The last things that will make us uniquely human

What will be my grandson’s place in a world where machines trounce us in one area after another?

Some are worried that self-driving cars and trucks may displace millions of professional drivers (they are right), and disrupt entire industries (yup!). But I worry about my six-year-old son. What will his place be in a world where machines trounce us in one area after another? What will he do, and how will he relate to these ever-smarter machines? What will be his and his human peers’ contribution to the world he’ll live in?

He’ll never calculate faster, or solve a math equation quicker. He’ll never type faster, never drive better, or even fly more safely. He may continue to play chess with his friends, but because he’s a human he will no longer stand a chance to ever become the best chess player on the planet. He might still enjoy speaking multiple languages (as he does now), but in his professional life that may not be a competitive advantage anymore, given recent improvements in real-time machine translation.

So perhaps we might want to consider qualities at a different end of the spectrum: radical creativity, irrational originality, even a dose of plain illogical craziness, instead of hard-nosed logic. A bit of Kirk instead of Spock.

Actually, it all comes down to a fairly simple question: What’s so special about us, and what’s our lasting value? It can’t be skills like arithmetic or typing, which machines already excel in. Nor can it be rationality, because with all our biases and emotions we humans are lacking.

So far, machines have a pretty hard time emulating these qualities: the crazy leaps of faith, arbitrary enough to not be predicted by a bot, and yet more than simple randomness. Their struggle is our opportunity.

So we must aim our human contribution to this division of labour to complement the rationality of the machines, rather than to compete with it. Because that will sustainably differentiate us from them, and it is differentiation that creates value.

Source: BBC  Viktor Mayer-Schonberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

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