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The real life or fantasy?

With Christmas well and truly out of the way, it’s time to look to the future, but should we be worried about what the future holds or embrace it head on?

It seems so long ago now that the family sat around and enjoyed each other’s company, watched the Queen, ate like a prince, and partied like it was 1999 (worst link ever? – I tried).

The coming together of people does something to us as humans. We are sociable beings by nature. Head back to the days of cavemen, we would have sat around and ate, grunted at each other, and mumbled our way through the day. Admittedly, some of us still do that, but the key message here is that we benefit from human contact. Talking therapies are prescribed for those with anxiety and depression because being able to talk through your circumstances can help.

Why then are we so insistent on trying to stop that contact? I recently heard a programme on the radio discussing the progression of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The constant message that was being banded around was that ‘we must not fear change’ (‘Morality in the 21st Century, BBCR4), but listening to the interviews, you can’t help feel a bit anxious by the speed at which things are developing.

We already have vehicles that can drive themselves because we’re incapable of pressing a clutch and turning a wheel at the same time, boxes that can play music and turn on light switches because we’ve forgotten how to use our hands, and doorbells that can speak to our visitors without us doing a thing because ultimately, who wants to get up and open a door? Not at home? Tough. Their problem, not yours. They can come again another day.

I sound a scrooge, but how would you feel about robots replacing your GP? One participant in the discussion made it clear that you cannot get the same empathy from a robot as you can from a human. You think? Imagine if I went for some routine test results and was met with ‘Computer Error. You are pregnant.’ As a male, I’d be somewhat perturbed. Slightly overweight, but pregnant. Ha! This computer could make such catastrophic errors that it could diagnose a life-threatening illness and throw you into a spiral of depressive and suicidal thoughts, when all along it was just an ingrowing toenail.

What will be the point in having children?

I’ll admit, human error can occur, GP’s get it wrong, but I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. Probably the discussion that hit me the most was the way that more and more parents are not interacting with their children but instead leaving them with Alexa or Siri who will read them a bedtime story. What’s that about? Can’t you even manage to turn a page in a book now? Bedtime is a key time to connect with your child, settle them for the night, and a time for you to focus on what is surely the most important part of your life. One participant put it bluntly – if we keep leaving our children with tech and allow AI to deal with them, not only are we missing out on their lives, but what will be the point in having children?

Ask any parent and they will tell you that their child is the most precious thing to them. Why leave them with a robot then? The discussion turned to the fact that robots/AI would have a kill switch, but what happens if there isn’t one, or it breaks, doesn’t work, whatever? Surely we are throwing ourselves open to recreating the Terminator film? AI could kill our children.

Now before I fall off my soapbox, we need to put things into perspective. AI and tech developments can be useful. I’ll admit that. Email and Facebook are very useful tools with which to connect with people, and AI is used on these systems to help filter out the spam and help you see the information you need or want to see (or at least what it thinks you want to see), but we need to get the balance right and know when enough is enough.

One interviewee said they were excited by the prospect of being able to clone themselves because they could appear in two places at once and get twice as much done. Get a grip. If I can’t talk to you face to face, I don’t want to speak to a robotic clone. I want to speak to you. You know, human contact. The thing our lives are built on. I’d rather go through a checkout than use the self-scan for that very reason. Some said we would get more free time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life if robots did all the work, but if I didn’t have work, I’d get bored sitting around all day.

Take a moment. Imagine not having to work. Sounds great? Bit like retirement? Maybe, but let’s think about this. You get up and spend weeks doing all those things on that bucket list that you’ve always done, you meet up with friends and have a good chat, but then that slowly diminishes. Why? You’ve got nothing to discuss. Once you’ve done everything you’ve ever wanted to and told everybody, you’re left with an empty shell of nothingness. Sure, work can sometimes feel monotonous, but it’s gets you up and out, and doing, and when you have your down time, you can tell your mates how Maxine managed to photocopy her bum whilst supposedly only reaching up for the paper.

Christmas was great and whilst the first week back has been difficult, I’ve loved going back to work, interacting with people, creatively solving issues that they are facing. It’s fun, it’s interactive, and it keeps your brain ticking over so you don’t end up like a zombie. Tech and AI is embedded in our children’s lives. We can’t escape that, and researchers have decided that excessive screen time is not an issue, so ultimately, there’s no argument that young people shouldn’t use phones constantly so we’re turning them into non-social creatures anyway.

A lovely quote came up on Facebook the other day (whoops, there’s my bit of AI!), which I shared. It said ‘There is no WiFi in the forest, but you will find a better connection.’

You’ve probably made a resolution already this year to make your life ‘better’, and whether you’ve kept it or not, remember tech and AI waits for nobody and continues to develop at a pace, so rather than worry about that bit of chocolate you just ate, the fact you didn’t make it to the gym, or that you’ve wrapped yourself in that snuggly woollen blanket despite being vegan this January and not going near anything animal related, why not actually spend some time thinking about how you can enjoy the simple things in life, remain connected to one another, grounded in the present, and altogether human because unless we start now, we’ll find it harder as the robots take control.

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