There are certain things robots simply cannot replace

When I was 10 years old, I went to a robot factory where I met an artificial intelligence (AI) counselor. Though it was a trial to see people’s reactions, I was curious about how these machines would react to me.

When I reached the facility, I was isolated in a colorful room. The machine with a big screen welcomed me with a digital, smiling lady’s face. The session started off well, with questions like “how are you?” and “how is your relationship with your parents?”

Though the screen appeared to understand my feelings through showing various faces, modulating its volume and tone in reaction to whatever I said, I felt this unexplainable awkwardness that crawled down my spine the whole time.

At that moment, I couldn’t grasp what the uneasiness in the atmosphere was; but thinking back, it was the lack of human intimacy: The robot tried to “pretend” as if it could understand me or feel compassionate towards me, but it was just a facade. And I think that this, the human intimacy and ability to empathize, make us greater than these high-tech know-it-all machines.

As we have been progressing with technology, robots are enhanced: they currently have higher levels of memory and data consumption. Therefore, alongside with the technical advancement, AIs have accelerated beyond human capacity and capability.

Currently, we are being replaced with computers and robots in various places around the world: About 30% of occupations in the UK, 21% in Japan, 35% in Germany, and 38% in the U.S. will potentially be taken over by robots.

With about 6 million human jobs at risk of being replaced by robots in the following ten years, it has become more likely to meet a computer screen at McDonald’s rather than a member of staff. Probably, later in the future, we might travel by an autopilot plane from Delhi to Dehradun.

Sadly, the robots are not only taking our place in occupations but also in our society, too.

In the next 10 years, we may not have those bhaiyajis to ask for Parle-G in the cafeteria, and robots could soon become substitutes for human relationships. Most of all, we will stop seeing human teachers in classrooms.

There will be robots that can regulate levels of challenges for each individual since they are “superbly well-geared [to].” In terms of efficiency, accuracy, and qualifications, AI teachers are situated on a higher level compared to us. Yet, humans are considered as better teachers since robots lack empathy and the ability to inspire others.

Which brings us to the question: what makes humans greater than robots?

First, AIs learn through seeing (pictures) or through analyzing an input of data. If we show a child a picture of a table, then most probably they will be able to identify an object with four legs standing vertically with a platform on top, as a table. Meanwhile, a computer will have to go through deep learning: a process which requires millions of images and thousands of hours of videos to identify an image, demonstrating the gap between the learning ability of humans and computers.

Though computers can interpret macro data better than us, we have the privilege to have a creative ability that computers can never supplant.

As a Time article stated, “humans possess traits we sometimes refer to […] as creativity, imagination, and inspiration.” Though computers, too, can compose literature and art, they can only do these using algorithms and observed data. Dreaming up a new invention is a completely different task. Since they rely on data and algorithms to perform any function, “computers can be programmed to replicate some of those tasks but they don’t possess the innate ability to create the way humans do.”

It is true that robots are taking over many of our jobs, but the previous reasons do not allow them to completely replace us.

Currently, the fields which are being transferred to AI corporations are the ones which require math calculations, data interpretation, and arduous labor. Yet, jobs such as computer science analysts, community workers, etc. are highly unlikely to be replicated by AI.

The fact that computers can only resemble certain aspects was the reason why I was feeling uncomfortable in my session at the robot factory. Sure, the screen had a friendly smile, and the recorded voice had a warm tone of mutuality, but the fact that it was just a replication of a human version made the machine feel ill-fitting.

After that meeting, I realized that it isn’t only the way we learn, think, and act which makes us unique from our technological counterparts, but the soft-wired connection called empathy.

Imagine a black hairy spider crawling up your fingertips making its way to your wrist, then slowly wriggling on your arm closer to your elbow. You cannot move your arm, so the spider clambers above your upper limb closer to your shoulder.

Though there wouldn’t have been an actual spider on your arm (hopefully) you would have still got the tingling of your spine; a process Jeremy Rifkin explains as a mirror neuron alignment: the process of certain types of neurons lining up as a response to actions we observe, which allows us to feel as if we were experiencing it ourselves.

He also described how this alignment of mirror neurons are also the reason why we are connected through a soft-wire network. Hence, no matter how similar robot and human teachers may appear, and how much better, efficient, and advanced they are, they still wouldn’t be as good as humans, because they aren’t able to make any soft-wired connections with the students.

Once I was done with my session my aunt asked: “How was it?”

When I was asked, I could definitely identify that there was a similar tone in her voice to the robot, similar facial expression to the screen; especially the smile, and similar words as the recorded voice.

They were too similar that my aunt instantly gave me an overlapping image of the robot. However, the feeling of actual human interaction, and that she actually cared about what the answer would be, made the question feel a million times better.

Empathy I’d say is something impossible for robots to just mimic. It isn’t something that we can program into computers but it is a genuine human nature of compassion. Just like how Rifkin said that “it’s an empathic drive” to feel compassionate, empathy is beyond technology. Regardless of all of the qualities and perspectives that we lack when compared to robots, this makes it impossible for AIs to replicate us.

Edited by Chittish Pasbola

One thought on “There are certain things robots simply cannot replace

  1. This was a lengthy and a really interesting article. Personally, I have always been scared of robots dominating the world some twenty years later. In most movies, Robots always turn out to be the villains but that is beside the point. I completely agree with robots being devoid of any empathy or ability to connect well with us humans as humans do. It is also so scary that the rate of employment would lessen even more, therefore, I too believe that humans should not be replaced by robots. They can be like helpers but not replace anyone. If they do, it’d be a great tragedy.


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