Brain gain

As automation looms, it’s time to develop our thinking skills – and practise a little philosophy.

“Most people would rather die than think; many do,” philosopher Bertrand Russell once said. But with technology looking set to eat up jobs, more people might need to develop their thinking skills, and practise philosophy, claims an op-ed in The Guardian.

A 2013 Oxford study estimated that in the next 20 years more than half of all jobs would be taken over by “intelligent” systems. That does not leave much time to think about the change.

Thankfully, the robots won’t invade that quickly, according to a more recent McKinsey Global Institute study. Rather than focusing on jobs, McKinsey concentrates on tasks, which are less complex than jobs and can be more easily automated. Half of all tasks will be automated by 2055, but that translates into 60% of all jobs having only parts (30%) taken over by robots. Only 5% of jobs will be fully automated.

So we will have a little more time to think about the transformation. And philosophy could prove to be a great help. The Guardian puts it this way: “We will need people who are prepared to ask, and answer, the questions that aren’t Googleable, like what are the ethical ramifications of machine automation? What are the political consequences of mass unemployment? How should we distribute wealth in a digitised society? As a society we need to be more philosophically engaged.”

That’s what Ireland has set out to do by introducing philosophy to Irish schools this past September. Introducing philosophy to children will not bring back the jobs, says The Guardian, but “philosophy in our classrooms would better equip us all to perceive and to challenge the conventional wisdoms of our age.”

But is philosophy the answer? After all, Bertrand Russell displayed a strange way of thinking when in 1948 he proposed on “humanitarian” grounds that the US launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union before it acquired any nuclear capacity.