Hi English learners!
Lori here, your teacher from BetterAtEnglish.com. Before we get started, could I just ask you to please, please, pretty please, leave a review or some stars wherever you listen to this podcast? If you feel it benefits you, if you like it, if you get anything out of it, I would totally, totally appreciate it. Thank you. Now, let’s get on with the episode.
I’ve got a conversation episode for you today. And I’m so happy about that. It’s been a long time. In today’s episode, you’ll hear me and my American friend Will talking about automation and artificial intelligence. You’ll hear some of our questions, some of our concerns about what’s gonna happen when the machines and the computers are better than humans at our own jobs. Are you ready for your job to be taken over by robots or computers? And what do we do when all the jobs can be done by machines? How will we make a living? And where will we get our sense of identity, our sense of having a purpose and a place in life? Will and I don’t answer these questions…I don’t think anyone can actually answer them right now. But the fact is, AI is coming whether we like it or not, and it’s going to affect all of us. And nobody really knows what’s going to happen. The prospect is both super cool and super terrifying. Let’s warm by listening to a short extract from a TED talk by Sam Harris, who is a cognitive neuroscientist and philosopher who’s deeply interested in AI and what it means for humanity.
Sam Harris: I’m going to describe a scenario that I think is both terrifying and likely to occur, and that’s not a good combination, as it turns out. And yet rather than be scared, most of you will feel that what I’m talking about is kind of cool. I’m going to describe how the gains we make in artificial intelligence could ultimately destroy us. And in fact I think it’s very difficult to see how they won’t destroy us, or inspire us to destroy ourselves. And yet if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that it’s fun to think about these things. And that, that response is part of the problem. That response should worry you.
I think he sums up the way I feel about it perfectly. AI is something that seems like it’s going to be really cool and it’s going to bring a lot of good to humanity, and it’s fun to think about it, but it’s also really scary. And one of the things that’s scary about it is that people like Elon Musk…most of you know Elon Musk, right? Through SpaceX, Tesla, maybe Neuralink…I think it’s safe to say that he knows a thing or two about AI. Here’s what he had to say while speaking at the SXSW conference a couple years ago:
Elon: I’m really quite close to, very close to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me. It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows. And the rate of improvement is exponential.
So AI is capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows. And one of the scariest things about it is that the people who work with it don’t actually understand what it’s doing. Here’s Peter Haas, a robot designer who is both fascinated by and afraid of what robots mean for the future.
Peter Haas: And that’s the thing with AI algorithms, deep learning, machine learning. Even the developers who work on this stuff have no idea what it’s doing.
So, I think that was a nice introduction to the overall topic. And before I play the conversation I just want to mention that we do mention some videos In the conversation. And I’ve put links to those in the show notes which you should be able to see in your device as you’re listening to this podcast. And if you go to betteratenglish.com you’ll find the full transcript, that’s every single word that I say in this podcast and every single word of the conversation, plus links to the videos, links to supporting articles, links to the extracts that I played if you want to know more. So, lots of supplementary material to help you get more out of this conversation and to do a deep dive into the topic of AI and artificial intelligence. So, that was quite a long introduction.
Yeah, Lori, come on! Get to the conversation!
OK, OK, OK. Here it comes. Here comes the conversation. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Will: You know, automation is the, is the kind of thing where over the years you just…you kind of…you know, you kind of see it maybe in certain areas of your life, and you never stop to think because it’s just such a profound concept.
Will: What happens…you know, we live in a world where, from the time that we’re born to the time that you know, we grow old, we’re, we’re so regimented in just having a craft or, you know, working and just, you know, living a purposeful life. And I think that the way, the way that people translate, living a purposeful life, quite often goes back to, you know, what they do for a living…
Will: …or the type of work that they do. And, you know, the pride that is taken in in doing work. And the technology in the past, I mean, probably the past 10 years or five years, the, the technology is, is getting us to a point where we have types of automation that we’ll be able to replace simple, basic or, or even advanced jobs that would traditionally provide work for people…
Will: …that live in a society. And I think that, you know, you mentioned that it’s scary and I’ve…I think that it is, but it’s I think it’s scary in many different ways, because first everyone, you know what everybody thinks of Terminator and the robots taking over the world and, you know, the machines. But once you get past that, you start to realize that the reality of it is, look at cars. And… one moment.…
[Will is interrupted by his boss coming into the room]
Boss: You guys, we’re leaving.
Will to boss: I’m ready.
Boss: Just be visible.
Will to boss: Okay. No, I’m already on a plan with Mike to be out there on the desk.
Boss: Okay. [Exits the room]
Will to Lori: Sorry, boss man walked in.
Lori: You doing this at work?
Will: Oh, yeah, of course. Come on. We’re multitasking.
Lori: This this is not considered cyber loafing?
Will: No, no,
Lori: Okay. Okay,
Will: I take this is this is my leisure time today, which of course, of course I am provided, and how appropriate that it happens in in the middle of the conversation of work and automation and the direction we’re heading.
Lori: Yeah, yeah. Because we’re gonna get to multitasking too, I’m sure. But anyway, you were talking about cars.
Will: Yes. So…
Lori: …and artificial intelligence.
Will: So I think that the second layer of scariness is once you get over self-aware robots harming or hurting humans or bringing destruction to humanity, the reality of it is, is that we’re entering a kind of cool phase where cars for example, if you can get a car to drive or maneuver for itself or especially a truck, if it gets into, let’s just say if you have 1000 of them driving on the road and one of them crashes, you would see it on the news. It would be a big, scary headline: “Self driving car crashes into…” you know, whatever.
Will: And yet at the same time, so many accidents occur a year by man-, you know, human driven vehicles.
Lori: Sure, sure, I think isn’t it one of the leading causes of death in people? Like in most most adults, I think up to a certain age? I think traffic is one of the one of the top causes of death. Yeah, yeah, I’m not sure exactly where it ranks, but I know it’s up there.
Will: Yes. And so, you know, the the natural, the logical thing to eventually conclude is that if one robot car, let’s just call them, crashes out of 1000 that is far less than the rate of human driven vehicles. So that would already be a safer, more efficient way for a vehicle to operate.
Will: And when you apply that on a large scale, I mean the transportation industry, when you have you know, these guys that are making good money, bringing money home, putting dinner on the table, putting a roof over their family’s head, they’re driving trucks for long periods of time. And their employers have to worry about risks like them, getting tired, having to stop to rest. You know, there’s all these logistics and financial aspects behind human truck drivers. So even something as simple as you know, automating the transport industry would have a devastating effect on the amount of jobs that can now be done by automation more efficiently without having to pay for salaries or benefits. And it starts to, of course, be a good thing for society. I mean, why not? Why wouldn’t we want more efficient ways to do tasks that traditionally could, you know, maybe cause harm to people or accidents? And the, the financial impact that it’s going to have on companies that no longer need to provide salaries? I mean, I just feel like it, it just makes sense. It makes sense for the consumer, it makes sense for the employer. And the inevitable — which we move on to the next thing — the inevitable issue becomes, “What do we do with all of these people that are literally unemployable?” simply through the natural process of replacing the jobs that they do with automated systems that can…
Will: …run the trucks.
Lori: Yeah, I think that’s the thing that most people are kind of wringing their hands about is, you know, we do still have a lot of people who are basically doing jobs that, you know, are not difficult to learn, you know, things that machines can’t do yet. You… that …you still just need a basic human being to do them.
Lori: And what happens if all those jobs go away? What are all those people gonna do, how are they gonna, you know, provide for themselves and, and, and live?
Lori: So I think that’s the scary thing because, you know, going back to that video that you posted ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyfxP6ZyNtw ), I watched it and it’s based on….I mean, it was very funny…the guy is obviously…the guy who made it…he’s trying to be, I think more entertaining than anything else.
Will: Yes, of course. It’s a tough one to swallow as it is.
Lori: Yeah, yeah. And even so, he made some interesting points at the end, but I guess it’s based on an academic study from some people from Oxford and Yale (Original study: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1705.08807.pdf , summary by World Economic forum https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/this-is-when-robots-will-start-beating-humans-at-every-task-ae5ecd71-5e8e-44ba-87cd-a962c2aa99c2 ), where they have gone out and surveyed…I don’t know how many, but they’ve surveyed experts in the field of AI and done some kind of review of a lot of the research in that area trying to make predictions about what is going to be happening with AI in the in the coming years.
Lori: And if you look at the.. some of the things they’re predicting, it’s it’s hard not to be scared even though I, I like you, I think that there are also a lot of good things, the potential…there’s a potential for a lot of good things.
Will: Yes. Absolutely.
Lori: And it’s really gonna depend on, you know, how people feel about it and think about it, and you know, how we plan for it. But at the same time, it’s, it’s really scary to, for example, what was one of the ones? Let me see…I have the graph in front of me actually, from the actual study. That…the one of the scariest things…that the full automation of labor of all human jobs, apparently there’s a 50% chance that that’s going to happen within the next 125 years.
Lori: So full automation. Of all labor of all human jobs.
Lori: And you know, that’s not going to be in our lifetime. So, you know, it’s not something we have to directly worry about. But when you think about that the trend is going that way…you know, it is something that humanity, I think, needs to plan for and take seriously.
Will: It’s a tough issue and it you know, it starts to become, you know, dip dip, it starts to dip into philosophical and political viewpoints that we have all, you know, kind of formed societally and on our own, but it really I think, falls down to what our leaders and our governmental infrastructures are going to be able to come together and decide to do to address this massive cultural shift into a time where In all of these endless benefits that we could spend hours, you know, going over that automation will provide, there that becomes the issue of, how will a a man or a woman, what will this person then do to earn? See, we use that word earn, it’s programmed into our brain, you have to earn it.
Lori: Yup. Exactly.
Will: What will they do to provide for their family? To you know…it’s…how would I say it? You know, right now there’s, there’s people that we perceive to work hard, that have, you know, a nice living with cars and big homes and healthcare…
Will: …and everything that they need. And then, you know, a lot of times we perceive that people that don’t have these things may not work as hard as that individual and…
Will: …of course, we understand that that’s not how the world truly works. You can’t judge the content of one’s character solely based on the amount of money that they earned. But all of these things are a part of the conversation that has to happen in order to address the direction that we must move in as a society to address something that is already here and already affecting us.
END PART 1
Hi again! That’s the end of part 1 of this conversation about artificial intelligence. I encourage you to go to the website and grab the free transcript, which has every word that we say transcribed for you to study. I’ve also put links to the videos and all things that we mention right in the transcript, right at the point where we mention them, so that you can look for yourself. I think that will help you get more out of the conversation.
If you have specific questions about any grammar, vocabulary or other things you’ve noticed in the conversation, feel free to ask me directly. You can find all the ways to get in touch with me on the website. That’s www.betteratenglish.com.
I’ll be back soon with part two of this conversation, and in that one we continue talking about artificial intelligence and we also dip into the idea that social media itself is a huge A.I. and it’s made up of all of us individually, all of our individual brains, all interacting and working together to sort of shape our reality. That’s some pretty heavy stuff, but I hope it doesn’t bum you all out. I’m actually as as excited about AI and automation and all the wonderful things it can bring as I am terrified that we’re not yet evolved enough as a species to use it for the good. So that’s all for this time. I’ll see you soon again with part two of the conversation about AI and artificial intelligence. Until next time, here’s wishing you an inspired and productive day. Bye for now!
Additional resources and supplementary material
Humans need not apply
Video about how automation and AI will affect the job market for humans
Robots will beat humans at every task
Traffic death statistics
Dirty, Dirty robots.
Funny (but still disturbing) video about AI from comedian Lee Camp
Link to original Yale / Oxford study about A.I.
This is for learners of academic English. People in the videos about A.I. summarize findings from this study. This is the actual academic study for comparison.
Elon musk on the Joe Rogan podcast, talking about A.I.
Elon Musk’s talk at SXSW
Ted talk with neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris
Sam Harris on the Joe Rogan Podcast
TED talk by Peter Haas A robot designer who is afraid of robots
The Real Reason to be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence
How frightened should be be of AI?
Article in the New Yorker, free, with full text and audio so you can read along as you listen.