There is a fierce debate about what AI and improved robotics are going to do to humans’ productivity and the future of work.
Opponents are afraid that humans will be out of work. Proponents say that robots will allow humans to focus on what makes us unique.
Proponents are right.. For now.
Actually, what is happening is, the value chain of human production systems which places value on the unique capabilities of humans is being disrupted.
In many circumstances that are currently served by humans, human capability has surpassed the needs of the customer. This “overshooting” of market needs creates the perfect condition for a disruption, in this case (increasingly) intelligent automation.
The “low end” of human labor is being replaced by less capable, but fully satisfactory, intelligent robots.
As the theory predicts, this feels good for the humans who are being disrupted. By leaving the low-end production tiers to the robots, humans can focus on what they are uniquely capable of doing: Creative work. Everybody wins. For now.
Based on what the theory of disruption would predict (as I have interpret it), I believe that humans will greatly benefit by being driven upmarket, one final time.
Machines drove humans out of manual physical labor. This felt good and multiplied output and productivity.
Machines drove humans out of low-end manual intellectual labor, such as performing simple rinse-and-repeat administrative tasks. Again, it felt great for the human race as productivity multiplied.
Machines are now in full force, speedily making inroads at high-end administrative labor, such as driving, data management, predicting and making rules-based decisions. It is scary, but will ultimately again feel great, as humans will be able to do the one thing that gives us ultimate pleasure and that machines will not yet be able to do: High-end creative labor.
For a time, it will be fantastic. The yay-sayers are right. At the next stage of our being disrupted, humans and machines together will work together, humans outsourcing to machines what machines do best, and focusing themselves on creative direction. Together, we will increase living standards, and be able to use work to fulfill ourselves rather than be stuck in a menial, repetitive, meaningless job.
But there is not more tier. After creativity, humans will not have anything that machines lack. Machines will get there. It may take long, really long time. Or it may take only two decades.
And when it does happen, we will have nowhere else to go. Nothing else that we can do, that machines can’t. And depending on how we have shaped our co-existence with machines when that happens, things may go really well, or really bad.