Must-Read: Zeynep Tufekci: The Machines Are Coming

Must-Read: Zeynep Tufekci: The Machines Are Coming: “Today, machines can process regular spoken language and not only recognize human faces…

…but also read their expressions. They can classify personality types, and have started being able to carry out conversations with appropriate emotional tenor. Machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who’s in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale. In applications around the world, software is being used to predict whether people are lying, how they feel and whom they’ll vote for. To crack these cognitive and emotional puzzles, computers needed not only sophisticated, efficient algorithms, but also vast amounts of human-generated data, which can now be easily harvested from our digitized world. The results are dazzling. Most of what we think of as expertise, knowledge and intuition is being deconstructed and recreated as an algorithmic competency, fueled by big data. But computers do not just replace humans in the workplace. They shift the balance of power even more in favor of employers….

I recently had a conversation with a call center worker from the Philippines. While trying to solve my minor problem, he needed to get a code from a supervisor. The code didn’t work. A groan escaped his lips: ‘I’m going to lose my job.’ Alarmed, I inquired why. He had done nothing wrong, and it was a small issue.‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said. He was probably right. He is dispensable…. This is the way technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers’ dependency on them….

Optimists insist that we’ve been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. But… one historical example is no guarantee of future events…. It’s easy to imagine an alternate future where advanced machine capabilities are used to empower more of us, rather than control most of us. There will potentially be more time, resources and freedom to share, but only if we change how we do things. We don’t need to reject or blame technology. This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another.

April 24, 2015

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