A Feud to Settle: Automation against Jobs

What is this all about?

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are such hot topics nowadays, especially for the media, isn’t that just true? There is this assumption that by endorsing automation we’re encouraging unemployment, here are my thoughts on the matter, a heads-up though, I’ll try debunking this misconception, as a professional in artificial intelligence and a business owner, I’m sure that I’ve got the credentials to dig in.

It’s very normal for businesses to explore intriguing new tools and technologies that might land new opportunities, this might position businesses better in the wild and competitive landscape of the market, but nonetheless, I find it superficially absurd that many media sources label both artificial intelligence and automation as the unscathed villain that we all have to really beware of, as a technical professional with profound humane-value mentality toward humanity, I can attest that this is simply not true.

There is two sides to the argument, at its most basic forms, employers versus employees, let’s explore both of these camps and see what this is all about.

 

Camps on the horizon

Here are the two camps in their summarized form:

 

A. The employer camp:

“Employers and businesses believe that automation is their savior, it’s efficient, fast, consistent and most importantly, cheap. Can you blame them? In the end of the day, they’re not running a charity house.”

B. The employee camp:

“Employees treat jobs as their main source of income, and thus, by on-boarding automation we’re cutting the cord, denying the mass of their rightful right to earn a pay check and live. Can you, too, blame these people? They’re humans and they’re trying their very best to survive.”

Alright, that’s a true conundrum, siding with one might be biased after all, let’s try finding a fair middle ground, shall we? If that option is on the table, of course.

 

A. Visiting the employer camp again:

Granted, every technology is a two-way sword, a quick history lesson might really beef up your confidence, how about the Internet, games, mobiles and money. Rest assured that the AI-Automation combo is no different, it’s a tool in the end.

The argument that both automation and AI are taking our jobs is pretty naive, looking at history – again, the industrial revolution and what we’ve been thorough subsequently should leave you comfortable with the inevitable truth, that is, humans are wired to be resistive toward change, no matter what it is, be it good or bad, the default answer will almost always be no.

Electricity, the mighty Internet and manufacturing, all perks that are the children of technology, can you really give up any of those now? I bet you not, so how about we give automation some slack and faith, we probably want to see things with an empirical look for the sake of humanity.

Jobs come and go, that’s just part of evolution that we have to get used to, it’s not even a choice, it’s just imperative, and on the contrary, it’s never been a better time for humanity than now, the fact that machines are in a maturity level that spares you precious mental capacity to focus on what you do best is probably the best opportunity that, you, as a human can ever have.

Doing repetitive and mundane work was never a mandate for economies to flourish in the first place, it’s up to us, humans, to decide what values ought to resemble the basic blocks of economy, and it certainly must not be mundane work, this shapes our societies to downgrade our creativity and give technology a bad and a frowned-upon look.

Look at the occupation timeline for humans, it’s just organic how jobs evolve, we’ve come a long way from the mundane physical laborious chores to building sophisticated computer solutions that society take for granted these days, it’s just beautiful, I don’t believe AI is the killer-of-all here, it’s a facilitator for humanity to prosper, just as we tamed machines to serve us, their masters.

Suspending humanity’s technological evolution and hunger to advancement for the sake of holding on to legacy jobs is beyond absurd, humanity’s appetite for exploration and learning has always delivered on its promise to give us alternatives, human advancement should be measured by quality and efficiency, thinking otherwise is a mere hiccup to man’s evolution.

 

B. One last visit to the employee camp:

Man deserves a decent life, and it’s not helping out at all to have jobs fading away, granted again, keeping up might be the answer we’ve been trying to avoid all along.

I’ve always loved the phrase “augmented intelligence”, in my opinion, it just lays down a healthy paradigm for man and machine to co-exist.

At this stage, the best combination is to have both professionals and machines work collaboratively, it’s almost always the best work pipeline you’ll want to use in your business, take the world of medicine for example, a good workflow is to treat AI as your trusted medical advisor, and as all advisors do – most of the time, they provide a decent heads-up on the matter you have in hand, there are times where the input might not be so adequate, AI is no different.

Allowing AI to predict the best drug that, you, as a patient need is beyond extraordinary, especially that it’s so easy for a doctor to miss important details in the patient’s history that could make a huge difference in the accuracy of prescribing drugs, and there are many other practical examples where those two species can work together, one could debate that machines can’t run the show by themselves, yet, I honestly believe that this is a mandatory integration in any business or workflow, that’s to have a second expert pair-of-eyes prior to making key decisions, what’s the harm anyway?

In artificial intelligence, machine learning to be more accurate, we’re doing some amazing work so far, although there are things that we’ll have to figure out solutions for in order for AI to gain mainstream prime-time, one of these challenges, for example, is embedded in the nature of deep learning, and this is where it’s important to have a human subject matter expert nearby, in other words, humans will always be needed for these sort of scenarios.

To shed some more light, artificial neural networks are just spectacular with their results; however some neural networks architectures and models are just difficult to debug and to justify their results, making it super difficult to enroll in tasks involving severe consequences, imagine an AI system responsible of verifying your chance in landing a job for example, how would you feel when you are not shortlisted and, too, can’t get a fair explanation of why you didn’t even make it to the top ten while you satisfy all the requirements, I’m a firm believer that we should not outsource our values to machines, this TED talk by Zeynep Tufekci does justice to this matter more than I will here.

You almost always can solve anything using deep learning when the requirements are met, the sooner we realize that AI can complement our biological limits, the wiser and better for us. It’ll be crucial to build an adequate debugging and tracing infrastructure to allow neural networks to be used in more sensitive matters.

Education is the grease you’ll want to have an abundance of in such times, otherwise the employee-kind would surely suffer and see technology as a curse rather than an opportunity for scales to rebalance power and economies, now the topic of how to accomplish this is a subject that doesn’t belong in this article.

 

Efficiency as a core trait for business

As an employer, it’s beyond easy to integrate an AI agent – a fancy word for a program – to take care of your day-to-day work, you won’t believe how accessible this is now, all of these tasks that you thought were solely and exclusively done by humans are now the bread and butter of automation, I honestly find it amazing that machines spare us drafting long emails, inputting data and just crunch numbers all day long, I’ve always found it organic to have these AI agents do what they do best leaving us with plenty of time focusing on what really matters to us.

Focusing on what you deliver as a business value is independent of your day-to-day operation – most of the time, that’s why “operations” or “business as usual” is one of the very first divisions to depart work in favor to automation, it’s where things are the perfect environment for naive automation, that’s automation without a high level of intellectual sophistication.

That’s the whole premise to automation, it’s best summarized as: “we take those mundane tasks and allow your professionals to focus on what they do best”.

 

Verdict

The next time somebody mentions that automation and AI will take our jobs, you’ll probably have some good pointers to bring to the table, you’ll do just fine now.

I’m a firm believer that even though AI has its quirks and details, it’s probably one of the best tools that we came up with and it’ll integrate in our life significantly, steering it well is the challenge though, this will allow us to have a complete makeover to our economies and societies, for the betterment of individuals, businesses and the rest of us.

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