We at Mediolana are presently in the frontline of an unprecedented (for 2018, at least) heatwave which is sweeping through this company’s home town of London, England. But in truth, our spare thoughts capacity (‘STC’) has recently been in thrall to a different type of wave altogether – the Mexican type which is strongly associated with FIFA World Cups.
Specifically – as we try and keep at least one eye on the tournament while our little corporate world is undergoing something of a transformation (and we don’t mean the arrival of a new coffee machine or photocopier, great as these accoutrements are) – the theme of resilience, which has become such a leitmotiv in recent years that it almost inevitably raises the suspicion that large sections of the population are, in fact, losing it, is looming large in our consciousness.
A key feature of the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the extent to which matches were defined not just by factors such as player quality or coaching ingenuity, but by the psychological health (or otherwise) of teams. Could they avoid making palpably dodgy and needless back passes? Could they manage to stay in position instead of wandering upfield to no discernible purpose? And could they pull a rabbit from the hat when the chips were truly down?
To the probable surprise of many – but not us, truth be told – the 2018 FIFA World Cup is continuing the prove the importance of being able to handle stress, pressure and the simple knowledge that hundreds of millions of people are watching your every move. Without talent and hard work, there is no end product; but without the ability to make the most of what you have by being able to tune out noise on a simply incomparable scale, there may be no glory.
Readers of this blog will doubtless be cognisant of the threat to the global labour market that some commentators have ascribed to the rise of robots in recent years. And this makes perfect sense: as robots become ever-cheaper and the tasks that they are capable of grow more sophisticated, it is only logical to expect them to encroach on territories that have up to now been regarded as a solely human domains.
However, a recent speech by Sébastien Fanti – a lawyer hailing from the Swiss canton of Valais, the birthplace of former FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter – has forced us to reassess even our own predictions of the extent to which robots may be able to supplant humans in the workforce. Speaking to the Lexing legal conference in Shanghai, Fanti stressed the urgency of creating a legal and ethical framework to govern worker bots, warning: ‘In ten years[‘ time] I think that robots will be suffering abuse. We need laws, otherwise there will be a free-for-all.’
This framework has become necessary because it is now clear that far from merely replacing unskilled or semi-skilled manual workers, robots are: (i) fast becoming capable of jobs that require them to confront ethical dilemmas; and (ii) likely to become judged by humans as conscious, and therefore worthy of rights. (Marcus du Santoy, professor for the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford, has explicated this second point particularly cogently.)
The crux is clear: if robots are developing along a precipitously steep trajectory – one which encompasses ethics and consciousness – then the implications for the global labour market are unreal. This is particularly true if in our rush towards post-humanity, we are content to let certain preconceptions – perhaps even expectations – slide.
In the not-so-distant future, will it really matter if our therapist is a robot if its algorithms are effective enough to generate ameliorative responses? Is it impossible for artificial intelligence to come up with fashion designs that the relevant audiences regard as iconic? And given that so many people let their children be raised by electronic devices, would we really be troubled as much as we would predict about them being given bot-style pastoral care? These are unlikely to remain academic questions: a technology-defined civilisation periodically undergoes discomfiting changes, even if these risk throwing billions of people onto the breadlines.