Aye, Robot? Why AI won’t replace real human relationships.

It’s half past four on a Tuesday afternoon. The cursor on my screen blinks in the middle of a blank page.

“I can’t think of a good blog topic”.

“Why not get AI to write one for you?” My colleague laughs. I could. This could all be a façade. A scam. How would you know? It’s not, by the way, and I am actually typing this. The pros are far more rewarding. It will of course take me longer than the 0.2s it takes for Chat GPT to come up with something, but I enjoy writing blogs. It’s quite therapeutic and has a good creative output.

My colleague’s response would have sounded strange a year ago, but all of a sudden it seems like Artificial Intelligence is everywhere. How did it go from the antagonist of a cheesy 1960s sci-fi movie to stealing everyone’s jobs overnight? Let’s open the history books and find out. There are already a million and one blogs about this, but here are my two cents.

Perhaps the tin man from The Wizard of Oz was one of the earliest personifications of this phenomenon. A heartless but harmless character in a children’s story, but a robot who could speak and feel like a human all the same. Post wartime it was one Alan Turing who explored the possibility in a scientific context with his paper ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ where he suggested that we can program machines to solve problems like humans can with information given to them. He also cracked the enigma code which helped win WW2, so the man knew what he was talking about.

Luckily, a barrier stopping these boxes of wires from rising up and taking over the world like a deleted scene from Terminator 2 was the cost. Around $200,000 per month to lease one of the computers meant that only the top laboratories and universities in the world could afford them. Nowadays that’s just the weekly retainer for Donald Trump’s PR consultant. In 1957 the phrase ‘Artificial Intelligence’ was coined by the American computer scientist John McCarthy at a Dartmouth conference, and the scientific field of AI was born. At the time it probably sounded as weird as ‘Adorkable’ which has been added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2023, as in the well-known phrase:

“Look at those guys making AI robots by themselves in the corner, so adorkable.”

For the next 20 years there followed a boom of optimism and progress, with the first chatbot built by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966 named ELIZA and overall computers became faster, cheaper, and learned to compute more algorithms. Expectations became increasingly high with many experts predicting the birth of a computer that could match or exceed the intelligence of humans by the year 2000, however, there was a long way to go if these machines could be capable of self-recognition, emotion, and cognitive and abstract thinking – I remember having similar feedback in my school report cards.

The interest and funding dwindled for several decades; however, some landmark achievements were made, most notably an IBM computer chess program ‘Deep Blue’ beating Chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997. I bet Gary was devastated handing over his trophy to a very smug C3PO. In the same year speech recognition software was installed in Windows and inspired an entire generation to type out swear words and play at full volume in classrooms across the world.

Fast forward to the present day and AI seems to have progressed from gimmicks and chess-playing robots into a genuine hype on the news. The tone on the BBC seems to have shifted from playfully chuckling at a robot struggling to walk up the stairs into a serious concern that will affect our everyday lives. Chat GPT seems to be everywhere, the latest frenzy of fear taking your jobs and helping children cheat their way through school.

Why won’t anyone think of the children?

There are big headlines surrounding AI, as it seems companies are desperate to get in on the action and seen to be ahead of the time. Almost all of them have a catch found somewhere in the article. “Asda introduces self-driving delivery vans in AI first” sounds quite impressive, under you realize that an Asda employee must ride in the car and carry the shopping to the front door, and there will be a second safety officer in the car for the first 12 months.

Safety is the big question surrounding AI travel and self-driving vehicles, with Tesla stealing all the headlines, and not for the right reasons. There is a sliding scale of autonomous driving abilities ranging from cruise control, a standard feature in today’s world, all the way to a fully functional vehicle with no human override needed. This year Elon Musk has boldly stated they will release a fully autonomous car, despite a mess of headlines littered over the internet with examples of failed tests and dangerous accidents.

A report by Goldman Sachs suggests that 300 million jobs could be replaced by AI, with administrative and white-collar work most at risk. Surely the point of this technology is to be used to make our lives easier, not more difficult. But there are surely jobs that will be created and entire industries that will grow from this technology. A large percentage of jobs in today’s market didn’t even exist 30 years ago, so who knows what the market will look like 30 years from now.

There are also jobs that must need a human touch, a human perspective. Sure, a drone can deliver your Amazon parcel or a pizza, but perform open heart surgery? Make crucial leadership decisions? Be a therapist for someone struggling with trauma? I know I’d rather speak to a qualified person than lie on a sofa and pour my heart out to Alexa.

The classic opening scene of ‘I, Robot’ involves Will Smith being saved from an underwater car crash by a robot who calculates he has a higher percentage chance of survival compared to the child inside the car. His argument later in the film is that any person would save the child over an adult, using human empathy over cold calculations. And that’s the big sticking point for me. Every day in life we make decisions sometimes not based on algorithms or statistics, but gut feeling. Empathy. Experience. Take a risk on employing someone because you just get them. How many times have you heard an example of someone ticking 6/10 boxes on paper, but absolutely smashing an interview and then excelling in their new role?

From just about every autobiography in existence, being successful in business is about taking risks. Not looking too hard at the numbers but just going for it. Having a good feeling, having an amazing team around you, and taking a leap of faith.

At Global Talent 2020 we have all the statistics, sure. We meticulously take notes in every meeting. During every phone call. Every detail, no matter how small is recorded as this could mean all the difference in getting the result that will benefit our clients and candidates. However, we also provide a consultative service and are people who have been through the process ourselves and have years of experience in our specialist fields. This is crucial when we must give advice, and show empathy, and compassion to the people we work with.

No robot or AI is ever going to replace that.

Written by Ben Jones

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