It has been oft-quoted – albeit humouredly – that the ideal of medicine is the elimination of the physician. The emergence and encroachment of artificial intelligence (AI) on the field of medicine, however, puts an inconvenient truth on the aforementioned witticism. Over the span of their professional lives, a pathologist may review 100,000 specimens, a radiologist more so; AI can perform this undertaking in days rather than decades.
Visualise your last trip to an NHS hospital, the experience was either one of romanticism or repudiation: the hustle and bustle in the corridors, or the agonising waiting time in A&E; the empathic human touch, or the dissatisfaction of a rushed consultation; a seamless referral or delays and cancellations.
Contrary to this, our experience of hospitals in the future will be slick and uniform; the human touch all but erased and cleansed, in favour of complete and utter digitalisation. Envisage an almost automated hospital: cleaning droids, self-portered beds, medical robotics. “Fiction of today is the fact of tomorrow”, doesn’t quite apply in this situation, since all of the above-mentioned AI currently exists in some form or the other.
But then, what comes of the antiquated, human doctor in our future world? Well, they can take consolation, their unemployment status would be part of a global trend: the creation displacing the creator. Mechanisation of the workforce leading to mass unemployment. This analogy of our friend, the doctor, speaks volumes; medicine is cherished for championing human empathy – if doctors aren’t safe, nobody is. The solution: socialism.
Open revolt against machinery seems a novel concept set in some futuristic dystopian land, though, the reality can be found in history: The Luddites of Nottinghamshire. A radical faction of skilled textile workers protecting their employment through machine destruction and riots, during the industrial revolution of the 18th century. The now satirised term “Luddite”, may be more appropriately directed to your father’s fumbled attempt at unlocking his iPhone, as opposed to a militia.
What lessons are to be learnt from the Luddites? Much. Firstly, the much-fictionalised fight for dominance between man and machine is just that: fictionalised. The real fight is within mankind. The Luddites’ fight was always against the manufacturer, not the machine; machine destruction simply acted as the receptacle of dissidence. Secondly, government feeling towards the Luddites is exemplified through 12,000 British soldiers being deployed against the Luddites, far exceeding the personnel deployed against Napoleon’s forces in the Iberian Peninsula in the same year.
Though providing clues, the future struggle against AI and its wielders will be tangibly different from that of the Luddite struggle of the 18th century, next; it’s personal, it’s about soul. Our higher cognitive faculties will be replaced: the diagnostic expertise of the doctor, decision-making ability of the manager, and (if we’re lucky) political matters too.
The monopolising of AI will lead to mass unemployment and mass welfare, reverberating globally. AI efficiency and efficacy will soon replace the error-prone human. It must be the case that AI is to be socialised and the means of production, the AI, redistributed: in other words, brought under public ownership. Perhaps, the emergence of co-operative groups made up of experienced individuals will arise to undertake managerial functions in their previous, now automated, workplace. Whatever the structure, such an undertaking will require the full intervention of the state; on a moral basis not realised in the Luddite struggle.
Envisaging an economic system of nationalised labour of AI machinery performing laborious as well as lively tasks shan’t be feared. This economic model, one of “abundance”, provides a platform of the fullest of creative expression and artistic flair for mankind. Humans can pursue leisurely passions. Imagine the doctor dedicating superfluous amounts of time on the golfing course, the manager pursuing artistic talents. And what of the politician? Well, that’s anyone’s guess…
An abundance economy is one of sustenance rather than subsistence; initiating an old form of socialism fit for a futuristic age. AI will transform the labour market by destroying it; along with the feudalistic structure inherent to it.
Thought-provoking questions do arise: what is to become of human aspiration? What exactly will it mean to be human in this world of AI?
Ironically; perhaps it will be the machine revolution that gives us the resolution to age-old problems in society.