CES Panel: Confronting the Fear that AI Will Replace Humans

JT Kostman, managing director of applied artificial intelligence at Grant Thornton, is preparing a TED Talk on AI that he may title “Dear Humans: We Mean You No Harm. Love, AI.” In a CES 2019 panel, moderated by Alice.com’s Elizabeth Gore, experts talked about the pain points in integrating AI into today’s world, including the general fear that AI will replace humans in the workforce. Accenture’s North America lead for M&E Lynn McMahon agreed that the buzz of machines taking over the world has risen.

“Instead, we need to be asking, what are the things that machines do best and what humans do best,” she added. HireHer chief executive Ruth Chandler Cook noted that there’s a challenge of under-representation of women and minorities in STEM fields, which could be replicated when AI integrates into the workplace.

“How do you know if you’re asking the right questions as you’re building the platform?” she asked. “What if there were a mechanism built in to level the disadvantage of being a woman or a minority — and how do you do that from an AI perspective?  It’s worth considering.”

Cory Treffiletti, Voicera chief marketing officer, reported his product uses AI to take notes from conference calls and integrate them into email, Slack or Salesforce. “AI can replace the monotonous parts of your day,” he said.

Kostman compared the relationship of humans and AI to that of a parent and teenaged children. “We love them, but there is occasional contention and sometimes we’re afraid of them.” At the same time, in today’s climate, he said, “you can’t escape all the dystopian scenarios.” He described how when Edison introduced electricity by lighting up a square mile of Manhattan, many people had a violently negative, fearful reaction. “But technology is about making our lives better.”

McMahon reported that her group has focused a lot of research on what’s called the “missing middle,” where machines will augment humans and humans can complement machines. “There will be roles and jobs that didn’t exist before,” she said, adding that, “we have the chance to re-humanitize time.”

“We work more hours than people did 400 years ago, which is bizarre,” she said. “AI will take the drudgery.”

Cook reminded attendees to think of who the customers are going to be. “You have to make sure that whatever it is you’re implementing takes into account what’s important to them,” she said. Kostman encouraged those in the audience to join the conversation. “This is the beginning of a conversation that desperately needs to be had,” he said. McMahon agreed.

“We’re at the cusp of a huge disruption for positive and negative,” she said. “It’s exciting, but very scary to a lot of people.”

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