The Human or the Machine

Jaime Bancroft Gennaro

February 08, 2016

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After I had graduated college, I wanted to travel. To fund my adventures, I worked jobs through 'Now Hiring' placards posted in establishment windows. I sorted and shipped climbing holds to gyms, I packaged powdered vitamins on an assembly line, I changed diapers; needless to say, these jobs never made it to the curriculum vitae.

However, I realized something important during my parade of eight-hour shifts. Whether I was paid by the piece or by the hour, I worked the same way. At the warehouse I thought through ways to make more pieces per minute, I streamlined the process, I became the fastest producer. On the assembly line, I talked to people I wasn't supposed to talk to, about things I wasn't supposed to care about and I asked tons of questions. In retrospect it was laughable really, to think that my efforts could affect change on an assembly line. But I was determined. Crappy jobs didn't have to make me a crappy employee.

I don't have the ability to turn off or to shut down. Call it a deficiency, call me type A; clearly I'm not motivated by money or power. I'm motivated to do better. If I'm not at my best, I push myself, no matter the environment. I bring myself to work, my whole self, heart, emotion, and all. There are millions of people who feel the same way, and by the very same token, there are people who clock out and then save the best of themselves for after work. They create distance between who they are at work and who they are once they leave.

We even create vocabulary and jargon inside of our work environments to further this divide. If we talk about ROI more than how much our clients LOVE our product, we are considered more professional. If we lead with our instincts about a person in an interview, rather than leaning on the prescribed script, then we've lost the measurement for deciding if they are a good fit. If we talk about KPIs and SEM, AOR and CRM, then we elicit confidence in our work.

All of this plays into my theories about people's obsessions with Artificial Intelligence. As people take on the traits of their automated machine counterparts, the machines must then begin to take on the traits of the human. AI becomes a new way to distance ourselves. Let the AI say what can't be said, let the AI determine the level of engagement, let the AI drive.

"Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!"

-Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator, 1940

The science fiction future posits that machines will take over the world. Technologists argue that if the world were automated, we'd all be rich. Futurists confirm that robots will never be sentient, emotional beings and, therefore, we're safe. Marketers convince people that adding emotion to automation will lead people to buy more products.

This same thinking led Neologic to do their experiments. Could robots be taught poetry? Could search results be skewed by adding emotional terms to the search criteria? The Poetry4Robots website is a scrolling page of images. Users are asked to choose a photo and then to write a poem for that photo. With a database of poetry, metaphor becomes the foundation for the search term. In the Poetry4Robots database, it's now possible to search the word happy and yield results that don't include a page full of yellow smiley faces. Instead, you may see a foggy lake, or a sky full of white clouds. By tagging a database of photos, using descriptions from poems, 'emotion based search' was proven. A search for stars, can, in fact, return a picture of eyes. The experiment also proves that people will write poems to pictures on a website, in multiple languages, from various countries.

I've also been drawn recently to the work of Sepandar D. Kamvar at Stanford University. His paper entitled: "We Feel Fine and Searching the Emotional Web," published almost 10 years ago now, is fascinating. And the supporting art piece shows the power of mining emotional data through technology. Their findings showed that by being more of aware their emotions, people were able to develop more empathy. Technology has literally bridged people's connection to their emotions.

There is an irony here, and logic.

Millions of people have become automatons.

Millions of jobs have been lost to automation.

Millions of people have decided to add emotion to automation to make it more human.

These people are not automatons.

These people likely will not lose their jobs to automation.

Allow yourself to bring your best self to work. Whatever the job try your best to connect, redirect, think, and inspire. Smile at someone and change their day. Don't allow yourself to become an automaton. For the sake of humankind.

Jaime Bancroft Gennaro is the CEO of Neologic, a digital experience agency with an imagination lab. Neologic is proud of their two in-house projects: Cornbread App and Poetry for Robots@jaimegennaro @neologicpdx

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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