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Humans are Afraid of AI, but Why?

In this blog, we write a lot about the future of publishing with the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence to help automate repetitive tasks and make workflow more efficient. We also highlight that there is still resistance in the industry, and the world at large, for embracing technology due to fears about machines taking human jobs, but what is at the heart of that fear? And should we give into it by regulating how much we implement machine learning into our workflows?

In a recent article in Fast Company on the need for AI, writer Robert Safian shared a colleague’s mantra, “Everything in an organization that can be done by machines should be done by machines — efficiency dictates it. But everything that needs to be done by humans must be done by humans. The defining characteristics of an enterprise — those involving ethics, judgment, creativity, and compassion — require a human touch.” Using as an example of an instance in which a human touch was needed, the article highlighted the recent decision by Nike to feature controversial NFL star Colin Kaepernick in its “Just do it” campaign. At the center of debate that has extended beyond the National Football League and its fans into the very center of US power — The White House, Kaepernick, on paper, does not seem like a logical choice for a spokesperson. A machine would never have selected him from a list of choices. But, as a representative of what Nike stands for “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete,” Kaepernick, who stood up for something he believed in and sacrificed his career, fit perfectly. Only a human could see the potential and only a human could have made that decision.

A Pew Research study conducted last autumn showed that 72% of respondents are worried about a future in which machines are able to do many jobs currently held by humans. The study went on to outline how humans want to place restrictions on how and when and how much machines are involved in an organization, “in the event that robots and computers become capable of doing many human jobs, for example, 85% of Americans are in favor of limiting machines to performing primarily those jobs that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans.”  In addition, respondents were in favor of putting restrictions on how many jobs a company could replace with machines, still giving jobs to humans even if a machine are capable of doing them faster, or providing guaranteed pay for humans, even if a machine was doing the work. 

It’s clear from these results that humans are concerned about machines coming into the workplace because they will take their jobs, but we are ignoring the second part of that concern. Humans are afraid of adapting. Whether that means adapting from a system they are comfortable with or to a world in which they must become more creative, focus on the bigger picture, which may require more focused thinking and energy, is unclear. Machines offer the opportunity to stop doing mundane tasks and embrace more creative, thoughtful pursuits and ideas. Why are humans afraid of that? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

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