The race to achieving true sentience in artificial intelligence is a pinnacle that always seem just around the corner and hopelessly out of reach at the same time. This sentience is most likely what drives a lot of the fear behind AI, what happens when humans aren’t the smartest thing around anymore? But there’s a world of useful and amazing innovation between a basic algorithm, a robotic arm & a sentient machine consciousness. The trick really lies in the subtle difference between sentient and autonomous.
In the brilliant late stage capitalist hellscape we currently inhabit, a non-trivial amount of jobs exist solely to separate the average worker from the means of production. There is no expectation for any one person to have full autonomy in modern capitalism so why would we expect that from AI driven workers? Compartmentalisation drives a lot of the “teams” within corporations, rather than having fully autonomous individuals who can do a whole range of things from the start to finish. Middle management is expressly for this purpose, remove the people who own the company from the actual work by as many layers as possible. Now we have the corporate structure that only allows each worker to do a small number of tasks within a very small range of scenarios. “I have to clear it with my boss”, “I’ll need to check with my manager”, etc are all very normalised capitalistic phrases which we don’t even raise an eyebrow over. But silver linings and all that, in this environment robots that are semi-autonomous, but have no inherent sentience, excel!
One of the many benefits and probably the most straight forward is that we can swap out non-replaceable unimaginably unique individuals with easily replaceable tools for jobs that are dangerous. The second is changing the landscape for the working class. Arguably this will be a fairly unpleasant transition but once all menial tasks are done by robots and capitalism is forced to enact a UBI or radically change the way that consumerism continues as huge swathes of the population will be left without work.
Sentient and autonomous artificial life would be amazing and I personally hope I see that day when we can live harmoniously human and robotic being. Until then the opportunity of using autonomous robots as the most amazing tool ever created could kick start the world back onto the optimistic future where innovation and scientific discovery propelled humanity forward beyond our tiny rock and to the stars.