What does the human bring?
I have a strong interest – personally and professionally – to want to automate the boring parts of post-production away from humans to computers, extending to some of the basic string-outs. This seems to infringe on the “human” role in postproduction, at least according to some of my associates. Well, lately I’ve come across a whole range of stories on how traditionally human roles, like doctors (and assistant editors), can or will be automated out of existence. That’s led me to think about what is the essential role of the human that can’t be automated? It’s not a simple question.
The series of articles started with Technology will replace 80% of what doctors do, and really do a better job for most medical interactions, because most are routine. I like the idea, particularly in the face of stories about the medical establishment like Profits over your dead body, from Ars Technica. The main article lists ways doctors are already being replaced. Their only real go at defining the advantage of a human doctor in the equation:
New technologies will make the receptive doctors better at their jobs – quicker, more accurate, and more fact-based. There is a tremendous opportunity in the influx of data that has never before been available.
Doctors first, then college teachers, with How California’s Online Education Pilot Will End College As We Know It, which in fairness is an extrapolation from a very simple experiment, but it has the ring of truth to it for me. Especially when it includes:
While faculty worry about the quality of online courses, the truth is that our education system, primarily designed to test rote memorization, is built to scale and be independent of teacher interaction. A review of research by the Department of Education in 2009 found that “students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
More recently, a pilot of MIT and Harvard’s joint online educational initiative, EdX, found that blending SJSU classes with world-class online lectures reduced the number of students who received a C or lower by 31%.
In other words, computers can–and have–successfully replaced teachers.
Then I came across a Wired article from December: Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs claiming that up to 70% of jobs will be automated.
All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.
And it has already begun.
Cory Doctorow commented on the arguments that Wired article with the headline Robots are taking your job and mine: deal with it and draws in some other sources as well.
That world of de-marketized, non-market, non-commodity and/or gift economy living is something that seems tantalizingly within our grasp today, and it feels like automation holds the key to so much of it. But is it just the latest version of the dream of a leisure society?
I wasn’t so concerned when robots built cars, but writing articles, and building simple video stories starts to feel like it’s impinging on my own turf. But there is hope in that Wired article, for those who are ready to embrace the automation and use it to advance their abilities:
It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet. That is, we can’t see these jobs from here, because we can’t yet see the machines and technologies that will make them possible. Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.
As well as my own professional efforts to automate the boring out of post (along with a lot of other people, such as Avid Professional Services automation for Discovery) Michael Cioni of LightIron feels that the current DIT role, and the traditional role of Post Houses in media managing for post, will be largely automated out of existence by 2015.
All of which brings me to the question, that may be largely unanswerable until we see closer what the future will bring, is what does a human editor bring to the project? Automatic metadata derivation will become ubiquitous; speech transcription and keyword extraction, as well, our company has tools for building string-outs from that metadata that are technically competent…
And perhaps there I answer my own question. First Cuts does a technically competent edit, at most a starting point for bringing an emotional layer to the piece. A human connects (and intercuts) a performance of 16 going on 17 with the same young star singing Hanky Panky the next day. (They intercut amazingly well!).
I think the uniquely human contribution is the emotion and intuition (a.k.a creativity) to elevate a story beyond “competent”. These are the skills we should be working on developing. Great visual recall and story telling skills won’t hurt either.