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The JC pontificates about technology

An occasional series.

Who do you think you are, Boris Spaskisaurus?

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A complicated, but not complex, system. Therefore not a great grounds for concluding that software is going to eat the world and turn we mortal meatsacks into battery-pods for Skynet, but that won’t stop Daniel Susskind from leaping to just that conclusion anyway.

Will chess-playing AI chatbots take your job, or is this just a lazy analogy? Well, it’s mainly lazy. Ask yourself: “is my job like chess?” If it is, you should get your coat. The sooner you start looking for a job that isn’t, the better.

Is your job like Chess?
Feature Chess Not Chess
Complexity Complicated. Complex.
Number of players Two
Rules Simple. Static. Common. Unclear, changing, often differing between players, incomplete, liable to change without warning.
Logic Fully logical. Basically irrational, except by accident.
Outcome zero-sum non-zero sum
Data All relevant data available to both players at all times. Incomplete, mainly absent. What data there is will be ambiguous, unevenly distributed, and may only emerge once it is too late.
Language Mathematical. No scope for ambiguity Ambiguous, metaphorical; requiring interpretation and psychology.
Boundaries Entirely bounded: two players, 8 x 8 board, 16 pieces each. None. Whatever you bring to the party.

Now, it is true that algorithms, and combinations of algorithms, can help crunch data and provide you with information that you might not otherwise have that give you more tools for making those value judgments that wicked environments impose on you. But while you’re fiddling around with your kit, the other guy might just have already shot you, you know?

And in any case, this is no different to how humans have used technology since the plough. Ploughs don’t plough fields by themselves, after all — and they can’t help us with when, or which field, to plough. You are still needed.

So, truck drivers: time to start thinking about a new career now, because in ten years’ time you are going to be in a tight spot. Lawyers — there’s a bit more lead time for you.

See also