July 18 - Automation could destroy as much as 70 per cent of today’s jobs by 2020, according to Wired magazine. Amy Gardner looks at some of the ways humans are trying to modify themselves to beat machines. She meets a cybernetics professor who turned himself into a cyborg, and looks at the pros and cons of a cognitive enhancing drug.
How would you feel if this was your new colleague? Threatened? You should be. By 2020, Wired magazine reckons automation will have destroyed 70% of today's jobs. So how far would you go to fight the robots? Kevin Warwick is a cybernetics professor who turned himself into a cyborg in the quest for human enhancement. (SOUNDBITE)(English) PROFESSOR OF CYBERNETICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF READING, KEVIN WARWICK SAYING: "One thing I was able to do - we look at this robot hand here - I could control this hand from my brain signals directly. And feel what the hand was feeling. So it meant effectively that my brain and parts of my body could be in completely different places. In fact I went to New York - my brain was there - and this hand was in England. So I was able to control this robot hand." Pretty useful. But if becoming part-robot makes you squeamish, maybe smart drugs might help you compete. A growing number of professionals are replacing their morning coffee with Modafinil - a performance enhancing drug that's been described as having the same effect as 'five espressos but without the rush or jitters.' Anders Sandberg is a Researcher at Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute: (SOUNDBITE)(English) RESEARCH FELLOW AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY ANDERS SANDBERG SAYING: "Modafnil was developed originally through narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is relatively rare but Modafnil is selling really well. It seems half of Silicon Valley has declared itself to suffer from narcolepsy. And in normal people it helps you stay awake, it seems to stimulate the frontal lobes, it gives you a little bit better ability to handle complex information and do long term planning, as well as inhibit yourself from doing something stupid when you're a bit less concentrated." Modafnil can be bought prescription-free online. But it has its drawbacks - including the risk you might become so absorbed in one task, you forget the bigger picture (SOUNDBITE)(English) RESEARCH FELLOW AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY ANDERS SANDBERG SAYING: "It's good for attention, awakeness, memory. But what we would really like is something that improves creativity and intelligence. And that's much harder. Because that's a sort of symphony of different pieces of our brains working together." But no matter how much we modify ourselves, the painful truth is there are just some things we'll never beat ever beat the machines at. (SOUNDBITE)(English) PROFESSOR OF CYBERNETICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF READING, KEVIN WARWICK SAYING: "There's a lot of things we do in our brains that we're not very good at, in comparison to artificial intelligence. Mathematics is a good example of that, memory is another good example, particularly when you get older. So why have problems with it? Why not outsource and have machine intelligence doing the bits that your brain is not very good at doing." Robots may be the future. But don't be afraid. Rather than stealing your job, they might just help you do it better.