Saturday, February 15, 2014

Intelligent Tech Can Coexist With Human Intelligence

That's my positive take for the I just need to stick with it! Even so, I am compelled to begin by highlighting a quote from Timothy Taylor which Arnold Kling also noted:
We have now returned to an economy where those who leave their jobs are more likely to have done by quitting voluntarily than by being laid off or discharged involuntarily.
Yikes, so full recovery is here. Do I hear a collective groan? Seems like a few "duhs" being voiced as well. Taylor's observation implies any number of economic factoids, so to speak. As the workplace increasingly appears normal, there's another aspect to this development which - while it would be no surprise in singularity terms, doesn't often get the statistical spin that Kling also noted last month. From the NY Fed:
...the broader V-shaped pattern in the unemployment rate over the past two decades is consistent with new research arguing that there has been a reversal in the demand for cognitive skills since 2000.
Observant readers want to know - why only now, a nearly month old link from me, on something as important as knowledge use reversal in the workplace? As is sometimes the case, I reacted to the (apparent) approaching singularity, in an earlier draft response with too much negative emotion. Which in turn leads to the kind of language use that even offends me afterward - let alone some of my readers. Hence I deleted out last month's post draft, along with its useful links. Fortunately, the above quote stayed in my mind thus I was able to fish it out of January postings.

What brought me back to the thoughts in that discarded post draft was this book review from The Capital Spectator, "Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans" by Simon Head. Today I am happy to allow a summary from the esteemed publisher Basic Books, do the complaining for me!
We live in the age of Computer Business Systems (CBSs) - the highly complex, computer-intensive management programs on which large organizations increasingly rely. In "Mindless", Simon Head argues that these systems have come to trump human expertise, dictating the goals and strategies of a wide array of businesses, and de-skilling the jobs of middle class workers in the process. CBSs are especially dysfunctional, Head argues, when they apply their disembodied expertise to transactions between humans, as in health care, education, customer relations, and human resources management. And yet there are industries with more human approaches, as Head illustrates with specific examples whose lead we must follow and extend to the mainstream American economy. 
To be fair, I've been in hospital environments where patients were not only treated with respect and dignity by healthcare staff, but received a reasonable amount of their time. But I've also been in hospital environments where practically the only reason a healthcare provider ever came into the patient's room, was to interact in some capacity with a wide array of high tech devices and instruments. Said high tech devices also take up an increasing amount of the room's space, in recent years. Environments where healthcare employees didn't even glance at room occupants as they arrived and left, were a bit unnerving. Those were the places one sensed a palpable fear on the part of management, that if staff spent any "unstructured" time with patients, the organization might quickly lose their ability to pay the bills.

What to make of widespread singularity trends which are becoming more difficult to discount? Consider workplaces that are returning to normal, both in business and economic terms. They rely on fewer people not only for those earlier middle class skills sets; but also fewer knowledge based capacities in general. Even though some workplaces maintain a "human touch", the volunteers who are eager to provide that in healthcare environments are stymied by insurance related regulations. That often prevents them from assisting patients when healthcare providers are not available. Unfortunately, many people will not realize how impersonal the singularity feels, until they need to spend a couple of weeks or months in a hospital or other assisted care environment.

In order for intelligent tech to coexist with human intelligence, knowledge use and skills sets need to be reintegrated and coordinated at local levels. People can then become partners with technology, rather than being subjected to social destruction by technology through the centralized services formations of the present. Otherwise, healthcare providers which care about patients and spend time with them, could be "undone" by organizations which realize more profit by cutting out "unnecessary" social or personal time. That circumstance alone should give proponents of centralized services systems reason for pause. Knowledge use as dictated by decisions from elsewhere - hence reliant on minimal social interaction, cannot help but be dehumanizing.

Another aspect of lost social relationships in the workplace, is that people rely on those social aspects to bring positive structure home, and into their personal lives. Some with higher incomes still benefit from adequate social structure in the workplaces they inhabit. However, the loss of workplace social structure for lower income levels, also means these individuals have little social interaction to positively emulate in their own personal circumstance. By decentralizing services so that knowledge use is a part of all workplaces and income levels, the present threat of polarization between classes could be greatly diminished in the process.

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