Will computers make humans redundant? It might be the biggest question of our time. Last night Spectator Events, in partnership with Microsoft, hosted a panel discussion to answer the question ‘Will Artificial Intelligence put my job at risk?’ A fascinating and wide-ranging conversation about the technological revolution ensued.
The Spectator’s chairman Andrew Neil was joined by Microsoft’s Laboratory Director Professor Andrew Blake, journalist Bryan Appleyard, the TUC’s Nicola Smith and Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.
Professor Andrew Blake, up first, sounded an evangelical note, emphasising the positives of technological change. A distinguished scientist himself, Blake argued that artificial intelligence is already transforming our lives — at Microsoft HQ in Seattle, he revealed, they have an automated lift that senses where you want to go and a robot receptionist — and he pointed towards radical advances such as simulated language programming and driverless cars. ‘There is no doubt about it; work is going to be quite different from the way we have known it,’ he said. ‘We have something of a new industrial revolution coming our way… This technology is really here and it’s approaching commodity availability.’
Bryan Appleyard then took to the stage to denounce the very term artificial intelligence. Taking issue with Professor Blake, he said that AI didn’t exist and wouldn’t exist for the foreseeable future. He dismissed it as ‘a marketing slogan which is intended to make the subject sound more exciting.’ However, Appleyard stressed that ever more powerful computing really does pose a threat to jobs and human happiness. ‘We should unplug them at once,’ he said at one point.
Next, the TUC’s Head of Economic and Social Affairs, Nicola Smith, examined the threat AI poses to the labour market.