Friends & Friction: The rise of the robots may not be a bad thing

Someday, a robot will write this column.

It will be a perfect piece because the robot will know everything about you, as well as the world in which you live.

This is not science fiction, but a human reality, and it has already begun.

Publications such as Forbes magazine already use bot writers that are produced by a company called Narrative Science.

The bots can sift through lots of data and condense this into bite-size narrations.

What makes this kind of bot writing so good is that it gives the reasoning behind the situation – the main pillar in any decision-making process.

Narrative language generation, which is a subset of artificial intelligence, eliminates guesswork, which is prevalent in the world of business.

Think about this: on any given day, many things happen around the world, and it often takes days and sometime years to investigate the real cause of each event.

Yet financial analysts are able to say with unblinking certainty what caused a currency to fall or rise that day.

Most of it, we’ve come to realise, is money-making guesswork, which provides “an all too convenient way for the unlucky, the imprudent and the gullible to lose their money”, as John Brooks wrote in his book Business Adventures.

Narrative language generation also eliminates the bias of the researcher.

We have to admit that human beings fail dismally when it comes to objectivity. Thankfully, technology promises to solve that problem too.

Like most human inventions, bot writing is, for now, limited to financial and sport news – where there is a lot of data available – but it is making its way into opinion pieces.

This job-destroying technology was developed at Northwestern University in the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications.

Although this is a great invention, it is not free from the malady of our times, which is fake news.

Recently, researchers at the University of Washington developed a video of a fake Barack Obama giving a speech he didn’t deliver.

The computer program learnt his manner of speaking and how he pronounces his words, created a totally nonexistent speech and then attributed it to him.

This technology has eliminated video evidence, and Lauryn Hill’s line “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear” has to be revised.

You might have to believe nothing of what you see or hear.

This new dilemma comes at a time when ethics in journalism has been swamped by ubiquitous social media. For example, the Twitterati are not known for checking their facts.

Ethicists are trying their best to infuse morals, respect and good old-fashioned values into artificial intelligence, but they are unlikely to win because society always flows towards freedom and the chaos it brings.

Once people have tasted what they consider to be their freedom, they’re unlikely to give it up.

Technology has already taken away many low-level jobs, and nobody can stop that tsunami. It is now starting to affect white-collar workers.

Corporate restructuring shrunk middle management, and artificial intelligence threatens to wipe it out altogether.

While the world is grappling with such big challenges, South Africans are arguing about the colour of monopoly capital; a debate that is embarrassingly basic.

We need artificial intelligence – it will create better politicians, men and women who think about the needs of the people.

It will also deliver speeches that are worth listening to, as well as stories worth reading. Until then, you’re stuck with me.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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