Let me tell you a story. In fact, let me tell you several.
A village in Macedonia had a small economic boom during the 2016 election, plagiarizing and stitching together pro-Trump messages on social media, then publishing the results as “news” in order to profit from Google ad revenue.
Back during the “Keep Calm and…” T-shirt fad, a shirt company went through a thoroughly justified PR apocalypse for selling products labeled “Keep Calm and Hit Her” and “Keep Calm and Rape a Lot.”
The 17th most popular website on Earth occasionally likes to tell women over 30 to freeze their ova.
So! That’s a parade of fail. What’s it got in common, beyond making any reasonable reader consider moving to an Amish community and trying to forget even the word “Internet”?
People. More accurately, their absence.
Veles, Macedonia churned out profitable nonsense about Trump slapping a protester (that didn’t happen) or getting the blessing of the Pope (Pope says nope) because Google ads are programmatic. There’s no QA component, no human eyes reviewing content and asking “is this worth advertising on?” or for that matter “is this blatantly false?”
Likewise the Evil T-Shirt Crisis. The company generated slogans by dropping memes into an algorithm, then throwing the result on Amazon. That ended… poorly.
We, and every other tech and business network in the digital cosmos, have written in depth about all the dang robots taking our jobs. Usually our primary concern is the economic fallout. We’re a business news organization. It’s our job to warn you about that stuff.
But there’s another problem, and it’s a huge problem, especially as media consumption in general continues to rise, and more and more of that media is moderated by algorithms rather than people.
Robots aren’t just taking our jobs. They suck at our jobs. Algorithms may play go, but they aren’t ready to make value judgments yet. A quick Google will yield a dozen more examples of AI failures just as repulsive and/or hilarious as the ones on my list. And the real punchline for all of that?
It’s good news.
For once, the robot apocalypse is cutting us puny humans a break. It’s creating jobs almost as fast as it’s gobbling them up, because at this point, it is excruciatingly clear that robots aren’t ready to produce work people can actually see. They’re not even ready to put ads on work people see, not without causing a PR catastrophe every other month.
AI isn’t a better widget. It also isn’t an employee that doesn’t want benefits or take long lunches.
It’s a product in permanent beta, desperately trying to catch up to the constantly changing nuance of human interaction. It doesn’t work without homo sapiens holding its robot hand.
Let’s call it Salter’s Law: For every application of AI to customer-facing work, you will need to hire at least one human for damage control when the AI screws up.