Rise of the Creative Robots? Not So Fast

The idea that one day everyone’s jobs would be taken over machines is nothing new. In some ways, it’s already happened. The industrial revolution displaced any number of jobs by automatic a great deal of blue collar labor.

As scientific development has expanded, though, what was once a rough economic transition for labor markets has been extrapolated in the context of AI, or artificial intelligence. From the 1921 play R.U.R. by Karel Čapek to The Matrix, there’s been plenty ink spilled on the possibility of machines eventually displacing us all — perhaps violently.

It makes for some fun entertainment, to be sure, but it’s always been readily seen as fictional. The past few years, however, have made what once seemed fanciful eerily plausible. And there’s nothing creepier than seeing a human-like robot talk about killing all mankind.



Don’t worry folks. It was a joke.

(I hope.)

That hasn’t stopped groups like the Future for Life Institute from issuing dire warnings like this one about the potential consequences of AI run amok. With big names like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking associated with the group, it’s enough to give one pause.

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But the truth is we’re still quite a ways off from robots walking among us flesh and blood humans, and even then, the idea that AI is going to take over the world is, as Dr. Michael Littman of Brown University explains, pretty far-fetched. Both quantum limits and distinctions in data processing between the human mind and computers (which, let’s be real, is how the humans win in sci-fi) provide proper constraints. As he wrote for Live Science:

[T]here are indeed concerns about the near-term future of AI — algorithmic traders crashing the economy, or sensitive power grids overreacting to fluctuations and shutting down electricity for large swaths of the population. There’s also a concern that systemic biases within academia and industry prevent underrepresented minorities from participating and helping to steer the growth of information technology. These worries should play a central role in the development and deployment of new ideas. But dread predictions of computers suddenly waking up and turning on us are simply not realistic.

But what of the jobs? Could we be facing another economic revolution of sorts, where the jobs we once thought could never be done by machines (*cough*cough* creative ones *cough*cough*) are suddenly obsolete?

After all, there are news organizations using bots to fill their pages. If journalists can be replaced, why not designers? Some believe it’s possible, particularly with web and UX design. And you heard the crazy murderous bot above: she’s interested in making art.

Well, for starters, those journalism bots are a nice trick, but they’re not journalists. They might help in terms of data collection and organization, but it’s not like they can go lean on a source to get information on a scandal, and investigative journalism still matters. Plus, these bots come with their own pitfalls. As VICE reported earlier this year:

A bot will eventually get things wrong if it is fed inaccurate information, and the bot could commit libel. If you make a bot, are you prepared to deal with the fallout when your tool does something that you yourself would not choose to do? How do you stem the spread of misinformation published by a bot? Automation and “big” data certainly afford innovative reporting techniques, but they also highlight a need for revamped journalistic ethics.

Design has its own set of issues in this context. Yes, there are different programs that might be able to aid designers in creating something useful as well as beautiful, but in the end, they’re limited by available data. Bot design isn’t going to give you something truly innovative, because it’s not going to stray from available analytics on use.

Art is inherently human, and that’s what makes for great design. As CEO of Smashing Ideas Brian Burke puts it:

[V]isual experience design should continue to challenge what potentially falls within formulaic principles for success in UX. We cannot divorce art from UX methodologies. UX design must always find that balance between art and science.

In other words, the odds of design becoming automated in a meaningful way are pretty low. You can rest easy, folks.

For now.

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