Friday, February 10, 2012

Q: What is the dirty little secret of unemployment?

A: Robots

OK, I’ll admit it. I have a competency issue when it comes to grammar and punctuation. Getting the quotation marks, commas and clauses to work correctly is an ongoing challenge for me. If it wasn't for the solace I find by knowing that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a less than perfect speller, I'd probably hang it up as a purveyor of words and wit.

But, F. Scott was and I will not.

Still, I do want to improve.

A few weeks ago I enlisted the help of an experienced English composition teacher to go over my work and show me the errors of my ways. Our relationship was established via my Gmail account. I wrote him an email asking if he’d like to edit and proofread some of my work. He wrote back, yes. We had a few additional email exchanges to get the ball rolling.

During the exchange of emails, I notice a littled advertisement at the top of my Gmail account telling me about a product named, Grammarly. I clicked the advertising link and went to the Grammarly site. It turns out that, for a nominal fee, Grammarly’s artificial intelligence will analyze my writing for grammar and punctuation errors, tell me the errors and suggest corrections.

I figured, what the hell and signed up for a seven-day free trial, with credit card verification. Turns out the service is useful. If I were a college student, it would be an essential tool that I’d need to stay viable in the impersonal competition that has become modern education.

Later in the evening, after a session with Grammarly, I got to thinking about Bill Joy’s article in Wired a few years back, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. Joy’s position is essentially this: in the future human beings will be nothing more than food for computing machines, a.k.a., robots.

So, let’s look at my recent experience through Joy’s lens. I was using Gmail, an emailing system run by robots. A robot, in complete adherence to Google's privacy policies, inspected my emails and found that I had an interest in improving my ability to write. The robot selected and inserted an advertisement about a product that acutely matched my need. The advertised product is a service run by a robot. The agent that took my money was a robot. The agent that provided my money? A robot.

A lot of the world is run by robots. In the years to come, more robots will run more of the world, not less. So, what is a human to do? Well, one thing that humans will not be doing is the work of robots. Robots work faster and are cheaper to employ than the human model, 24/7, without bathroom breaks.

As more robots are put to work, more humans will be sitting at home watching big screen TV’s and searching for a morsel of human connection via robotically controlled social media. They will not be able to make sense of a world in which they are no longer needed and can no longer make a contribution

Another group of humans will be giving robots more capabilities that were once the realm of human activity. I mean, it’s only a matter of time until Amazon makes a shipping center that is fully automated, void of human presence.

And, another group of people will be sitting in Washington arguing about how to make America productive again. Only the sad fact is that America will be plenty productive. It's just that human beings won't be doing the producing, except for babies made in between breaks from PS3 and Xbox sessions. Over time, as the idle grow, we'll come to understand that there really is a benefit in putting birth control in the water supply. At that point, a robot will have two more things to do, determining who gets to have a baby and then, delivering the pill that allows it to happen.

PS: The piece was published by a robot and has a Grammarly score of 83 out of 100.