The Role of Artificial Intelligence

I just happened across this quotation in one of Bret Victor’s Essays earlier today.

In the spring and summer of 1957… I tried to keep track of what one moderately technical person [myself] actually did during the hours he regarded as devoted to work… About 85 per cent of my “thinking” time was spent getting into a position to think, to make a decision, to learn something I needed to know. Much more time went into finding or obtaining information than into digesting it. Hours went into the plotting of graphs and other hours into instructing an assistant how to plot. When the graphs were finished, the relations were obvious at once, but the plotting had to be done in order to make them so… Throughout the period I examined, in short, my “thinking” time was devoted mainly to activities that were essentially clerical or mechanical: searching, calculating, plotting, transforming, determining the logical or dynamic consequences of a set of assumptions or hypotheses, preparing the way for a decision or an insight.

  • J.C.R. Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis” (1960).

The goal of Artificial Intelligence, and in many ways computing as a field, is to remove the busy work. To remove the clerical from the equation leaving us to glean greater insights. In this way, I don’t think of Artificial Intelligence as taking away the jobs created by such tasks, instead creating thousands of new fields waiting for people to leap in and explore. This does, however, require a shift in thinking, from looking for steady reliable incomes to experimenting with different fields and taking on projects as opposed to careers. When people choose to devote themselves fully to a new idea and have the help of an AI to aid their research and learning, people will create more, and enjoy their work and the work of others more.

The result of such a system is less of a safety net, and overall less certainty, the huge upside is huge reductions in time lost, more interesting and challenging problems being answered, and everyone having more freedom to pursue their interests.