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How Can We Ensure Humans Flourish in an Age of Robots?

The pandemic has accelerated the update of automation in many areas of work. Robotic process automation, or RPA, is rapidly replacing a lot of white collar activities, while AI is starting to be used in supervisory positions.

在他的新书中,FutureProof, 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation《纽约时报》的科技记者凯文·鲁斯认为,工作场所有可能因自动化而失去人性,我们需要仔细考虑我们自动化的东西。

鲁斯:这场大流行确实对加速公司内部人工智能和自动化的部署产生了重大影响。RPA指的是基于软件的产品,它可以自动化常见的业务任务,因此公司可以在计费部门使用RPA来自动化创建发票的某些部分;它可以在法律部门使用RPA来审查某些类型的合同,或者在it部门使用RPA来连接两种类型的数据库。

These can range from very simple rule-based algorithms to more complicated RPA bots that take advantage of AI techniques like machine learning and computer vision.

在后台自动化Harry

正如一位顾问告诉我的那样,他们正试图在后台自动化Harry。公司正在执行这些基本任务,而不是升级他们的整个计算机系统,这可能需要花费数十亿美元和许多年,他们正在自动化使用旧计算机系统的人。

但RPA只是目前公司内部正在进行的几种人工智能和自动化中的一种,所有这些的综合效应可能要大得多。Forty-five million workers in the U.S.could be displaced by automationby the end of the decade — up from the 37 million predicted before the pandemic.

一般自动化

边缘:You write about something called so-so automation, which is an interesting phrase. What do you mean by that?

鲁斯:This is a phrase that comes from two economists, Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, who study automation and its effects on the labor market. It refers to the kinds of automation that are just barely good enough to replace human workers, but don’t generate substantial productivity gains or create dynamic new industries full of new jobs for people.

The examples they use are things like the automated call center, which — I’m sure anyone who’s called an automated call center understands — are pretty mediocre forms of automation. Most of the time, you want to talk to a human instead. These forms of automation, these automated call centers, these self-checkout machines at grocery stores and things like that get implemented because they’re cheaper than human workers, and they’re maybe marginally more efficient.

The danger that so-so automation poses is it gives us the downsides of automation, which are human displacement and job loss, without the upsides, which are substantial gains in productivity, the creation of new industries that have all the jobs that can catch people who are displaced out of the old industries.

And that might be one reason why we’re not seeing giant productivity gains, even as companies become more and more automated.

边缘:So how do we find a way through this? Are there ways that the human workforce can come out of this to the betterment of themselves and their lives?

鲁斯:Yeah, absolutely. I should say I am not anti-automation. I don’t think we should stop automating just to preserve jobs that are outdated or obsolete, but I do think we need to be careful inhowwe automate.

并非所有的自动化都是平等的

It matters how the gains of automation are distributed.

From history, we know that automation and technology generally have a concentrating effect on wealth — fewer people are needed to run giant institutions and corporations, so wealth tends to get concentrated upward in fewer and fewer hands. And it takes years and often quite bloody labor struggles to disperse the gains of automation more equitably among workers.

Experts are saying that we need to be moving in the other direction by teaching people how to do the uniquely human things that are going to differentiate us from AI.

So what business leaders should be focused on is providing automation that provides better conditions for workers, that frees them from mundane work and toil, and allows them to be more creative and human. In other words, automation that makes their lives and their livelihoods better, not worse.

我现在担心的一件事是,很多公司都在用人工智能跟踪员工,对他们进行监控,以提高生产率预期,这在某种程度上使工作场所失去人性。自动化和人工智能应该做相反的事情:它应该把我们从这些傲慢的工作环境中解放出来,它应该让我们都更有创造力和人性。但我担心在某些情况下我们走错了方向。

边缘:Is this a problem that businesses have to solve, or is this an issue that needs to be taken up by governments, policy and regulation?

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

鲁斯:在一个理想的世界里,监管者会全力以赴,但我认为监管者还需要一段时间才能赶上技术的发展。

In the meantime, I would urge business leaders to be very thoughtful about this, because we’ve seen this movie before.

We know how the wave of factory automation in the 20th century ended: It produced vast inequality and labor unrest. There were strikes, there were interventions, they were work stoppages. Workers reacted very harshly to automation because they weren’t seeing the gains of automation in their paychecks or in their workplace environments.

所以我们必须非常小心,因为否则我们could be in for a lot of tumult and upheaval in the years ahead. I’m not as worried about a mass unemployment event as I am about jobs changing as a result of these technologies. There are ways in which AI and automation have actually made work more precarious.

AI As the Supervisor

A lot of AI now is serving in a supervisory function.

因此,作为一名工人的经历在某些情况下变得更加艰难和不稳定。因此,如果我们有充分的就业机会,但工作比过去更糟,我们在更不宽容的条件下工作,从事更平凡的任务,这是自动化的胜利吗?我不这么认为。

边缘:And what about for individuals themselves? Do you have some tips on how to survive this?

鲁斯:是的。这本书有九条我称之为规则的规定,但它们实际上是给那些试图在工作生活、家庭生活和社区中驾驭这股变革浪潮的人的建议。

They all boil down to this idea that we need to be much more human than we currently are. For many years, we’ve been essentially training people to compete with machines by becoming machines. We told people to go and major in engineering, make yourself as productive as possible. Work as hard as you possibly can, optimize your life, squeeze all the inefficiency and waste out of it — essentially teaching people to behave like robots.

Choosing Not to Automate to Keep the Human Connection

但是我的许多专家说,我们需要谈谈to be moving in the other direction. We need to be teaching people how to do the uniquely human things that are going to differentiate us from AI. These are things that generally involve human traits like compassion and empathy and collaboration and courage and the things that are harder to automate.

我认为我们所有人都应该思考我们工作中最人性化的部分是什么,以及我们如何把更多的时间花在这些人性化的部分上,因为其他部分很可能是自动化的。

I think that there is no such thing as a robot-proof job, but there are certain jobs that we can choose not to automate because we want the human connection.

当我们与人交往时,我们希望有一种社交经验。我认为,这些工作可能会留在人类手中,不是因为我们不能实现自动化,而是因为我们不会接受那些看似廉价、大规模生产、有点没有灵魂的自动化替代品,而我们真正想要的是一对一的真正的人类互动。

Kevin Roose

Technology Columnist for The New York Times @凯文鲁斯

Kevin Roose is a technology columnist for The New York Times, based in the Bay Area. His column, “The Shift,” examines the intersection of technology, business, and culture. Roose is the host of the podcast “Rabbit Hole,” and writes regularly about online extremism, social media disinformation, A.I. and algorithms, and emerging technologies. Roose is the bestselling author of three books.

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