Periodically we see news stories about new Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs and/or robots that are going to take over functions formerly performed by human beings. Only the AIs will do that work faster, better, cheaper, and more accurately,
The Driverless Car Hype
Months later, other stories often follow to let us know we are not quite there yet. We saw this recently with all the hype about driverless vehicles. After two deaths, robotics experts weighed in with the consensus that driverless cars aren’t safe or ready for the road. Well, duh. Why we need driverless cars is another question altogether.
I drive a lot in Boston where the drivers are ruthless. I saw one run a red light last week after the pedestrian Walk sign had flashed. Anyone not paying attention before stepping off the curb would have been flattened. But pedestrians also jaywalk blindly in the middle of the block, at crowded intersections, and against the light. Would driverless vehicles make this situation better or worse?
Robotic Chefs Run the Kitchen
This year, a group of celebrity chefs in Boston invested in a restaurant with an automated kitchen. Chefs Jerôme Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Gavin Kayson opened Spyce, a restaurant where diners order meals via kiosk. A robotic system of refrigerators and woks prepares the meal with “only a little human help” at the end. The chefs don’t seem disturbed by the idea of replacing a training ground for chefs and food service workers with mechanical devices because Spyce is not “fine dining.”
Fair enough. But you don’t get to work in Per Se, The French Laundry, Bar Boulud, or Spoon and Stable without years of experience on the line. If machines do all the prep and replace the line cooks, where does the next generation of celebrity chefs get their training? Will they graduate the Culinary Institute of America or Johnson and Wales only to discover that machines have taken all the jobs?
Not to mention that the pictures of the Spyce robotic kitchen remind me uncomfortably of cattle feed lots and pig fattening mechanisms. I walked past it last week and it was crowded. Each to his own.
Artificial Intelligence Takes Over Hiring
Going over to the business world, The Wall Street Journal tells us that artificial intelligence systems are replacing flesh-and-blood managers in the hiring process. In “Artificial Intelligence: The Robots Are Now Hiring,” Hilke Schellmann and Jason Bellini report that “ . . . more and more companies are using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to assess possible employees.”
Having done a lot of hiring (and some firing) in my career, I hold the firm belief that no machine, no amount of complex code, no algorithm can replace human intuition or gut reaction. The face-to-face dynamic of an interview can tell a perceptive manager a lot more than the words on a resume.
That man may have all the right credentials but something about him isn’t quite right. You just know he not going to fit into the corporate culture or how the department is run. That woman may say all the right things but you can tell that people just aren’t going to like her or trust her. On the other hand, a candidate might not have all the right qualifications but just wow you with energy and ideas.
The real hoot is that Schellmann and Bellini report that,
“The practice is part of a general trend of some hiring companies to move away from assessing candidates based on their resumes and skills, towards making hiring decisions based on people’s personalities.”
That means companies really believe that a machine can evaluate human personality traits better than another human being. I think intuition and gut feel can save both candidate and company a lot of grief by eliminating outliers that a machine just can’t perceive.
Creating the Perfect Mechanical Person
It never ends, this desire to create the perfect chef, driver, employee, manager, nurse, or bricklayer by replacing fallible, flawed and imperfect humans with something programmable, predictable, and controllable.
I wish that these misguided engineers would put their energies into developing robotic systems that can go where people can’t and do things beyond human capability. Here are three:
- Build entire settlements on the moon or Mars that are complete and ready to occupy before colonists set foot on the surface.
- Create and staff underwater laboratories in ocean trenches too deep, cold, and dark for humans to survive.
- Explore the galaxy in fully automated generation ships that don’t require actual generations of people to live and work on them.
Engineers Playing God
See? That wasn’t so difficult. It took me about 10 minutes to come up with a few ways in which robots and artificial intelligence could enhance the human experience instead of replacing it. I think it’s going to take us a while to get there, though. Not because artificial intelligence isn’t up to the challenge. No, we have to get past robotics engineers playing God by creating their own version of life before they will support the one we already have.