At the retirement center the other day, I inadvertently offended a frail, elderly woman without meaning to. Looking into her eyes, I saw the distress I’d caused and offered her a smile as well as an apology. The smile seemed to have helped. Walking away, I wondered what a robot would have done in my circumstances.
My question isn’t meant to seem bizarre for I’d just read an excerpt from Geoff Colvin’s, Humans are Underrated. In his book, he asserts that technology will make humans more humane. (Excerpted in Fortune, August 2015, pgs. 103-112.) Admittedly, the first wave of technology will be harmful to us as many jobs will be eliminated. Hardest hit will be work in factories, construction, and transportation where men dominate. (Ibid [g 104)
Social services, where women dominate, will be least affected. True, record keeping will go to robots that can do it better. But, some jobs require the human touch, not because robots couldn’t perform them, but because we are social beings, hardwired by our evolutionary past to equate personal relationships with our survival. (Ibid pg. 106)
Take judgeships, for example. A recent study showed Parole judges were more lenient in their decisions two hours before and after lunch than at other times of the day. (Ibid. pg. 105- 106) Robots don’t get hungry. Their decisions would be consistent. But few people would submit to their rulings no matter how perfectly programmed. When it comes to our fate, we want human emotions in play.
Because of this hardwiring, Colvin predicts the most prized commodity in a world overrun with robots will be empathy. People with people skills will thrive in the new market place. Empathy and cooperation, after all, were the talents that helped us defeat our predators and climb to the top of the evolutionary scale. Colvin thinks robots, performing routine tasks, will give humans the freedom to become more human. I hope he’s right. (For another view see Blog 8/11/15)
(Originally posed 9/28/15)