‘Humans need not apply’ by Jerry Kaplan

Touch to the Future©Getty

Imagine a world in which sex workers are replaced by robots, responding not just to human touch but also to conversation. Not so outlandish. New Jersey-based True Companion has developed lifelike interactive sex dolls — both male (named Rocky) and female (Roxxxy). The company’s founder, Douglas Hines, who previously worked in artificial intelligence at Bell Labs, has said: “Roxxxy can carry on a discussion and expresses her love to you. She can talk, listen and feel your touch.”

Sex robots are a vivid example of technology replacing humans. Carl Benedikt Frey, an economist, and Michael Osborne, a machine-learning expert, both of Oxford university, predict that 47 per cent of US jobs are at high risk from automation. The future is fast-approaching when automated vehicles will replace drivers; mechanised strawberry pickers that can identify ripe fruit are already out in the fields. But these are mechanical tasks that require low-level skills, right? Cerebral professions are safe, surely? No, points out Jerry Kaplan in his new book, Humans Need Not Apply .


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“Automation is blind to the colour of your collar,” he writes. Lawyers are under threat, for example, by the legal tech start-up, FairDocument, Kaplan notes. Or Judicata, which uses machine learning and converts text — such as legal principles or cases — into structured information that can be used to find relevant case law. “An increasing number of start-ups are bypassing restraints on how and by whom law can be practised by offering automated legal advice . . . they may employ a small staff of attorneys to ‘review’ documents before they are released to clients.”

Stanford University offers a legal informatics course, taught by both the law school and computer science departments. This is a subject dear to Kaplan’s heart as the entrepreneur teaches on the course. He is in a strong position to observe that the rapid changes in the jobs market are making the traditional educational model seem obsolete.

The book is good at summarising the changes to the job market hastened by technology. There are examples of techno-threats that are new, to me at least. For example, Kaplan’s suggestion that part of a sales assistant’s role could become redundant. Trying on an outfit? Instead of asking a sales assistant if you look nice, why not take a snapshot of yourself and seek crowdsourced opinions? That said, throwing myself on the mercy of a paid sales assistant seems preferable to anonymous reviewers.

Kaplan also sidesteps the usual arguments of techno-optimism and dystopia, preferring to go for pragmatic solutions to a shrinking pool of jobs. He makes the point that it is important to tackle some of the moral issues created by artificial intelligence before it is too late.

This book is a clearly-written introduction to the threat of automation. His proposed solutions are less certain, however. Kaplan suggests a “job mortgage”, secured on your future income. It seems to put a lot of faith in employers who would take much of the risk. Yet there is no certainty they will be in a position to do so.

The reviewer is a writer for Business Life at the FT

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Source: ‘Humans need not apply’ by Jerry Kaplan

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