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Humans First, A.I. Second

Robots can only fake compassion and empathy. Humans want the real thing
January 27th, 2023

By Jim Towey

Remember all of those assurances from Big Tech and the engineers, coders, and researchers developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools? They said that jobs performed by humans wouldn’t be jeopardized by their innovations.  Well, that turns out not to be true.  These recent stories from the New York Times to CBS News and other outlets speak for themselves:

For those of you like me who wouldn’t know generative AI if it bit you in the bot, it is hard to process all the new information pouring out of Silicon Valley and elsewhere.  Even the language they use is impenetrable to regular folk.

Bait and switch

But while I am deficient in the science of AI, I know “bait and switch” maneuvers when I see them.  Big Tech and Big Science seem to be masters of the art.  Whether it is Elon Musk and his robot I warned about months ago, or Microsoft, which has confirmed it is investing billions of dollars into AI research, we know that what motivates these “advances” is greed – the kind measured in profits, shareholder dividends, and the personal wealth of the privileged few. 

Sure, they talk about enhancing efficiency, making daily life easier and better, and creating new jobs.  They are adept at citing examples of life-saving interventions made possible by AI to justify the inevitable, attendant encroachments upon human sovereignty.  Their goal, however, is making money; and society be damned.

The real-world cost

The cost of what they impose on humanity will  paid by patients who won’t be able to see a human doctor; defendants who will get a robot lawyer; students in high school and college who will be at a disadvantage with peers who cheat and use AI to get ahead; copy editors and copywriters whose jobs will disappear as cost-cutting in journalism continues to shed labor; and virtually anyone who writes, draws, creates music, reviews documents, aggregates data, or thinks for a living. 

AI will become the norm in these fields and more, and only a sliver of human jobs will remain to validate the work of bots and give cover to the AI lords running the show.  Worse, it will become increasingly more difficult to be able to tell whether you are dealing with the voice or work of a human or AI.  The lines between human actors and technological ones already is being blurred, subtly and steadily.  It started with Siri on your smart phone, or Alexa in your living room, who uses the first person singular “I” when responding to commands.  But Siri is an “it,” not an “I.”

Fake compassion

Apple and others know how to condition us to accept AI like you would a friend.  But robots are not your friends even if they can fake like they are.  I could be dying and have a robot by my bedside recalling my favorite life memories it was programmed to recall or providing consolation in words finely nuanced to reflect my own spiritual and cultural beliefs.  But that would be no consolation.  Humans need humans.  Robots can only fake compassion and empathy.  Humans want the real thing.  But because the practice of AI medicine will save money, time, and energy, there will be pressure to implement it.  The poor are certain to be the guinea pigs when the transition from human to AI caregiving begins.

Our president and Congress, meanwhile, “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel,” a phrase Jesus used in a warning to those with misguided priorities.  My point is simply that advances in AI are becoming embedded into society without public discussion or consent, threatening our democracy, freedom and way of life.  Do any of us get a say in this?  Who will campaign on a “Humans First” platform?

We joke about dystopian worlds like those that Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury described long ago.  Today, Big Tech and the AI masters are the only ones laughing. 


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