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David Cantor


Made by Human: The Threat of Artificial Intelligence to Human Labor

This article is 97.88% made by human/2.12% by AI

Published: Monday, September 25, 2023 - 11:03

One of the most concerning uncertainties surrounding the emergence of artificial intelligence is the impact on jobs. Human jobs.

Innovation and progress are cornerstones of mankind. From the invention of the wheel to machine learning, the effect on our lives transcends generations and influences how we evolve, or devolve, throughout time. As with any technological innovation, there are ripple effects within labor markets. But artificial intelligence is more like a tsunami, possessing unprecedented forces to generate gigantic shifts within our labor pool.

Happiness delivered and 100% satisfaction guaranteed

To survey the macro socioeconomic impact of artificial intelligence on certain labor markets, let us start with a specific example: the customer support specialist. Yes, let’s put a picture in our minds of this individual—and for now, let it be human. Imagine that person, smiling at a computer screen at a desk. You can hear chatter in the background like rainfall on a glass window—other support specialists. The voice on the other end of the line has an accent, yet there is one universal tone—friendliness.

Indeed, among the first occupations to be endangered by artificial intelligence are customer support roles. Not only is this occupation an appropriate sampling of the labor pool, but it’s also a reliable barometer for measuring the overall effect artificial intelligence will have on other professions.

Customer-support specialists are in a human-facing (i.e., client-facing) role. The primary objective of a customer support specialist is to ensure customer satisfaction by addressing inquiries, resolving issues, and helping customers make the most of the products or services offered by the company.

“Isn't this Ironic?” AI-generated image of AI going to court: A handful of professions are waging a battle against the ominous presence of artificial intelligence. These activists are writers, artists, and basically anyone who feels that their intellectual property has been violated as a result of artificial intelligence. This is a new frontier—not only for technology, but also for legal precedent and our appetite for consumption.

The gradual extinction of customer-support roles

Within the past decade or so, several milestone transformations have influenced the decline of customer support specialists. The most ancient are automated calling responses and logic trees for customer-support telephone lines. “Press zero to speak to an operator.” A bit more recent would be globalization and the outsourcing of customer support teams to the far recesses of our planet. More relevant, however, for purposes of this discourse, are chatbots. These digital customer-service agents have only evolved with our—human—input of information: In other words, human beings fed early forms of machine learning with details about their businesses. The goal was to automate business processes, like sales and customer support, to successfully serve clients.

SAAS-based products soon allowed customer support systems to inexpensively implement these automation tools, eliminating the need for heavy operational support teams... of people. Just look at Uber if you want a solid case study; getting through to a person is like trying to contact the King of Thailand.

The introduction of new artificial intelligence for customer support solutions will make chatbots look like an AM/FM radio at the antique market.

The raging battle: A salute to those on the front lines

Technology is clearly generating the right amount of client satisfaction. But this comes at a cost—a human cost. Teams of customer support specialists from Minnesota to Mumbai are being wiped out with summer monsoon force by utilitarian-oriented decision makers.

At present, there are a handful of professions waging a battle against the ominous presence of artificial intelligence. These activists are writers, artists, and basically anyone who feels that their intellectual property has been violated as a result of artificial intelligence. This is a new frontier—not only for technology, but also for legal precedent and our appetite for consumption. This is the front line.

At present, OpenAI is serving our appetite in two fundamental ways: text-based content (e.g., ChatGPT) and image-based content  (DALL·E). These elemental forms of AI-generated content are the main ingredients for basically everything we engage with on a daily basis.

Sarah Silverman, writer, comedian, and actress, is suing the ChatGPT developer OpenAI and Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta for copyright infringement over claims that their artificial intelligence models were trained on her work without permission. (Source: The Guardian. Photograph: Rich Fury/Getty Images for THR)

The ultimate effect of artificial intelligence on a diverse range of professions boils down to our very own perceptions and individual needs. It’s all very human-driven, this demand-side of the equation, and it’s our degree of palpable fulfillment that ultimately will determine how far AI dictates the fate of other professions.

We need a way to leave a human mark—literally, a “Made by Human” insignia that permits commerce and regulators to trace origins of our labor, like certifying products as “organic.”

If we’re building the weapon that threatens our very livelihoods, we can engineer the solutions that safeguard them.

It’s up to us

At present, artificial intelligence is in the nascent stages of its public debut. Yet it’s also something that has been simmering beneath our bedrock like ancient lava, erupting only now and producing tremors throughout the world. There are real, pressing reasons to be concerned about the effect this will have on our occupations and daily lives.

We can only hope that regulators and key stakeholders will provide protective measures, and not just in the form of dicta. If we seek the preservation of human work products, we need to remain ahead of innovation.

There are several action items that may serve to safeguard human interests:
• Consolidation of interest: Concentration of efforts within formal structures (e.g., labor unions, writer guilds, associations) or new structure tailored to address these issues.
• Litigation: Swift legal action based on existing laws to remedy breaches and establish legal precedents for future litigation, including but not limited to: a) unlawful AI scraping of data; b) breach of intellectual property; and c) predatory pricing
• Guerilla warfare: Waging of frontline battles, such as: a) feeding AI with misleading information; and b) removing or not publishing original work.
• Technological innovation: Cutting-edge technology that can: a) establish firewalls preventing AI scraping technologies; b) permit tracking of intellectual property for purposes of distributing royalties to creators; and c) analyze human work product.
• Regulatory oversight: Formation of a robust framework for monitoring, enforcing, and balancing critical issues arising from artificial intelligence. Think of a United Nations without the thick, glacial layers of bureaucracy.

In reality, maintaining these broad-stroke efforts alongside the pace of innovation requires Olympian discipline. These front-line professionals—writers, media personalities, and other content creators—are just the first wave. Yet, if this front falls, it will be a fatal blow to intellectual property rights. We’ll have denied ourselves the ideological shields and weapons needed to preserve and protect origins of human creativity.

Still, in the midst of all this uncertainty there seems to be one firm truth: The influence of artificial intelligence on labor markets is in our own hands. Our tolerance and appetites for engaging with this technology feeds the machine. Our ability to regulate and enforce equitable protections controls it. The very nature of artificial intelligence relies on humans.

One can easily enumerate the positive attributes artificial intelligence brings to our world, particularly in science and medicine. Even arguments about how artificial intelligence can actually improve originally human concepts and creativity are gaining momentum. However, to go unregulated and to profit from an individual’s work without remuneration would be a perilous beginning of the end.

Equitable remuneration

Human productivity will continue to blend with artificial intelligence. If we seek equitable remuneration, we need to account for what is of human origin vs. what has been interwoven with the threads of artificial intelligence.

We should be able to trace the origins of our labor with the purpose of equitably redistributing commercial gains—such as royalties for streaming music with the notes of your original melody plucked out, even if it’s mashed up, mixed by Berry, and sold overseas. This requires complex quantum-powered algorithms. The technology exists. In fact, it is along the same lines of code that is empowering artificial intelligence. It just needs to be repurposed.

Consider this example:

A 16-year old boy named Olu decides to write a book about growing up in a war-torn nation. He mixes his own personal story and experiences with factual accounts of history written by artificial intelligence. Before release, Olu’s story is put through a secure platform that gauges and certifies his percentage of original creativity:

“Congratulations on your work, Olu! Your content is 47.893% human/52.107% artificial.”

This information could be used for a variety of purposes: informing readers about the originality of Olu’s book; assessing equitable distribution of profit; encouraging original and creative labor; and even informing any authors whose creative output was used in Olu’s book via AI.

Meanwhile, back in London, a 57-year-old historian and professor named Elizabeth receives an email:

“Congratulations, Elizabeth, your work has been recycled! 34.546% of your writing on the civil war-torn nation has been used in an upcoming book publication. Click here to learn more.”

This information could be used to preserve and protect Elizabeth’s work in a number of ways: alerting Elizabeth that her original work is being used (by Olu, perhaps?); ensuring equitable distribution of royalties; and potentially taking action if intellectual property is otherwise violated.

We need a framework that preserves and protects sweat-of-the-brow labor.

As those on the front line know, progress begets progress while flying under the banner of innovation. If we’re going to save our income streams—from content writers and hand models to lawyers and software engineers—the fruit of our labor can’t be used or modified without equitable remuneration.

Note: David Cantor is the author of I Am Q, a book about the impact of technology on the human condition.


About The Author

David Cantor’s picture

David Cantor

David is an international lawyer, tech founder, and serial entrepreneur. A New York native and dual U.S.-Italian citizen, he resides in Italy with his wife and two young daughters.