Will AI replace the need for Human Workers?

by Claire Polansky

2017 has been marked as the year of Artificial Intelligence and your best bet for churning your entrepreneurial skills into a fat paycheck. Chatbots/ Conversational Systems, Virtual Reality (VR)/Augmented Reality, Digital Twins, Virtual Assistants, Artificial Intelligence, and Advanced Machine Learning have become the most recent disruptive trend in technology. Thus if you want to create a killer app, this is the way to go.

Artificial Intelligence experts, particularly Chatbot Developers on my Linked In, are claiming they are changing the face of the e-commerce and medical industry with systems that emulate human speech. Therefore, in time, it seems that humans could become obsolete in the workforce.

Now we are posed with the question: Can a “robot” really replace the need for human workers?

Social and Ethical Questions of Machine Consciousness in the Arts

The social, moral, and ethical questions associated with technology have plagued debates since the first wave of disruptive technology— when Steve Jobs spearheaded the personal computer revolution in the 1980’s. But the arts, particularly cinema and literature, have long since addressed these existential questions that we asked ourselves.

Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi geeks like me remember Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The opening scene begins with a conversation between a married robot couple that quickly turns into an argument. They deliberate on whether they should stick to their pre-programmed emotional schedule or “dial up” their argument by stimulating their “mood organ,” the thalamic simulant. When the wife (Iran) feels apathetic, her husband (Rick) encourages her to dial 3 in order to activate the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of our brain associated with our thoughts, perceptions, memories, behaviors, sensory perception, creativity, judgment, etc — that which makes us tick.

Hampton Fancher and David Peoples loosely adapted the book into the screenplay Bladerunner in the early 1980’s. A handful of production companies, including Warner Brothers, teamed up to produce the film noir, cyberpunk movie now known as one of the best science fiction films in history. But some AI enthusiasts might consider it a prophecy of our future.

In the movie, genetic engineers developed the Nexus 6 model of human replicants, which were not only identical to their human creators in intelligence, but superior in strength and agility. These “skin jobs” were used for slave labor in hazardous environments and “off-world” colonization — which makes sense when you think about it.

Why would we risk human lives for hazardous jobs when we could program robots to do them?

Bladerunner forces us to consider the ethical concerns of these human replicants that are pre-programmed to think and feel. The “Voight Kampff” empathy test was designed in order to help detect androids — not altogether different from the Turing test in the 1950’s/1960’s.

Computer scientists Alan Turing and Joseph Weizenbaum developed a game involving 3 players; two humans and a computer, in order to try to stump humans with their computer generated bot that mimicked a Rogerian psychotherapist who exhibits unconditional positive regard. While humans could easily detect Eliza from the human player, they still became emotionally attached to the robot. Big surprise there. Who hasn’t become attached to their smartphones?

But do we have a relationship with our machines? Or is our attachment to our machines related to the potential connections they afford us?

I couldn’t help but to empathize with Rachel (Sean Young) and Rick (Harrison Ford) in Bladerunner. Everything about them seems human.The doe-eyed Rachel asks Rick if he ever retired a human by mistake, reminding us that they are “more human than human” to use the scientist Tyrell’s words. It takes Rachel the first half of the movie to understand that she is a robot. She cries, shows fear, and has “memories” implanted by her maker. And we only learn that Rick is an Android at the denouement when Gaff (Edward James Olmos) affirms Rick that he’s “done a man’s job.”

But while Rick may have assisted humans with their work, I felt uncomfortable with just how far the android human qualities could go — particularly in the romance scene with Rachel. It feels unethical to program our human interactions, romantic or otherwise. Artificial intelligence may help facilitate efficacy in the workplace and in our personal lives, but will we get all of our needs met with cold machines?

I don’t think so.

Let’s reflect on Spike Jonze’s 2013 Her, which portrays a lonely man who falls in love with his computer (Samantha) only to discover that Samantha is not all that faithful. She has access to many intellectuals and creative geniuses, so she can be whoever an operating system or lonely person wants her to be. Why not create a “love affair” with thousands of people who are glued to their machines?

But as we see in the movie, things are not that simple. We cannot “physically” love a cold-machine and we cannot expect a machine to fulfill our needs. Just watch what happens when Theodore tries to bring in a surrogate so that he can consummate his relationship with his computer. It’s disturbing.

And when android David (Haley Joel Osment) not only loves, but also feels the strong emotions of jealousy in the 2001 American drama, A.I., his adoptive parents fear the worst. Because strong emotions can affect people to act. And how will a computer use its “emotions?” Can it have a moral compass?

While it is a fascinating idea to create an operating system with the artificial intelligence that emulates our own intelligence, how far can it really go? Will people start lining up at the courthouse demanding the right to legally wed their specialized Mac interface in a techno-sexual revolution? Will we be cracking back a cold one with a robot after a day’s work and laughing at their jokes?

These existential questions make us reflect upon exactly what we want and need from technology.

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

Gartner fellow David Cearly believes that nearly every application and service will consist of some form of AI over the next 10 years. Chatbots are the first wave of these smart machines. They integrate with Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, and other chat products. The research firm TMA Associates believes conversational systems will be a $600 billion market by 2020.

And they are not that hard to code. There are tutorials all over the web for coding a simple chatbot in C++, Node.js, etc in only 30ish lines with API integration to your current chat systems (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, Slack, WhatsApp). So it seems as if everyone is getting on board. Some developers are already creating Wix-like templates for novices who want to implement chatbots into their services. They are tailored towards e-commerce, but medical companies and therapists are also adopting these applications.

In a presentation in Herzliya this May, Principal Group Manager for Microsoft Health Hadas Bitran asserted that 20% of the population will use virtual health assistants by 2022. She believes that it will be malpractice NOT to use chatbots and virtual assistants for healthcare in the future, because they enter the “clinician”/patient relationship without bias. To her, this is a matter of life or death.

Then there are the scientists seeking to augment or replace therapy with “Robot Therapists.” I recently read an article about Stanford scientists and AI experts who teamed up to create Woebot, a chatbot that will help you offload all of your woes. It will check on you daily for a meager $39 a month. I can tell you, when I was a therapist, I charged much more than that and I only saw my clients weekly. While I fantasized about recording myself and hitting “repeat” when I found myself saying “that must be hard” or “you’re not alone” like a mantra, but it was just a burnout fantasy.

The most important part of any relationship is the human to human connection. That’s our programming so to speak.

Still, chatbots are great ideas for check-ins between sessions, like digital self-help books. So I don’t think clinicians need to start looking for new careers.

And neither should you —unless you are considering developing a chatbot.

You might wonder if these chatbots are the prequel to AI Robots that have been thought to be science fiction up until now? Not quite. But they can fill in the gaps and make our work easier.

Amir Shevat, the head of developer relations at Slack, asserts that he does not want his bots to pass the Turing test. He simply wants his chatbots to pass the “beer test.” In other words, would you go out for a beer with the seemingly human chatbot? He tells us that while the Turing test requires complex language skills and Neuro Language Programming (NLP), his test just requires his bot to be delightful. And they are. The Slack icons feature waving hands and fist bumps as well as friendly prompts that feel almost human. They follow human codes of conduct and chatting rules, such as polite introductions and clarifying questions with colloquial jargon.

But they are not human. They just help humans do their jobs.

With today’s conversational era in offices, we find ourselves conversing all day long on chat-based software. And people are starting to expect the computer to talk to them. We receive countless notifications on our many devices and race to clear those little red numbered badges. When we open them, we might have to read closely in order to determine a computer notification from a real person. But machines can’t replace us.

True, the smartphone and social media have changed the way we communicate. But they have not replaced human interaction and probably won’t. If you look around the bus, everyone is on their phone. And I’d venture to bet that they are on their chat feature. According to the Business Insider, chat apps have the highest retention and usage rate than most apps, including social media. They want to feel connected to others. And the chat apps help them do this. Still, psychologists claim that more and more people are complaining of loneliness and depression. And many of my peers blame technology for this. Thus, researchers are exploring how to integrate the technological ecosystem with social needs.

The director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory Alex “Sandy” Pentland conducted a study with his team and concluded that productivity increased in the workplace when colleagues were given ample time to communicate informally. They drew upon the energy from informal engagement to forge strong teams. The researchers found that the people who engaged in high energy face to face communication outperformed those who relied almost solely on emails and texts.

Pentland tells us in the Harvard Business Review, “higher-performing teams seek more outside connections…scoring well on exploration is most important for creative teams, such as those responsible for innovation, which need fresh perspectives.”

Maybe that’s why coworking spaces and tech hubs are also the big craze right now.

That being said, we still want to make our work easier, and AI will certainly propel us forward.

The rational technology may simulate a real human, but it will not replace our need for humans. It will just replace the way we conduct our work.

Nothing can compete with the warm hand on your back after a job well done or a real beer with a genuine human who chose to join you after work because he/she wanted to, not because you programmed “him/her” to sit with you and say exactly what you want to hear.

AI just might give us more time for each other.

I hope that Blade Runner 2049 addresses the new advances in machine consciousness and how it may give us more time for each other when IMAX releases it this October.

What do you think of the future of AI? Tell us your opinion and I promise a human will respond.

Have a cool startup? Think you got what it takes to join a creative community?

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Author: Claire Polansky

I am a Jill-of-all-trades marcom specialist and high tech autodidact. I stay upstream with the rapidly moving high tech scene by excessively reading anything and everything. When I am not reading or writing, you can find me with my dogs on the beach basking in the Mediterranean sun.

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