An Impractical Guide To Hyperautomated Systems
As those who have read this column over time understand, I have a soapbox that involves authors, whether academics or consultants, pandering to management rather than teaching them. Sadly, “Age of Invisible Machines”
follows in that trend. It is presented as a book describing how chains and networks of artificial intelligence (AI) system, primarily fronted by chatbots, will be of great help to society. What it does is present reasons why executives should be good with replacing people with machines while not discussing the real impact of that change.
The good part of the book is the initial discussion of chatbots. The author provides an excellent description of why the systems are still advancing and that the main problem is that a chatbot and an intelligent chatbot are two different things. I regularly come across retail chatbots that are no more intelligent than the phone automatic call distribution (ACD) systems which only ask a series of questions to route the call. The supposed chatbots as a series of limited questions and if the prospect or customer can’t address those simple questions with simple answers the natural language processing (NLP) can fit into a few bins, the system is useless.
The book does give a description that points out a useful chatbot must be linked to backend systems to be able to understand and address a much wider range of issues. Most systems aren’t there yet, but progress is being made.
The first major problem with the book is that the above is hidden in a six chapter first section that seems to be pretty vapid blather that exists to justify a book rather than an article. It also includes the problem I mentioned in the first paragraph, best exemplified by a quote from chapter 5, “humans might be impressed with a facsimile, but they’re not likely to rely on a machine that simply replicates something they can already do themselves.” The problem with that is, simply stated, it’s wrong. Executives will be very happy to replace humans with a facsimiles that do what those humans could do themselves, as long as the facsimiles save money that can go into executive bonuses and stockholder value.
There is also a glowing section on China’s social rating system. The book has a good point, indicating that a limited use of that would be better than the current customer rating systems for companies and products. While I could see companies buying into such a system for reviews, the statement that “This score would be accessible to everyone, affected by our ongoing interaction with private businesses, individuals and even the government.” So everyone and everything? I’ll pass.
The rest of the book is about how to use consultants to help you build hyperautomated systems. That’s no surprise, given the author is such a consultant. However, there are two main problems with that. The book, of course, discusses current technology. That is what business must be concerned with. However, multiple technologies have shown have advances obviate mid-stream solutions. The rise of the GUI and of fourth generation languages showed that, as only two examples. The processes listed here are good for now, but any implementor must be prepared to continue scanning the horizon, as newer, faster, more powerful solutions will continue to arise at a fairly rapid pace.
The second, and larger issue was mentioned up top. Inventors have a habit, from long before Alfred Nobel, of ignoring the consequences of their inventions. The excuse is the same as scientists often give, that it’s not up to them to decide on the used and societal impact, they’re just discovering and inventing things. While that is true for theoretical science, it’s far past time for technologists focused on applications that directly impact society to give up that attempt to absolve themselves from societal impact.
The ethical AI movement is only an extension of regular movements in society, movements that try to understand how change impacts those societies and to do it from the beginning. Any good programmer looks at system issues from the design phase. Waiting until debugging is too late to create an effective system. Artificial intelligence will clearly impact society in major ways. It will redefine who can work and how society must address a change in the definition of work. It ties into the overvaluing of stocks because of the promise of solutions, in the lack of understanding of most people in what those solutions mean, and a real understanding, among a very few, of what that means.
Society is in a new Gilded Age. The first one led to regulations and protections that have been gutted over the last forty years. This new one has even more challenges and dangers than those that were created in the industrial revolutions. Nobody should be talking about systems with such an enormous potential impact on society without talking about those impacts. This book takes an outdated approach of ignoring society while pushing for major societal disruptions. That means I cannot recommend this book.