humans need still apply

It has been nearly ten years since CGPGrey released his video “Humans Need Not Apply,” and the world has changed a lot since then.

Sandro Botticelli - Drawings for Dante´s Divine Comedy

I was first introduced to Grey’s video in 2014 as a freshman in college. At the time I was undeclared, torn between history, philosophy, and computer science. Fortunately for my parents, I fell in love with programming. They, while supportive of my other interests, encouraged me to pursue a degree in computer science as they believed it would provide me with the best job prospects.

As I progressed through my degree there was a palpable sense of unease about the future of programming. The field was becoming increasingly competitive and the dreary face of AI was starting to come into view. It was common to hear about how the “golden days” of a computer science degree were over. But someone had to make the AI. Someone had to support it, and someone had to maintain it. The most hi-tech machines still required a little oil now and again. And that gave us, the computer science majors, a sense of hope and security.

I think about Grey’s video occasionally, especially with the rise of large language models (LLMs) and the supposed AI revolution. Ten years have passed since it was first released, and the world has changed a lot. AI, now the colloquial term for LLMs have been mainstreamed through the likes of OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Google’s Gemini, largely due to the advancement of GPUs and field-programmable gate arrays. These leaps forward have been hailed as the birth of a new revolution. However I can’t help but be skeptical.

Humans Need Not Apply: A Summary

Checkout CGPGrey’s video here. He makes good stuff (I’m sure you are already aware).

The inevitable rise of robots should not come as a surprise. The advancement of technology has made many jobs that have existed for hundreds of years obsolete. Industries which once contained the dominant share of the workforce, such as manufacturing, transportation,and most office work can and will be hugely reduced with the advancement of automation and AI. This is done not to the benefit of the worker, and is akin to the horse losing out to the automobile.

Furthermore, Grey argues that this is not a sci-fi distant future, but today’s reality. Already there has been a significant decline in the number of jobs available to humans, such as the decline in manufacturing in the United States, or grocery store cashiers being replaced by self-checkout machines.

The video ends with a bleak prediction: the robots are coming for our jobs, and there is nothing we can do to stop them.

Virtual Reality, Self-Driving Cars, Blockchain and the AI Revolution

This is where I get a little speculative.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, once said that “by 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.” I think about this quote when I, a lowly coder, try to make predictions about the future. And I’m thinking about this quote now as I go forward. Regardless, here I go…

Since Grey’s video, several prominent trends have emerged that many believed (or believe) would revolutionize the world:

  1. The first virtual reality headsets (of the modern era) were released in 2016. Virtual reality was often promised as whole new life in a whole new virtual universe, complete with virtual property and virtual currency (usually backed by blockchain, see below). Meta, trying to capitalize and make their Metaverse a reality, spent a huge amount of (very real) dough, reporting a $13.7 billion operational loss from their VR division in 2022 alone. But nothing has materialized (pun intended). And now with Apple releasing their headset Vision Pro, while an improvement on the past, proves that the future of VR is another way to interact with a computer, and not a new life.

  2. Self-driving cars were speculated by Grey in his video to overtake the transportation industry. They have not. And it’s not so much that they can’t but its been proven incredibly difficult to get their adoption. Waymo’s self-driving taxi was recently vandalized in San Francisco at its revulsion. Before that, San Francisco had just sued California to block the further expansion of self-driving cars on their streets. It’s not that the technology isn’t there, but the public’s trust in the technology certainly is not. Someday it may be, but it is an uphill battle that the tech giants seem to be losing, despite putting millions into lobbying efforts.

  3. Blockchain, the Bitcoin bubble, Mt. Gox, Sam Bankman-Fried, NFTs, rug pulls, scams…

  4. The AI revolution.

Obviously they are not all one in the same; comparing them can be seen as fruitless as comparing apples to oranges. But I can’t help but wonder if there is common theme of overhype among the tech industry stemming from a feeling of desperation by the large. A history of interesting technology being promised as revolutionary. We (well myself, I assume more) are all desperate for a revolution, a change, a catch of fresh air, and the tech industry is trying to capitalize.

Jobs will change and processes will become outdated, much in the same as hows the typewriter was overtaken by the computer. But to say that the AI will lead to the sort of transition in humanity as the industrial revolution is overly optimistic. I think the future holds us all waking up to put on clothes we don’t want to wear to drive to a dull workplace. We will all put in our time, with as much enthusiasm we can muster, and then head home; the same as during the typewriter’s prominence. The only difference is the profits will be multiplied: the rich get richer, and the quality of life for the rest of us will remain stagnant or fall. Unemployment will stay around 3-7%, not because of AI creating new jobs but because AI will only serve to fuel the fire of capitalism. And what is there for the fire to roast if not the worker?

But hey, what do I know? I’m not a Nobel Prize-winning economist, I’m just a lowly coder.