Automation, driven increasingly by AI and its host of algorithms, are increasingly running our lives – and not necessarily in a good way.
Whether this is a good thing depends on the motives of the humans who run the companies at the leading edge. And the humans at the top are motivated by growth, profit and their shareholders. Some may want to make the planet a better place, but they do that separately by setting up a Foundation called something catchy to do with climate change.
Already automation is making decisions that kept millions of humans in jobs for decades. From mortgage requests to HR decisions, key moments in a human’s life – buying a house or getting a job – are being decided by automated systems, driven by algorithms that have been programmed by humans, which are therefore influenced by the goals of those humans.
Finding a balance between automation and long-term compassion will be one of the toughest challenges of the next few years.
It is one thing for the workers at Google to set up a union whose goal is to ensure that ethics is always part of the company’s decision-making. It is quite another to dismantle the algorithm that is programmed to recommend your next video on YouTube when its goal is to maximise the time users spend watching YouTube.
Some people are so upset by the march of automation, driven by clever, power-hungry and obsessed people, that they leave. Recently, ethics researchers at Google have left the company, while over at Facebook, the executive in charge of looking into AI bias was squeezed into a situation that was totally at odds with the overall company aims.
As MIT research puts it: “Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine [that] growth.”
Even if the people at the very top have reached their goals and want to mellow into an autumn of good deeds, conquering space or saving the planet, the goals of the company, set by them, are being carried forward by the next generation of clever, power-hungry, obsessed people.
The result of this order of things is that instead of automation, AI and their algorithms being harnessed to drive and incubate innovation, it is simply being used to cut costs and drive efficiency.
The argument that automation will help create as many jobs as it destroys (and caring services and those ‘soft’ professions are often cited) will take a lot of time for the balance to be redressed.
Right now, automation is destroying more than it is creating. Let us hope the reverse becomes true quicker than seems reasonable at the moment.