Pioneer of Human-Machine Interaction Says AI Will Not Replace Workers

How the technology can empower people, not oust them

7 December 2017

The notion that artificial intelligence will replace workers is false. Suggesting that a machine is better at finding a tumor than a radiologist, for example, diminishes the role of the doctor. A truer statement would be that machines can help radiologists make more accurate diagnoses, and that finding tumors is only a small part of what the doctors do in the treatment process.

As with microscopes, digital cameras, and 3D printers, technology helps people accomplish goals better than they could without it, allowing them to discover more and be more creative. This is also true for artificial intelligence. AI will be part of our tool set. The conversation around the technology should be less about the misleading images portrayed in Hollywood and science fiction literature, and more about human-centered design. Such design refers to how AI can help empower people—whether by amplifying their abilities or supporting their goals—without harming them.

Here are four of the design’s principles.

1. Amplify abilities and ensure control.

This involves designing AI that effectively improves our quality of life, while giving users confidence because they are in control. People need to understand how to use the technology and be reassured there will not be any surprises.

Apple’s human interface guidelines, for example, recommend that designers ensure “people, not apps, are in control.” Instead of eldercare robots that mimic compassion and act as if they are in charge, for instance, a better design would give senior citizens a greater capacity for independent living while building their sense of self-efficacy. That might involve designing better ways for elders to communicate with family, friends, and caregivers as well as to connect with thriving online communities.

2. Respect individuals and build networks.

Human-centered design supports trusted, reliable, and caring relationships among people, rather than a relationship with robots in isolation. AI design excellence would promote more community-oriented applications, such as engaging in local issues and national politics, mentoring students and peers, and enabling people to be more creative more often.

3. Clarify responsibility and accelerate quality

Human-centered design requires that AI applications are transparent about the implications of their actions and provide clear feedback about what their actions have produced. When things go wrong, there should be an audit trail to enable users to understand and developers to analyze the failures so that improvements can be made. The benefits of flight-data recorders are clear for airplanes; all automated systems should have a similar recording device so that activities can be analyzed after something goes awry.

4. Engage users and refine designs

Every user should be invited to collaborate in the continuing improvement of their technologies. One way is to crowd-source their suggestions to make safer, more effective, and more enjoyable products and services.

A human-centered approach is to provide users with design guidelines on Websites and mobile apps so they can better understand the technology they are using and give feedback. For example, transparent e-commerce sites would explain why they are recommending certain products. And social media sites should explain why they show you some posts but not others. The goal for designers should be to get feedback as they continue to increase the level of automation of their products, while ensuring human control.

Ben Shneiderman is a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, in College Park, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is the author of The New ABCs of Research: Achieving Breakthrough Collaborations and Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction.

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