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Are Humans Necessary?

Three seemingly unrelated topics coalesced in my head on this Independence Day Eve Day. First, I am reading proofs of my colleague and fellow HDD blogger Ted Claypoole’s excellent forthcoming new book “The Law of Artificial Intelligence and Smart Machines”, which discusses the ways AI will (and won’t ) replace human capabilities.

Ted, in the most provocative chapter, discusses the question whether AI should ever be granted legal status.  He posits the existence of “HuPPIIs” or “human-produced perceptive intelligent individuals.”  One take-away from that argument is that the human tendency to personify will result in HuPIIs that we will want to treat as friend and relatives.

Then, I was reading about the politicization of the Independence Day celebration on the Mall in DC in the morning paper.

And finally, I was thinking about the guys we just hired to do some yard work here at the lake.  They are from Guatemala.  (I don’t know their immigration status and I frankly don’t give a damn.)  What I do know is that the fellow who came to work in our yard on a scorching July day demonstrated any number of traits that I strongly suggest AI will never duplicate.  And in so doing, he also reminded me, much more than any parade or Korean War era tank, what makes America great.

You see, my friend from Guatemala worked out here from sunup to sundown when his partner came to pick him up.  It was, to quote from the movie “Biloxi Blues”, “Africa hot” that day.  He worked tirelessly, without a break except for the times I came out and demanded he have some ice water and sit on the porch in the shade with me for a few minutes to cool off.

He accomplished more in that day than any crew I have ever hired would have in three. My college Spanish is muy feo, but I was able to learn a few things about my friend.  He has been here six years and hopes to return to Guatemala in another two if he can earn enough money.  He wants to go back because he says his country is bonita (beautiful).

When the sun set and he was waiting for his partner to pick him up, I came outside to offer him a cold beer and to thank him for his hard work.  By his smile, you’d have thought I had just handed him the keys to a new Tesla.

Now, I know that you can buy a robot to mow your lawn today and that someday there may well be HuPPIIs who will be adept at  trimming hedges, weeding and planting shrubs.  Not only that, but they will probably know exactly the right time to fertilize based on global weather conditions and be able to speak in whatever language they want.

But, even if that happens, folks who want a better life will always find a way to use their very human capabilities to make it happen.  They will leave their homes, find places that need their skills, work hard and then harder, and delay gratification so that their kids can learn to code and create the next tech boom.  Machine learning is incredible, but it can’t touch the human spirit.

And (sorry Ted), you will never have that moment of human connection that I had with my friend over a cold beer on a scorching day in Georgia with any AI.  Happy Independence Day.

Categories: Uncategorized

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