Yes but can robots make you smile for no reason?
The robots may be coming for our jobs but fuck ’em, let ’em have it. Giving robots all the really shit jobs literally buys us time to find new unexplored avenues where value resides, plunge ourselves into more meaningful aspects of business. Human capital should be invested in things robotics will never supplement: Empathy. Human interaction. Believe it or not, business runs not off money but off trust. A lot of commerce depends on human interaction. No robot can supplement what humans are capable of: the ability to persuade.
Aged care, child care and education are three of the biggest issues facing the developed and developing world. No robot will be the solution to those problems. Robots may soon be able to write half-decent copy, but they can’t break stories. They can’t care for a crying child, or reassure a dementia sufferer.
There are a whole bunch of increasingly urgent areas of the economy which require human solutions. There are only so many problems you can throw technology at. Besides, robots still need to be built. Designed. Repaired. Upgraded. We are not yet at the stage where they can do this themselves.
For all this talk of automation, there are some things which cannot be replaced with technology. At the dawn of the second dot com boom there was this consensus (and it continues today) that technology can solve human problems and their pesky need for a pay-cheque and a superannuation / pension scheme.
It is no surprise that we are witnessing the rise of personalised social services: Podcasts, subscription services, newsletters. Some of these new industries are driven by convenience and ease of distribution, yes. But not all.
Why is it that vinyl and cassette tapes are making a comeback? I don’t think it is purely because they are beginning to cameo in popular TV shows and films. I just started watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, a long-form murder-mystery TV adaptation of the popular Youth Fiction novel of the same name. The series explains over 13 episodes why Hannah committed suicide to her high school peers through a collection of cassette tapes she leaves behind. If the series is successful (and I suspect it will be), I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a spike in cassette tape sales.
But cassette tape sales were on the rise long before this tv show came out. (There is a lovely feature below from 2015 about the world’s last cassette tape label, which I recommend you get into). People want something tangible they can hold in their hands. People want proof of their emotional investment.
Likewise the fandom behind the My Favourite Murder Podcast has spawned amazing new ‘cottage industries’ of obsessed creatives ranging from comic-book authors, to jewelry makers, designers, artists, even lipstick wizards who have created, swapped and sold amazingly intricate and detailed items relating to the fandom, all enthusiastically shared & dissected on the MFM Facebook Group. Local syndicates of the fandom have even organised themselves by geography, setting up district Facebook Pages so fans can arrange meet-ups and listening parties.
I find it interesting how streaming culture has resulted in this quasi vaudeville, murder-mystery revival. Podcasts like My Favourite Murder, Last Podcast on The Left, Detective and The Dollop all explore some macabre aspect of history’s forgotten horrors and psychopaths. Murder Mystery subscription services are now a thing. A start-up called Murder Box literally mails you clues to solve a (presumably) imaginary murder mystery. And people pay for this shit.
I have no evidence to substantiate the following claim, but do you think the popularity of these new forms of programming and the online communities that result is just because ‘this shit is cool’? Or do you think it is because we crave interaction and validation from each other? We don’t just want to listen to a podcast or binge-watch a TV show, we want to work through every minute detail with a group of like-minded friends.
One of the most striking aspects of the My Favourite Murder Facebook group is the almost complete lack of snark / virtue signalling / witch-hunts that are so commonplace across social media now.
Kilgareff and Hardstark have both been candid about their experiences with anxiety and depression, it feels as though the community around their obsession with true crime is part of the therapy process they both so freely discuss on the podcast.
MFM brought “Murderinos” out of the true crime closet but it’s done something more than that. Kilgareff and Hardstark (dubbed “HardKill) have created more than just a fandom, they encourage listeners to look out for one another, to be aware of each other’s safety, both physically and emotionally. They are amazingly protective of their listeners and are receptive to critical feedback. In doing so they have quietly inspired us to be our best selves.
Robots can’t do that.
So go ahead and make your Twitter jokes about being the first to welcome our steely robot overlords, there are some jobs they will never be able to do. (At least not within our lifetime, or the next, so fuck it).
The idea robots will steal all the jobs is a myth and we should all stop being so worried. Robots are a gift. They buy us time to increase the value of tangible goods and services. They just aid in delivery.
In the meantime we should all be investing and creating shit that has meaning, or value and which keeps people gainfully employed.
There is a lot of debate about whether or not governments should consider a basic income.
“But we can surf and record water temperatures and collect marine samples”, cry Birkenstock-heeled utopians.
People should not be paid not to work. They should be paid to work.
Work is where we draw our identity. It is where we meet our partners, where we form friendships that last a lifetime. But more importantly, work imbues people with agency and pride, that their ability to support themselves and their family is the result of their labour. It is not a coincidence that drug addiction and alcoholism often accompany unemployment.
Research has demonstrated that punishment is not the answer to addiction but literally human interaction. A study out of Psychology Today demonstrated that addicts with personal connections to their community are less likely to relapse. Probably because when you have more people around you to occupy your time, to create a sense of emotional obligation to one another, there’s less time to spend contemplating whether to enjoy a sneaky fix.
Humans + time + alienation = bad things.
People seek meaning, something to help them make sense of the world. We are beginning to put a dollar value on it, it won’t be long before we can calculate the true worth of humanity.
On a purely economic perspective, robots cannot sell shit.
I have worked in commercial departments. Clients are tricky beasts that require a very specific kind of finesse. Commerce needs sales people and account managers to weave their magic and put out the inevitable imaginary dumpster fire along the way from concept through to completion.
Clients are… sensitive. Successful campaigns and partnerships require someone with the ability to read social signals to make the thing come together and stay together for the duration.
I cannot do that shit. Sell stuff. I can put together amazing creative. I do words good. But I know enough about my limitations to know that my skill will always be in the product, not the pitch. I have seen good sales people in action; it really is some kind of wizardry that I have new found appreciation for. Robots can’t do that either.
Advertising campaigns. You think a robot can generate the kind of creativity that occurs when humans come into contact with cocaine?! (I kid. Not all adverts are drug induced. not the best ones anyway :p).
Equally, most good products and services (whether they were created out of your deep love of True Crime fandom, for example, or simply the pursuit of the almighty dollar) they all require marketing. I never thought I’d say this but marketing is important.
What is marketing but words and images put together in an order that appeals to the human heart and brain. (Mainly brain). People need encouragement and enticement to make purchasing decisions. We need incentives to do a lot of things.
Robots can help us get shit done but they can’t tell me why you should subscribe to Hello Humans or why most commentary on the economy is bullshit. They can’t make you literally laugh inappropriately at the supermarket when The Dollop’s Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds make a funny. Their memory won’t leave a spontaneous smile on your face as you’re falling asleep at night.
Robots might deliver the warm and fuzzies to my smartphone faster but that is where their input ends.
You cannot create algorithms that are an adequate substitute for human input and interaction. Is all I’m saying.