Self-Respect and Dignity for Superior Intelligence

In his article, “Labor Day 2040: What Happens When Robots Do All the Work?” Clive Irving offers a futuristic analytical opinion piece on the role of robots in the future. His main example is set in the cockpit of a plane, where pilots are being replaced by computers and algorithms that apparently don’t make mistakes. He even champions Uber for their future “Lifter service in Dallas and Los Angeles in 2020 [where] the FAA insisted that the four-seats should include one occupied by a pilot” but was surprised to find that it was unnecessary as the computer flew the plane effortlessly. He then artfully includes Amazon’s future “delivery drones” flying among the Uber Lifter services in perfect harmony.

While these examples are rich with a future that provides surety in the form of highly intelligent learning robots, something else stood out is Irving’s article. His plea for humans to refer to robots as “Superior Intelligence” as opposed to Artificial Intelligence and to give “the robots the kind of self-respect and dignity that we demand in our new infinite leisure,” was the highlight for me. These statements by Irving make me wonder if this is what work is centered around? Biblically it is written that work satisfies the soul. Proverbs 13:4 states, “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (NKJV) I believe this is the purpose of work. I remember when I got my first tax paying job as a cashier at McDonalds in high school. I worked summer youth before then, but this was different. I applied and got hired on the spot – what an accomplishment for a high-schooler in my view. I wasn’t making a lot, but I felt a sense of pride and worth, up until I felt taken advantaged of. Then I made another accomplishment, I successfully quit my first tax paying job. McDonald’s set me on the right path – striving to find employment that provide me with self-respect and dignity.

Some find pride and worth in salary and others in job requirements. I believe that this feeling is what Irving is trying to have humans afford to robots, but I don’t believe this is possible. Why? (Let’s not forget that it’s the future we are talking about here, and none of us hold a shiny ball, meaning there will be more questions than answers.) Is what Irving mentions the one area that computers and robots can’t compete with humans? A feeling of purpose? At the end of the day, robots don’t have to work to provide for themselves or a family or work to feel prideful. This is, to me, the reason for working and unfortunately, as Bob Marley states, “in this great future, you can’t forget your past,” so we can’t forget the reasons we all choose to get up and go to, or find, work. These reasons, I doubt a robot can list as their own. Of course, the question remains, can we teach a robot to feel something for, and from, the work they do? If so, then we have a game changer.

5 thoughts on “Self-Respect and Dignity for Superior Intelligence”

  1. A lot of important thoughts to capture here:
    — when to leave a job depends on your sense of “why” for a job
    — wonderful biblical context — we should think about other examples as well from literature, films, history.
    — superior intelligence v. artificial intelligence.

  2. From this post, I thought it is an important question to ask: WHO will teach emotions to a robot? I believe emotions are undefinable because they are based on personal experience; others cannot really know how you feel about a certain emotion and vice versa. Has anyone read Dan Brown’s The Origin? I would love to discuss the AI called Winston and his behavior.

    1. I believe Wataru brings up a great point – about who teaches emotions. This is a similar question that I discuss a lot in my work (transportation planning) about self-driving cars. Like the self driving planes mentioned by Arelle above they assert that they will have fewer crashes than human drivers. While this may well be true, there will still be moments when AI has to make a moral choice to avoid a crash – do I rear end a vehicle that has stopped short? Swerve into the other lane of traffic? Swerve into the bicycle lane?

      1. Raises the question of the extent to which emotions are culturally conditioned. “Keep a stiff upper lip” for instance….or the Chilean customs around kissing/hugging strangers….or the varieties of handshakes in different cultures. So who will teach the AI??

  3. I love the discussion of pride and the role of work in generating it. I too had similar feelings with my first tax paying job. More recently I have begun to think about what structures that pride in our society (why does it feel so good to earn a paycheck?). I think it may be worth talking about work ethic and it’s role in capitalism.

Leave a Reply