI has to be trained in that scenario. If it sees a scenario that it hasn’t seen before and it’s outside the box, if you will, it doesn’t know what to do. But people, campaign managers and commanders in the field in the military field are going to have to react and assess situations that they’ve never seen before and adapt to them. And no, I don’t think artificial intelligence will ever do that. Now, AI might be used as a tool by these people that can give them forecast and suggestions of things to do. But the final decision will always lie with the human.

Here’s the first part of the podcast: Marks tells Medved: Top Gun (2022) is way out of date Computer science prof Robert J. Marks argues in Non-Computable You, that in the 21st century, drones offer significant advantages over fighter pilots. But he also warns talk show host Michael Medved, AI is brittle and the ethics factor must be built in. It takes human intelligence to do that.

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AI Is Not Taking Away Our Jobs — Because It Can’t Do Them