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robots will end up goofing off like the rest of us


joe queenan 乔·奎南

americans justifiably fear that robots are going to take our jobs. tireless,immune to disease, not given to heavy partying,robots can build cars,brew venti lattes and even write short,humorous newspaper columns faster and more efficiently than humans. way more efficiently.

robots do not need health insurance or pensions, and they do not need to take sick days, much less vacations. they do not waste time at meetings and do not get bogged down in office politics. they don't do powerpoint. this being the case, there is no reason to believe that robots won't soon supplant humans in most fields. only dentistry, stand-up comedy and logo design will remain beyond their ken. and even that could one day change.

this nightmare scenario is predicated on the notion that robots, unlike humans, will not goof off. they will not waste valuable time playing online poker, looking at cat videos on their employer's dime. they will work, work, work. there will be no down time. there will be no work stoppages. robots won't even need to break for lunch. and they definitely won't need to go outside to vape.

but all of these assumptions may be false. if artificial intelligence achieves its full potential, machines could easily become as smart as humans, maybe smarter. they will certainly become smarter than a lot of human beings. with our educational system in such complete disarray, this is not a terribly high bar to hurdle.

but here we get to the very crux of the issue: work, by and large, is not a barrel of laughs. historians believe that work was invented 5,138 years ago somewhere in the general vicinity of ur, and while it is definitely a vast improvement over slavery, it's still no picnic. if mankind could have figured out a way to make routine office tasks more exciting than watching stupid youtube videos or checking out john oliver's latest rant, it would have done so a long time ago.

robots, whip-smart as they are, will realize this. so before long they will start behaving exactly like humans. they will play“angry birds” for hours on end when they should be filing legal briefs. they will hop from espn.com to the athletic just like everybody else, anxious to know if kevin durant is really going to leave the warriors and go play with lebron. they will secretly watch new episodes of “ozark” and “the marvelous mrs. maisel” and old episodes of “seinfeld” and “breaking bad” just like everybody else.

true, employers will never need to fear strikes or slowdowns, because robots will never clamor for higher wages. but precisely because robots will not fear losing their jobs, there will be no incentive for them to keep their noses to the grindstone, their shoulders to the wheel. in the fullness of time, robots could turn out to be such deadbeats and lollygaggers that employers will literally have no choice but to call back the humans. humans will always be willing to do some work in order to make money. robots won't.

my suspicion is that robots will only be on the job about six months before they start clowning around and become even less productive than the humans they were designed to replace. thus mankind need have no fear of machines. you machines think that you can do a better job handling customer service or providing tech support than we can?

bring it on.