Augmentation is a better approach than automation for AI
As companies find more and more uses for AI technology, fears that the technology could supplant human employees are growing.
AI has become so pervasive in so many industries that its spread amounts to an invasion for some critics of how AI technology is used and its ability to take over the jobs of human workers.
With language models such as Dall-E arguably threatening the jobs of artists and illustrators, fast-food chains using AI in drive-ins, and contact centers turning to automated robots instead of human agents, AI can have tangible consequences for employees whose jobs are partially or fully automated.
While recent economic developments such as low unemployment rates nationwide have bolstered the arguments of automation proponents who say AI is needed to do jobs no one wants, critics say the best approach is to use AI to augment or supplement workers, like some fast food chains. claimed they were doing.
“If you have a machine that closely mimics humans, that makes human labor superfluous,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, principal investigator at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI and director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab. “Having machines that primarily mimic humans lowers wages; having machines that augment humans raises wages.
Erik BrynjolfssonPrincipal Investigator, Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI
Speaking Nov. 2 at a Brookings Institution expert question-and-answer session on the dangers and promises of human AI, Brynjolfsson said that while both approaches can help commerce, increasing in particular promotes creativity because human-technology collaboration allows the creation of new technologies.
Instead of creating a model that does exactly what a human does, it’s more creative to think of new technology that will help humans in their work instead of cutting jobs.
“The greatest value comes from creating an entirely new thing that has never existed before,” Brynjolfsson said.
Jobs that no one wants to do
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many workers to re-examine their economic worth and seek to find better and more rewarding careers. Even now, many industries, especially hospitality, are short of workers. In some cases, automation has been helpful in filling gaps where human labor is needed.
But the economic consequences of automating with AI run deeper than AI taking over work no one wants, said 9sight analyst Barry Devlin.
For example, with advances in autonomous vehicle technology, some people imagine the day when a truck driver will no longer be needed behind the wheel of the truck.
However, truckers won’t be the only workers affected if their jobs are replaced by AI. Hotels and motels, fast food restaurants and other businesses frequented by truckers during their trips will also be affected by a reduction in trucking jobs.
“There’s a whole ecosystem around this particular work,” Devlin said. “If we replace them all with AI, I think that will have a significant impact.”
Automation could also mean a greater likelihood of bias in areas such as medicine, insurance and real estate, he said.
“I think there are a lot of things that can be done with AI and with algorithms that can basically discriminate against people of color, people of age groups [or] certain gender orientations,” Devlin said.
Meanwhile, having a human involved to augment the AI technology could keep those biases at bay. “It’s about making sure people stay in control,” he said.
Contribute to society
According to Brynjolfsson, using AI to augment or supplement human jobs could lead to a fairer distribution of wealth in the economy.
“The imitation or substitution approach tends to concentrate most of the wealth [for] owners of capital, while the increase tends to distribute wealth widely,” he said.
Instead of trying to find ways to make machines do the work of humans, it is better to find ways for humans and machines to work together so that humans can continue to contribute to society, he continued.
Brynjolfsson said that instead of looking to a future in which machines take over, we should strive to fill the roles we have now.
“We’re not short of work. Let’s go ahead and make sure everyone wants to contribute to society,” he said.
While some vendors focus on automation, others, like Cresta, seek to make humans and machines partners, Brynjolfsson said. Cresta’s artificial intelligence technology provides guidance to call center agents when talking to customers. Another vendor doing this is Wingman, he noted.
“By increasing the human in this way…there is greater customer satisfaction [and] higher throughput,” Brynjolfsson said. “It turns out to be much more efficient than the machine alone.
Do not hinder progress
Proponents of automation argue that it is essential to advancing technology, especially as the United States battles China to become the leader in AI.
Additionally, tax laws favor automation due to heavy labor taxes, which means many technologists have no incentive to scale up instead of automating, Brynjolfsson said. Providing incentives that would reward technologists for increasing instead of automating would make it easier for them to shift away from using AI to mimic human actions instead of complementing them.
“I don’t want to stop automation,” Brynjolfsson said. “What I would like to do is increase the increase and restore a bit of balance so that we do them equally.”