And so the latest development in our brave new world is that a super robot equipped with a “neural network” can simulate the writings of William Shakespeare or the novels of Jane Austen or Sally Rooney.
Paste a template of the original into GPT-3 and artificial intelligence will create a similar version.
spooky? Hardly. We’re getting used to communicating and doing business through technology, and Covid has accelerated that trend – zoom meetings instead of face-to-face encounters, apps to handle everyday transactions, banking over the internet, and Alexa can answer most questions and queries (except, Reassuringly, sometimes she doesn’t — when asked “Is there a God, Alexa?” she replied, “I can’t answer that question.”)
All of these technologies can be helpful and efficient, even if they hamper previous skills a bit: it is said that most drivers are now using navigation devices to find their way on the road, people are losing the ability to read maps and so are losing that understanding of their sense of direction.
Young salespeople who used to do quick mental arithmetic are now using the computer to subtract 185 from 540, as I recently witnessed.
But I believe that as robots and AI become more dominant, we will appreciate real human contact.
When you’ve spent 50 minutes listening to a computer voice while waiting for “customer service,” and you finally get through to someone abroad who seems to be working from a set script, it really fuels your longing for actual encounters with real people (RHBs).
This is how I feel my growing affection for the RHBs, who are doing a job that – not yet – can be done by a robot. Last week there was lovely Will so happily fixing the broken oil gauge on my car, explaining to me how the unit worked and having friendly chats about the modest bill.
Then there was Steve, a multi-talented handyman fixing a bathroom leak that was threatening to erode the ceiling below. He then kindly did a little more in the garden while we chatted about folk dancing and his hobby of collecting old cigarette cards (younger readers may be surprised to know that cigarette manufacturers used to give away quite attractive collections of photo cards as an incentive to smoke more Craven A. )
Could a robot be your barber? I hope not, because sessions with Wendy, who does my hair, are all about human contact – she’s almost as much a therapist as a hairdresser, with her wise and kind observations of life and people.
Can artificial intelligence be used for teaching? Maybe it can, but not the personal attention that comes with it. The wonderful Avril, a seasoned diva, gives me monthly singing lessons more for lung health reasons than performance ambitions, and she teaches me much more than arpeggios and breathing exercises. There is mentoring that comes with good guidance and lessons on how to deal with life’s problems and problems.
We all use Amazon and online retail – services like that can be excellent – but there’s a lot more authenticity to walking into a store and interacting with a seller, especially a supportive and friendly one. And even if books are written by robots, we hope that bookstores will allow us the tranquility of browsing and attending events related to literature, history, and storytelling.
When a new medium or technology emerges, the new form doesn’t always just replace the old—it can recontextualize previous practices.
When nylon and polyester first came out, it was expected that synthetic fibers would replace traditional ones like cotton and wool. But while nylon had its uses, older, organic fabrics actually became more valuable—the posh things weren’t nylon linens, but very fine cotton linens.
Robots will also have their uses – and their annoyances too – but I think they will make us think a lot more about the value of real human interaction. Automation may replace many jobs, but those jobs that only a human can really do properly can gain status and be more valued.
Some medical care can probably be robotized – robotic surgery is said to be notable – but can a robot hold your hand when you’re undergoing a difficult medical procedure? When I had minor eye surgery, the kindness, attention and even banter of the human medical team (while I internally shied away from the instruments) would have been irreplaceable.
possible through automation.
The tragic cases of patients dying alone during lockdown have given new meaning to the phrase ‘Hold my hand – I’m dying’. At the end of life, that human touch is literally unique.
The thought of robotizing so much around us has given me a heightened sense of gratitude for the work and care of real people.
The protocols surrounding Covid have underscored this even more. The constant – when necessary – reminders to “keep your distance” seemed to signal our isolation in a technocratic world.
Masks may have been medically required, and may be again, but masks dehumanize the human face and our need to connect with others. As robots proliferate, Barbra Streisand’s chewy lyrics about people who need people resonate.
Robots might write a Shakespeare facsimile, but I bet we’ll always prefer the authentic version of The Prince of Denmark delivered by a real flesh-and-blood human.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/robots-may-be-able-to-imitate-shakespeare-but-well-always-treasure-the-human-touch-41816772.html Robots might be able to imitate Shakespeare, but we’ll always appreciate the human touch