The rise of the robots may not be a bad thing

CityPress - - Business - Muzi Kuzwayo busi­ness@ city­press. co. za Kuzwayo is the founder of Ig­ni­tive, an ad­ver­tis­ing agency

Some­day, a robot will write this col­umn. It will be a per­fect piece be­cause the robot will know ev­ery­thing about you, as well as the world in which you live.

This is not sci­ence fic­tion, but a hu­man re­al­ity, and it has al­ready be­gun.

Pub­li­ca­tions such as Forbes mag­a­zine al­ready use bot writ­ers that are pro­duced by a com­pany called Nar­ra­tive Sci­ence. The bots can sift through lots of data and con­dense this into bite-size nar­ra­tions.

What makes this kind of bot writ­ing so good is that it gives the rea­son­ing be­hind the sit­u­a­tion – the main pil­lar in any de­ci­sion­mak­ing process.

Nar­ra­tive lan­guage gen­er­a­tion, which is a sub­set of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, elim­i­nates guess­work, which is preva­lent in the world of busi­ness.

Think about this: on any given day, many things hap­pen around the world, and it of­ten takes days and some­time years to in­ves­ti­gate the real cause of each event.

Yet fi­nan­cial an­a­lysts are able to say with un­blink­ing cer­tainty what caused a cur­rency to fall or rise that day.

Most of it, we’ve come to re­alise, is mon­ey­mak­ing guess­work, which pro­vides “an all too con­ve­nient way for the un­lucky, the im­pru­dent and the gullible to lose their money”, as John Brooks wrote in his book Busi­ness Ad­ven­tures.

Nar­ra­tive lan­guage gen­er­a­tion also elim­i­nates the bias of the re­searcher.

We have to ad­mit that hu­man be­ings fail dis­mally when it comes to ob­jec­tiv­ity. Thank­fully, tech­nol­ogy prom­ises to solve that prob­lem too.

Like most hu­man in­ven­tions, bot writ­ing is, for now, lim­ited to fi­nan­cial and sport news – where there is a lot of data avail­able – but it is mak­ing its way into opin­ion pieces. This job­de­stroy­ing tech­nol­ogy was de­vel­oped at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity in the Medill School of Jour­nal­ism, Me­dia and In­te­grated Mar­ket­ing Communications.

Although this is a great in­ven­tion, it is not free from the mal­ady of our times, which is fake news. Re­cently, re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton de­vel­oped a video of a fake Barack Obama giv­ing a speech he didn’t de­liver. The com­puter pro­gram learnt his man­ner of speak­ing and how he pro­nounces his words, cre­ated a to­tally nonex­is­tent speech and then at­trib­uted it to him. This tech­nol­ogy has elim­i­nated video ev­i­dence, and Lau­ryn Hill’s line “be­lieve half of what you see and none of what you hear” has to be re­vised.

You might have to be­lieve noth­ing of what you see or hear.

This new dilemma comes at a time when ethics in jour­nal­ism has been swamped by ubiq­ui­tous so­cial me­dia. For ex­am­ple, the Twit­terati are not known for check­ing their facts.

Ethi­cists are try­ing their best to in­fuse morals, re­spect and good old-fash­ioned val­ues into ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, but they are un­likely to win be­cause so­ci­ety al­ways flows to­wards free­dom and the chaos it brings. Once peo­ple have tasted what they con­sider to be their free­dom, they’re un­likely to give it up.

Tech­nol­ogy has al­ready taken away many low-level jobs, and no­body can stop that tsunami. It is now start­ing to af­fect white-col­lar work­ers. Cor­po­rate re­struc­tur­ing shrunk mid­dle man­age­ment, and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence threat­ens to wipe it out al­to­gether.

While the world is grap­pling with such big chal­lenges, South Africans are ar­gu­ing about the colour of monopoly cap­i­tal; a de­bate that is em­bar­rass­ingly ba­sic.

We need ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence – it will cre­ate bet­ter politi­cians, men and women who think about the needs of the peo­ple. It will also de­liver speeches that are worth lis­ten­ing to, as well as sto­ries worth read­ing. Un­til then, you’re stuck with me.

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