Behind the hardware, the man
The concept of Artificial Intelligence was always accompanied by ambivalent feelings: on one side the confidence and admiration for a technological turning point, on the other the fear that machines can arrive one day to replace humans in many occupations.
One of the most popular questions that arises when we talk about AI is whether it is still needed our presence for operations that machines often perform in a faster and less expensive way.
It is widely believed that technology, in this case the AI, will make obsolete the human labour in many areas. According to Sidney Fussel instead, to quote the title of his article published by The Atlantic, “Behind Every Robot Is a Human”.
Fussel starts from an article published on Bloomberg which revealed how some Amazon employees are in charge of listening to the recordings of the voice commands used to interact with the Echo speakers, through the virtual assistant Alexa.
➡️ The purpose? Perfect the software, allowing it to “learn” the various nuances of the language (accents, complex commands). In short, make Alexa more “human”. Amazon has specified that the data is collected in anonymous form, that only brief recordings are extracted and that security measures are present to avoid any kind of abuse.
➡️ To take another example, there are people in charge of analysing and cataloguing the video footage of surveillance cameras sold by Amazon or of teaching the Facebook AI what is considered inappropriate in different contexts and then moderating the contents adequately.
➡️ In any case, the question has raised is that for many objects based on artificial intelligence, essentially being prototypes, human intervention is (still) necessary.
The paradox of automation’s last mile
In order to improve and get closer to the features that it promises to provide, human intervention is therefore necessary to allow the AI to learn and interpret, in the Alexa case, new nuances of the language and respond more and more precisely to the users.
🔸 Some Harvard researchers have coined the expression “paradox of automation’s last mile” to describe this type of collaboration: the machines are currently autonomous and are able to carry out some tasks and operations often more efficiently, but without the human contribution it is not possible to achieve the degree of improvement required for certain services, based mainly on AI.
🔸 Through the work of human beings and with the increase in the quantity of selected data, the AI becomes increasingly precise and in turn more careful in selecting information, which it uses as a database filtered by people.
🔸 The universally acknowledged thesis that the AI can replace human beings contrasts with the “hidden” work of the people who work to refine it: it is able to function only thanks to a close man-machine collaboration.
A human touch
A historic slogan created by Intercomp reads “Behind the hardware, the man”, to underline how, despite the enormous and rapid advances in technology, the human being has always been considered a fundamental part for the proper functioning of the machines.
✅ It is increasingly difficult to recognize the central role of the human figure in a world of devices that are now able to manage themselves autonomously.
✅ But denying the presence of people behind technological development means depriving them of the human touch, which can transform a set of mechanical parts into an object capable of providing useful and indispensable services, as well as supporting and making our daily work more efficient.
Artificial intelligence can achieve potentially exceptional results but can rarely do it alone. That’s why “behind the hardware, the man”.
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