Many students have been working toward their degrees and careers for almost half their lives. Now imagine spending countless hours studying and training for a career in the workplace only to be replaced by an artificial intelligence. 

A world without work may seem appealing, but it threatens workers’ livelihoods and their sense of purpose.

The idea that mankind can be replaced by technology is not something new. In the 20th century, there was a point when it was widely agreed that automation would lead to a lesser requirement of work, said Dustin Abnet, assistant professor of American studies.

Automation and artificial intelligence threaten to replace large sections of the workforce. Forty-seven per cent of US employment has a high risk of being eliminated and the employees replaced by technology, according to an Oxford University study on the future of employment.

AI systems can now replace workers in some areas and the AI in development will be flexible and adaptable just like a human, said Dileep George, co-founder and chief technology officer for Vicarious, at the World Economic Forum.

General AI that holds the same level of human intelligence is still something that is far away, and achieving it depends on the breakthroughs that intelligent people are invested in achieving.

“It is not a question of whether it will happen, but when it will happen,” George said.

Seventy-two percent of Americans worry about a future where many human-held jobs could be replaced by robots and computers, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017.

There have been jobs that have resisted automation for a long time. As early as the 1940s, planes have had the ability to fly automatically, yet there are still pilots that navigate airplanes because people do not trust machinery alone to fly them, Abnet said.

However, there are some who welcome the end of work because it would allow more time for leisure activities. As things stand now, work is a source of compensation for people, so that income would need to be replaced.

While this might be possible, people tend to appreciate their leisure time more when they are working hard.

“Work isn’t just a source of income, it’s a source of purpose and meaning,” Abnet said.

Being rewarded for hard work is also fundamental to ideas of social justice. Workers might not only lose their sense of meaning, they could potentially lose their primary means of social advancement. Students are especially vulnerable since they have committed so much of their lives gaining skills they may not even use.

The human brain is not something to be artificially mimicked, not now and not ever.

What makes humans unique is compassion and the ability to connect with one another.

Designing artificial intelligence that has the potential to take over jobs could destroy what makes us human in the hopes of making life easier.

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