Bill Nye Says Robots Aren’t Going to Kill Us, But They Still Might Kill Our Jobs

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In a new Big Think video Bill Nye addresses the coming robot apocalypse. Is it going to be more Terminator 2 or more Wall-E? Or what if it’s just a Jetsons-esque transformation of the home and workplace? I for one could go for a robot maid with a strong personality (roomba’s don’t talk back and honestly, I think that’s a shame). Maybe the future of robots is just a boring, slow integration — just like what’s already happening.

According to Nye, worrying about a robot apocalypse in the sense of full on murder machines is foolish. He calls it a “first world problem,” the kind of thing that only people with too much leisure time can come up with, and a “fabulous science fiction premise.” Sure AI is getting smarter and robots are getting more agile, but even “if we can build a computer smart enough to figure out it needs to kill us, we can unplug it.”Are robots going to try to kill us? Unlikely. But accidents happen. While there’s no need for paranoia, we should all, designers and consumers alike, be thoughtful about the best applications for AI and robotics.

AIs already play a huge role in public transit and other forms of mass transportation, including flights and shipping, and they do so largely without issue. When they malfunction they can cause disruptions, it’s true, but we can always do as Nye suggests: just unplug them. However, Uber’s dream of a fleet of driverless cars on endless trips is a bit different — a system-wide malfunction could cause immediate danger to passengers, motorists and pedestrians. Unlike international container ships or passenger planes, there’s no human backup on board ready to take the wheel. Transportation though, is an ideal application of both AI and robotics. The international shipping system is increasingly automated, allowing for ships to scale up their capacity, and for better data on a system with so many complex (literally) moving parts.

He goes on to say that all this worry about killer robots is distracting from more important things. There are 2 billion people on this planet without electricity. They are not concerned about [a rogue AI deciding] to crash subway cars and kill people.” And he’s right — global inequality continues to be a huge economic and development issue. It’s also true that the handwaving about robots and AI taking our jobs doesn’t have the same impact in all markets — especially not in informal, by-hand industries. But despite that obvious disparity, the increasing reliance on robots and AI in all forms of industry presents a threat to low-skilled labour even in regions with low labour costs. It’s not an economic shift that is skipping the global south, but rather one that is shaping the whole world.

Check out the whole video below for Nye’s thoughts on how robots and AI aren’t going to kill us.

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