Kinematics of Mahcinery - Will Machines Replace Humans

Will Machines Replace Humans?

For the final part of Cultural Ecology 2017 we will use anthropological work to speculate on nine big questions about the future of life in the Anthropocene. Question #9: Will Machines Replace Humans?

The two readings are

  • Tim Ingold, “Tools, minds and machines: An excursion in the philosophy of technology” (294-311) in The Perception of the Environment
  • Anna Tsing pp.1-26 in The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Recent advances in automation and robotics have reinvigorated the question of “will machines replace humans?” To understand this question requires revisiting Heilbronner’s classic 1967 article “Do machines make history?” as well as investigating interpretations of Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism. This takes us into the long history of efforts to define tool, machine, and technology. What is a tool? What differentiates a tool from a machine? Since all humans use tools, does that mean all humans have a technology? Unpacking these previous ideas regarding technological determinism will enable us to better answer the question of “will machines replace humans?”

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  • Emma Leavell

    Will Machines Replace Humans?
    On page 19 of The mushroom at the end of the World, Tsing asks a similar question to this one. “Can we live inside this regime of the human and still exceed it?” First, we must consider the future possibility of a more technologically advanced race. So far, according to Tsing the Anthropocene period began “with the advent if modern capitalism,” and since then it is astonishing how quickly our race has made progress. Within the last hundred years humans have created technology to be so feasible, like our smart phones, that we are always wondering when new technologies will emerge. It is very possible that in the next 50-100 years, our greatest scientist, neurologists and engineers will be able to create a technology for our species to transcend our existence. I think first there must be a complete understand of the human brain and all of its functions in order to replicate that into a machine. However, although neurologists may observe the physical stuff happening in the brain, there is still question on how our mind’s eye works, as well as feelings, aspirations, and dispositions. The idea here is to make the human race a totally new species, transcending the need for a body, making the “human” immortal. This is also if it is proved you do need not need a body in order to perceive the world around us. Can we become so intelligent that we do not need to worry about feelings and dispositions because our neurons (or what would replace them) would be so advanced, we would automatically respond without having to ponder our world ahead? Also, If we do reach this state, to answer Tsing’s earlier question, would our resources be up too late for this technology to happen?

    • Interesting comments, but might want to take another look at Tsing and the notion of progress. “This is a story we need to know. Industrial transformation turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods and damaged landscapes” (18).

  • Mary Buntrock

    When Tsing begins to write about world making she uses fire for her example of human multispecies world making. As she explains “fire was a tool for early humans not just to cook bu also to burn the landscape, encouraging edible bulbs and grasses that attract animals for hunting” (22). This specific example of hers works well in this section of the book because human deforestation is encouraging the growth of matsutake mushrooms much the way the fire of her example encouraged the bulbs and grass. Matsutake live in “human-disturbed forests” (3). Her examples of situations where they were discovered in both Japan and the US prove this. In Japan the matsutake became common in Nara and Kyoto where “people had deforested mountains for wood” (6). Then in Oregon after the forests were cut down, the mushroom trade began to take over. Human deforestation is working in the place of fire in our act of world making. While Tsing seems to take a favorable view of both the mushrooms and the people who work with them, she is working to caution against the acts that are causing the increase in their growth. As she puts it, we are in a state of precarity. We are teetering on the edge of ruin not as a species, but as a planet. The matsutake are a sign that things can still thrive in the industrial world that we live in, which is good for them, but that does not mean that everything can thrive in such a world. This chapter is about Tsing’s worry that “there might not be a collective happy ending” (21).

    • Nice weaving together of Tsing quotes to bring out a main theme.

  • Nadja

    In the prologue of “The Mushroom at the End of the World”, Tsing talks about how the book will be introducing the ideology of precarity and the idea of “fate of the less fortunate”. She starts off by using the mushroom as a metaphor to show how things in life can come unexpectadly, and remind you of the good things in life. She talks about how mushrooms can aid us in life, “The uncontrolled lives of the mushrooms are a gift-and a guide-when the controlled world we thought we had fails” (pg. 2). Tsing also states how the mushrooms force us to coexist with our environment because most mushrooms grow in human intrusive areas, “Matsutake’s willingness to emerge in blasted landscapes allows us to explore the ruin that has become our collective home” (pg. 3). She explains this by listing the positive things of the mushroom such as how it helps a forest to grow, and also how it encourages cultural revitalization.

    • Good work getting started on Tsing; might go a bit further into the text.

  • Jessica Wilson

    Will Machines Replace Humans?
    Tsing makes an interesting allusion on p. 18 towards the main question. She says: “Industrial Transformations turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods” (p.18). In other words, technological advancements almost always require at least one group of people to change their way of life. It also forces the environment to change through industrial practices such as deforestation (p. 22). This puts humanity in an interesting position… are we to chose between our environment and our technology? Or is there a way we can successfully manage the two?

    • Nice quotes from Tsing–would be good to expand the analysis a bit.

  • Madison Turcotte

    In the chapter from Ingold, he refers to Mitcham when defining the difference between tools and machines saying that a tool “has come to be reserved for that aspect of a device that is activated by human agency” (Ingold 300). Whereas on the other hand, a machine “commonly denotes an instrument in its human independence, or at least that aspect of the device which is not dependent on man” (Ingold 300). On page 308, Ingold uses Marx’s words to explain, basically, why machines would not be capable to replace humans. Marx said at one point, that humans operators (of machines) become “no more than a living appendage of the machine” (308). Ingold responds by saying that even “the best-constructed system of automatic machinofacture…. would soon grind to a standstill without human attention. This is simply because machines, unlike living organisms, are not self-maintaining systems, and are incapable of making up themselves for the effect of wear and tear” (Ingold 308). So in other words, machines couldn’t necessarily replace humans completely. A machine would not be able to “fix” itself if it were to malfunction, and it would only be able to work properly and stay maintained with help from humans.

  • Sean Tucker

    Will Machines replace humans?
    I believe that yes, to some extent however. In the context of most forms of manual labor in the work force machines will eventually replace humans. This is inevitable conclusion due to humans’ habit of advancing their technology and making work easier and faster with as little human energy output as possible. Advancing technology and machinery is not only beneficial for the improvement of human life, but it is also less expensive to employ a machine than a human. Humans require health care both physically and mentally. They also need breaks and food whereas machines do not. Machines can replace humans because machines are on a level that transcends tools because of its independence from man. Ingold states on page 300 that “in it modern scene the machine is often distinguished from the tool on the grounds that it draws on a source of power outside the body and is not manually operated”. Another reason why machines will also replace humans is because they are better at the job and usually make fewer mistakes because they do not get distracted or tired. According to Lerio-Gourhan in Ingold page 301 “The working of the machine effectively mimic those of the living body, of which it is but an improved artificial copy”. So if humans continue the habit of improving technology and machinery in order to make work easier and faster, then eventually they will replace us.

    • Potentially interesting insights, but keep in mind that Ingold is questioning Leroi-Gourhan’s attempt to define a machine. Ingold will eventually insist that “with regard to both motive power and working parts, the difference between tools and machines is one of degree rather than kind” (2000:303).

  • Marley Vil

    Will Machines replace humans?
    I believe that to some extent human will be replaced by machines. Machines can work a lot faster than humans and can work a lot harder and stronger humans can for example, you can a machine run all night long and have the same productivity from start to finish. Humans get tired and when they get tired they make mistakes. I also believe that humans will always need to be around to program the machine so that is why humans will not be replaced entirely and I think that you cannot mimic human intelligence. It is something that is always adapting and improving. Machines, at this point, will only go as far we take them.

    • To an extent true, but be sure to ground your observations in the readings.

  • Marzipan

    Ingold’s chapter began and ended with the question “do machines make history?”. He concluded that they do not, that people make history: “machines have not so much made as been made BY history, one in which human beings, to an ever increasing extent have become the authors of their own dehumanization” (311). In her Prologue, Tsing references a similar idea in her discussion of the history of capitalism, without mentioning machines outright: “this history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter” (5). (This may remind us of Ingold’s exploration of how animals and people can become parts of machines.) Since “alienation produces ruins” (Tsing 6) human’s and their capitalist system can be blamed for the state of our world, in the Anthropocene (Tsing 19); Tsing wants to address the question of whether we can live in the “regime of the human,” characterized by “ideas of progress” and “the spread of techniques of alienation,” and “still exceed it” (19).

  • Meagan Wright

    NO!! Machines will not replace humans. In some cases, yes machines have been built to preform human tasks but where these machines are is where there needs to be an expertise precision. Human’s work, though it can be flawed, requires skills and critical thinking that a robot can’t do. Can you see a robot doing electrical work? What if the robot malfunctions? Humans malfunction, but they can take a day off to regroup and come back. You would need to hire someone that is equip with the knowledge to reprogram your robot which is costly, and timely. “The effect of this rationalisation, however, is to remove the creative part of making from the context of physical engagement between workman and material, and to place it antecedent to this engagement in the form of an intellectual process of design” (295). In that by taking away the human in a situation, you’re taking away a major piece of a creative process and disassociating this process with a robot. Though tools are not organic, they are powered by humans. Robots are too powered by humans but in a different way. Tools are apart of the creative process that connects the human to the product. Robots are a disconnect. I don’t believe robots are capable of taking over human jobs. There are robots that do, but in the general sense, no, computers can’t work the way the human brain does.

    • Love the strong answer, but would be nice to see a bit more support from the readings.

  • Jasmin Werbenjagermanjensen Lo

    Will machines replace humans?
    I do believe that in some senses machine will replace a lot of the human population, in regards to some occupations that are now being down faster with a machine. However, I don’t believe that machines will replace us all, because humans will still be necessary to operate some machines and will be necessary to build them. In regards to what separates a tool from a machine Ingold says “In its modern sense, the machine is often distinguished from the tool on the grounds that it draws on a source of power outside the body, and is not manually operated”(Ingold 300). He is saying that a tool and machine are different because one relays on manual operations while the other relays on is own power sources.

    • Interesting speculations, but you would want to push the Ingold material a bit more. He will be questioning simplistic dichotomies between tool and machine and eventually insisting that “with regard to both motive power and working parts, the difference between tools and machines is one of degree rather than kind” (2000:303).