As a young journalist nearly 40 years ago working on my first real newspaper job-sweating bullets every day that I wouldn't measure up-I had an editor who would regularly throw my copy back on my desk with the delightful comment, "I could get a monkey to come up with this crap in less time than you did. So remind me why I need you."
It was his take on the Infinite Monkey Theorem, I guess, and I was sure the next day I would come to work and find a chimpanzee at my desk. I read recently that software developed at Northwestern University can take, for instance, sports statistics from a game and turn them into a serviceable news story without the need for a human reporter. I can imagine that this same software could take corporate data like EPS, ROI, etc. and replace 90 percent of today's business reporters. Who knew that the monkey on my back for all these years would turn out to be my laptop?
What got me thinking about all of this was a news article I read, with a photograph, of a humanoid robot manning the counter at some fast-food joint in Tokyo, pretty soon, according to its developers, "Would you like fries with that?" will be asked by McRobots everywhere. This automation has been coming for years--robotics began replacing factory workers in automobile plants decades ago but lately has been accelerating. ATMs have been supplanting live tellers for years; "smart" gas and electric meters have undone meter-readers; and we are well on our way to self-driving vehicles that will take over for truck drivers and cabbies. And lest you think that such artificial intelligence (Al) mechanisms are a stand-in only for menial jobs, my research into the subject indicates that robots are already performing surgery and may soon be able to do so without human physicians in the loop.
And, of course, such autonomous devices have no need for lunch breaks or vacations; they don't join unions; they make correct change and, presumably, can be programmed to be cheerful. Attempts to "program" humans for such tasks and traits have proven to be limited at best. I was going to add that such autonomous devices don't get sick either, but just as I was typing it a "virus protection update" popped up on my computer, reminding me that machines may be as fallible or malicious as humans, especially in a world of malicious...