Doctors and drivers will lose jobs

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Most of us are consumed by interest in partisan politics and the effects of trade wars and inflation. None of these things  present the most serious threat ( or opportunity) to humankind in the next 25 years. All of these political and economic issues will not affect the future of the present generation who want to know what the job market will  look like in 2045. This millennial generation will be in their 50s and 60s by then. They should be at the peak or near the peak of their careers. That is if their careers will still exist by then.

 The biggest misconception of most people is that human beings will be replaced by robots. This is not true. In his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, this is what Yuval Noah Harari says:

“ Since human beings are individuals , it is difficult to connect them to one another and to make sure they are all up to date. In contrast computers aren’t individuals, and it is easy to integrate them into a single flexible network. What we are facing is not the replacement of millions of individual human workers by millions of individual robots and computers, rather individual humans are likely to be replaced by an integrated network. When considering automation, therefore, it is wrong to compare the abilities of a single human driver to that of a single human driving car or of a single human doctor to that of a single AI (i.e. artificial intelligence) doctor. Rather, we should compare the abilities of an integrated network.”

Self driving cars

In order to explain such a complex issue, Harari chose two occupations as examples – doctors and drivers. Many drivers are unfamiliar with many traffic regulations and they often violate them. Every vehicle is an autonomous unit and the two drivers might miscommunicate their intentions and the result will be a collision. On the other hand, self driving cars will be connected to one another. When two such vehicles approach the same junction, they are not separate units because they are part of a single algorithm. The chances of miscommunication  are much smaller. This makes the chances of a traffic accident much smaller. 

Another advantage is that if there is a change in traffic regulations, all self driving vehicles can be easily updated at the same time. When I think of Philippine traffic, I like the idea that all self driving cars can be programmed to follow traffic regulations to the letter. 

The usual causes for traffic accidents are drivers driving under the influence of alcohol; speeding and violating other traffic regulations; distractions like texting; fatigue;  and faulty car parts. Self driving cars will never do any of these things and will be able to immediately detect any problem in the car engine or parts like brakes. An algorithm will never get tired, distracted or try to bribe a policeman. 

Although some accidents are inevitable even by self driving cars,  experts have predicted that replacing all human drivers by computers will reduce traffic deaths and injuries by about 90 percent. 

Health care

Will AI eventually replace doctors? Like self driving cars, the potential advantages of connectivity and updatability are considered by some experts as so huge that even in healthcare it might make sense to replace all human doctors with AI even if some doctors can do a better job than machines.

If a laboratory produces a new medicine, it is almost impossible to update all human doctors in the world about these developments. Harari points out “...even if you have ten billion AI doctors in the world – each monitoring the health of a single human being – you can still update all of them within a split second, and they can all communicate to each other their feedback on the new disease or new medicine.”

 I find it difficult to imagine replacing my personal doctors with an integrated network. It seems to me that switching to computers will result in the loss of advantages of personal care. Here is what Harari says:

“You might object that by switching from individual humans to a computer network we will lose the advantages of individuality. For example, if one human doctor makes a wrong judgment, he does not kill all the patients in the world, and he does not block the development of all new medicines. In contrast, if all doctors are really just a single system , and that system makes a mistake, the results might  be catastrophic. 

An integrated computer system can maximize the advantages of connectivity without losing the benefits of individuality. You can run many alternatives algorithms on the same network, so a patient in a remote jungle village can access through her smartphone not just a single authoritative doctor but actually a hundred different AI doctors, whose relative performance is constantly being performed. You don’t like what the IBM doctor told you? No problem. Even if you are stranded somewhere on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, you can easily contact the Baidu doctor for a second opinion.

AI ( artificial intelligence)  doctors could provide better and cheaper healthcare even for those who currently do not receive health care. Thanks to learning algorithms and biometric sensors, a poor villager in an underdeveloped country might enjoy far better healthcare via her smartphone than the richest person in the world today from the most advanced urban hospital. 

Harari says it would be madness to block automation in order to protect jobs. What we want is to protect humans – not jobs. Millions of displaced drivers and doctors will have to find something else to do. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Feb 16 (1:30pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email [email protected].

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