Why we should care that a computer is beating the world’s best poker players…

The news that Libratus, an artificial intelligence computer programme, has beaten four of the world’s top poker players in a tough 20-day competition is hard to believe. Add that to Do Not Pay, an artificial intelligence lawyer chatbot, programmed by a British teenager, which has successfully challenged 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York, and you might begin to accept that the human race is under threat from increasingly sophisticated robots.

Surely, we are the ones with highly tuned interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. So it’s even more astonishing to hear that Milo, a humanoid robot, is able to engage with children suffering from Autism and teach them more about emotions and appropriate social behaviour than a trained human therapist can. We are secure in the knowledge that AI cannot, as yet, crunch as much data as the human brain and so they cannot be fully self-aware so perhaps our jobs are safe after all. However, the stark reality is that we may eventually create computers that, when working together, may have more capacity and power than the human brain. At that point, we may become slaves to our own inventions.

Our jobs are being increasingly being threatened by machines. This is, of course, not new. Think back to the industrial revolution when farm workers were driven off the land and into factories. But now professionals, particularly lawyers are in the line of fire as some AI machines can outperform their human counterparts on low level legal work such as spotting the differences between two apparently identical contracts. Even doctors and nurses are under threat by machines that efficiently perform routine surgical procedures and make quicker diagnoses from X-rays. Computers are, after all, far better at collecting and collating facts and figures than we are.

The one redeeming feature is that machines will never replace the human elements of creativity, empathy and compassion. Or will they?