Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 3 seconds

Despite the many exciting advancements in tech over the last half decade, a concerning narrative is emerging: that machines, rather than being our tools and friend, may come back to bite us. One need only watch an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ to see this moral panic — there is widespread, and not illegitimate, worry that progress will eventually lead to catastrophe.

Certain pieces of academic research only seem to fuel such anxiety. For example, the University of Oxford recently predicted that 47% of the current market will become obsolete over the next 25 years, thereby supporting the suggestion that in the not-too-distant future, we will live mostly workless lives, with robots performing most tasks.

Humanity has its own niche 

However, there is a growing body of evidence to dispel these predictions as simplistic and too negative, and which show that the future relationship between man and machine will actually be peaceful and fruitful. That’s because there are certain aspects of humankind that cannot be replaced by machines.

Firstly, we can’t ignore the fact that technology such as AI will replace some jobs; although others will emerge to replace them. The World Economic Forum takes such a view, predicting that the net number of new jobs as a result of new tech could tally up to the tune of 58 million over the next five years — despite millions of roles being lost. This might mean the mass retraining for individuals worldwide, but not systemic unemployment.

Further, there are some characteristics that are uniquely human. Some might suggest that our ability to empathise will one day be convincingly emulated by machines, but there’s little evidence to support that. And where AI may tend toward the utilitarian and practicable, humans understand moral rules. The example of Microsoft’s Tay bot, which learnt to use discriminatory language and was offensive to minorities on Twitter, serves to illustrate the current limits of this technology.

Some argue that these are the mistakes of still developing technology, but for the foreseeable future at least, humans are still needed to ‘step in’ and correct mistakes.

Amplification of humanity’s abilities

The future of AI will therefore be about its close relationship with humankind, and there are several key aspects to how this partnership will develop. One that requires particular attention is the ‘amplification’ of human traits by machines.

This sounds like jargon, but it refers to a simple idea. A good example arrives from Prospex, a tool created by Fountech Ventures, that allows those in sales to rapidly generate new leads. The tool takes on the mundane, time consuming task of trawling through databases to identify potential leads. Consequently, the human skill (selling a product) is allowed to flourish.

Other AI programs are able to perform similarly useful tasks. For example, designers suffering from creative block can find assistance in a new program from Autodesk, named Dreamcatcher. The program is able to harness creativity by generating new designs based on basic parameters. So, if one needs a new design for a spoon, say, then the input would be ‘includes a handle’ and ‘small shallow bowl’. The designs that are provided can then be sifted through by the designer — and may include the final product design or inspiration for it. Human creativity is still a vital part of the process, but the machine helps amplify it a great deal.

Taking over the boring stuff 

But it’s not just about helping humans work smarter – machines will also take over repetitive tasks that millions of people perform whilst on the job. This may sound like a death knell for repetitive administrative, or factory-based jobs, but that’s simply not the case.

Chatbots, for example, are now used by many large companies for a variety of reasons. They tend to be positioned at the front end of the customer interaction process, and will ask questions based on large datasets, before directing one to the appropriate representative. Once there, the worker at HQ can manage the problem without having to ask repetitive questions all day, and will likely be more fulfilled as a result. The customer, on the other hand, is able to receive the specialised help they need at a faster rate than before.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that in 1,500 companies, firms achieve the most significant improvements when man and machine work in tandem. There is little doubt that the future of tech and AI will make the working lives of millions of people much more enjoyable and efficient. But only when companies receive the necessary support to make the most of the developing tech, and are reassured as to the benefits, will the collaboration between man and machine be realised fully.


Nikolas Kairinos is CEO and founder of Fountech.ai, a company specialising in the development and delivery of artificial intelligence solutions for businesses and organisations.

Last modified on Monday, 03 February 2020
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