admitted yesterday something that the likes of Jaron Lanier have been warning us about for some years now: he believes there's actually a race between computers and people. In fact, many among the Silicon Valley elite fervently believe in something called The Singularity. They even have a university dedicated to achieving it.
The Singularity refers to an alleged moment when machines develop their own, independent 'superintelligence' and outcompete humans to the point of extinction. Basically, humans create machines and robots, harvest the worlds data until a vast proportion of it is in the machines, and those machines start making their own machines and so on until they become autonomous. Stuart Armstrong reckons "there's an 80% probability that the singularity will occur between 2017 and 2112".
If you follow the logic, we humans will never know if the Singularity actually happened. So belief in it is an act of faith. In other words, Singularity is a religion.
Lots of horrific things have been done in the name of one religion or another. But what sets this one apart is that the believers are, by definition, actively working to eliminate the human race.
So Schmidt is being a little disingenous when he says "It's a race between computers and people - and people need to win," since he works with a bunch of people who believe the computers will definitely win, and maybe quite soon. The longer quote on FT.com suggests he added:
Well, until extinction, anyway.“I am clearly on that side [without saying which side, exactly]. In this fight, it is very important that we find the things that humans are really good at.”
Of course, the Singularity idea breaks down on a number of levels. For example, it's only a human belief that machines will achieve superintelligence. If machines were to get so smart, how would we know what they might think or do? They'd have their own ideas (one of which might be to look after their pet data sources, but more on that shortly). And there's no accounting for 'soul' or 'free will' or any of the things we regard as human, though perhaps the zealots believe those things are superfluous and the machines won't need them to evolve beyond us. Finally, this is all in the heads of the Silicon Valley elite...
Anyhow, Schmidt suggests we have to find alternatives to what machines can do and only humans are really good at. He says:
Which is intended to focus our attention away from the trick that Google and others in the Big Data world are relying on to power up their beloved machines and stuff them full of enough data to go rogue."As more routine tasks are automated, this will lead to much more part-time work in caring and creative industries. The classic 9-5 job will be redefined."
By offering some stupid humans 'free' services that suck in lots of data, Big Data can charge other stupid humans for advertising to them. That way, the machines hoover up all the humans' money and data at the same time.
This works just fine until the humans start insisting on receiving genuine value for their data.
Which is happening right now in so many ways that I'm in the process of writing a book about it.
Because it turns out humans aren't that dumb after all. We are perfectly happy to let the Silicon Valley elite build cool stuff and charge users nothing for it. Up to a point. And in the case of the Big Data platforms, we've reached that point. Now its payback time.
So don't panic. The human race is not about to go out of fashion - at least not the way Big Data is planning. Just start demanding real value for the use of your data, wherever it's being collected, stored or used. And look out for the many services that are evolving to help you do that.
You never know, but if you get a royalty of some kind every time Google touches your data, you may not need that 9 to 5 job after all... And, no, the irony is not lost on me that I am writing this into the Google machine ;-)
Image from Wikipedia