Robot Takeover? Get Creative, Chomsky Says

We can't predict when robots will replace us, but it may be sooner than you expect.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Danger/Flickr

Wondering how secure your current job is due to robots infiltrating the workforce? Noam Chomsky has some answers, but you probably won’t like them.

According to Chomsky, it’s only a matter of time before robots can perform high level jobs. The MIT professor is totally cool with the robots being smarter, in many ways, than people, himself included. 

“For example, when I look at an x-ray, I don’t see anything," Chomsky began. "[But] if a trained radiologist looks at it, they see something. Now, it’s conceivable that whatever the trained radiologist is doing could be programmed in such a way that I could put it into my computer and it would enable me to see what the trained radiologist is doing. That’s fine. That could be useful, not for me, but for a doctor somewhere who’s not a trained radiologist."

Chomsky believes, "just as it’s perfectly possible that robots can replace your labor on assembly lines," everything else that trained radiologist is doing could be potentially programmable, which "frees humans up to do more creative things."

That's where the revolution should be headed at least. But, of course, it's hard to make sure the technology is used for good. 

"If it’s used to free up the workforce for more creative work, say controlling production, making decisions about it, finding creative ways to act and so on, then it’s for the good," Chomsky explained. "If it’s used to maximize profit and throw people into the trash can, then it’s not good."

Chomsky was first hired at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to work on a mechanical translation project in 1955, and to teach linguistics and philosophy.

"I basically had no recognized profession, but they were willing to appoint me in the research lab to work on a program on machine translation," Chomsky said.

"There was still a belief at the time that if enough was understood about what a translator does, you could program it, and that you would get through machine translation. I felt then as I do now that that was pie-in-the-sky; we didn’t understand it that much. And over the years, that has turned out to be true. That Google has a translator, which is kind of useful if you want to get the rough idea but it doesn’t give any insight into the nature of translation."

But we're getting closer. This week, MIT researchers told AP that, "a computer that binge-watched YouTube videos and TV shows such as 'The Office,' 'Big Bang Theory' and 'Desperate Housewives' learned how to predict whether the actors were about to hug, kiss, shake hands or slap high fives — advances that eventually could help the next generation of artificial intelligence function less clumsily."

"The findings — two years in the making at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory — will be presented at next week's International Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Las Vegas," AP reported

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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