Saturday, July 23, 2016

There’s An Artificial Intelligence for That

American workers are under fire from three sides: outsourcing to cheaper foreign labor, the new gig economy and automation. We try and improve efficiencies through the most overused word in the modern English language – “technology” – but even when we get what we want, there are always tons of unforeseen consequences.
Take for example what happened when the government decided to increase transparency and portability in medical records – a computerized central system where in an emergency, your medical records are instantly available wherever you might be, information that can be shared among your medical team. It’s called the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, which took effect in January of 2011, which incentivized providers to adopt such ubiquitous electronic medical records.
Billions of dollars were spent by medical service providers, hospital groups, etc. to create the kind of detailed forms that doctors need to document their diagnoses and treatments, information that can also be used to produce computer-generated analyses – from quantifiable to diagnostic – of the prognoses and the treatments. But the efforts have added droves of drudgery to the daily routine faced by the physicians and medical experts dealing with these computer-based databases. Some say that this has reduced the effective time that doctors can spend practicing medicine, that their treatments are often modified in light of likely computer responses, and that the quality of their efforts has actually be reduced by reason of these programs.
The July 19th explains: “This technology was supposed to reduce inefficiencies, make doctors' lives easier, and improve patient outcomes. The only problem? Many hospitals spent millions (and sometimes, billions) on systems that weren't designed to help their providers treat patients. ‘Frankly, the main incentive is to document exhaustively so you cover your ass and get paid,’ says Jay Parkinson, a New York-based pediatrician and the founder of health-tech startup Sherpaa.
“Indeed, physicians tell Fast Company that these systems are about a combination of meeting regulatory requirements, maximizing billing, and avoiding liability. ‘I would describe the practice of medicine today as a festival of measurements that have little to do with patient care,’ adds Jordan Shlain, a Bay Area-based primary care physician with Private Medical Services.
“Even in cases where the system is ostensibly set up to help doctors, it falls short. Many physicians are now facing an increasing deluge of alerts, including pop-ups about vitally important things as well as utterly meaningless ones. ‘Many of us are now becoming immune to these alerts,’ says Nate Gross, a doctor who cofounded both Rock Health and Doximity. ‘It's a user-experience flaw: These systems were not designed to follow how doctors actually think.’”
For those physician-accessed, computer-based symptom diagnoses, not only are such automated results usually more accurate than simple “human” review, particularly on more complex issues, but often additional causes and treatments are identified even when the doctors’ review was accurate.
Add this to a growing trend towards robotic surgery and the future of the medical profession looks really different from what most of us, including doctors, expect that field to be. Take for example a highly-effective automated surgical system (always doctor supervised and operated): “With the da Vinci Surgical System, surgeons operate through just a few small incisions. The da Vinci System features a magnified 3D high-definition vision system and tiny wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand. As a result, da Vinci enables your surgeon to operate with enhanced vision, precision and control.
“The da Vinci System represents the latest in surgical and robotics technologies. Your surgeon is 100% in control of the da Vinci System at all times. da Vinci technology translates your surgeon’s hand movements into smaller, precise movements of tiny instruments inside your body.” From the company’s website. Many of those movements are preprogrammed and based on what the system sees as the surgery progresses.
For many of us, even where foreign outsourcing is not a challenge, there is increasing fear that our jobs will soon be obsolete as artificial intelligence (AI)-backed automated systems compete for well-beyond routine service or manufacturing functions. Many of us ask what computers still cannot do that if they master such skills, those jobs are just toast? addressed the issues:
But in order for artificial intelligence to take a much bigger bite out of the knowledge-economy workforce, the technology may need to start behaving more like humans, not less. And that will mean mastering one key behavior: small talk.
Sociolinguists involved in the Language in the Workplace Project at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand have discovered that people switch naturally between ‘transactional’ talk—such as discussing a business goal—and ‘interactional’ talk, like when you encourage or show concern for a distressed coworker. We do this toggling back and forth with our colleagues all the time without even realizing it. It's at the heart of how we communicate.
“So far, this kind of mental flexibility isn’t something machines—designed to execute one type of task, consistently and flawlessly—can currently manage. And they won’t, according to machine-learning expert Geoffrey Hinton, until machines’ neural networks of 1 billion synapses come closer to the 1,000 trillion synapses of the human brain.
“For the moment, anyway, the technology that's best equipped to supplant human workers is still at a ‘rudimentary stage,’ says Robert Stephens, cofounder of, a leader in the business messaging and bots space, whose clients include Fandango, 1-800-Flowers, and Hyatt. When it comes to group chat, he points out, machines can’t yet distinguish between humans talking to each other and people instructing a bot directly.
“Stephens sees the workplace value of bots as ‘more anticipation than automation,’ helping eliminate some of the decision-making from humans' most routine tasks. And it's these sorts of things that Google for Work, for instance, seems most preoccupied with, foreseeing a workplace of the not-so-distant-future in which our smartphones act as personal assistants, automatically reorganizing our schedules, dropping us reminders, calling us cabs, and serving up documents in a trice…
At the same time that demand for efficient, transactional, anticipation-driven workplace tools is rising, so is the need for the skills we seemingly don't want robots to perform.
“Recruiters and employers say they're looking more arduously than ever for candidates with great ‘soft skills’—and worrying that too many new grads don't have them. Emotional intelligence is said to be among the fastest-growing job skills, and some experts say the ability to collaborate and listen thoughtfully can even protect your position and help advance your career over the next decade as automation continues apace. 
Still, between the new gig economy, foreign competition and domestic automation, we are witnessing the battle between those experts telling us that we could lose 25-30% of current jobs in less than 15 years, on the one hand, to those predicting masses of new employment opportunities from the implementation of new technologies, on the other. The lessons were are learning from the “return” of manufacturing to our shores seem to reflect industries where automated systems now do the work that used to provide jobs to skilled workers. The money that once paid wages is instead going to the one-percenters who own the machines.
Whatever the results, the job picture here will change, dramatically, and pay-scales will adjust to global competition regardless of political manipulation through “free trade” negotiations. We are a long way from Star Trek’s android, Commander Data, and even he struggled with that “small talk” thang. But we all have to adjust to a very different future, where past assumptions no longer apply, no matter how much we want to turn back the clock.
I’m Peter Dekom, and living with and adjusting to the big changes that await all of us… will themselves be a very big change to both our expectations and how we will live our going-forward lives.

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