Market Symbiosis: Optimization Tasks and Human Touch

The private sector is leading the AI revolution and, in my mind, it must also take the lead in creating the new, more humanistic jobs that power it. Some of these will emerge through the natural functioning of the free market, while others will require conscious efforts by those motivated to make a difference.

Many of the jobs created by the free market will grow out of a natural symbiosis between humans and machines. While AI handles the routine optimization tasks, human beings will bring the personal, creative, and compassionate touch. This will involve the redefinition of existing occupations or the creation of entirely new professions in which people team up with machines to deliver services that are both highly efficient and eminently human. In the risk-of-replacement graphs from a previous blog, we expect to see the upper-left quadrant (“human veneer”) offer the greatest opportunity for human-AI symbiosis: AI will do the analytical thinking, while humans will wrap that analysis in warmth and compassion. In that same chart, the two quadrants on the right-hand side of the graph (“Slow Creep” and “Safe Zone”) also provide opportunities for AI tools to enhance creativity or decision-making, though over time, the two left-side AI-centric circles will grow toward the right as AI improves.

Human-AI coexistence in the labor market

A clear example of human-AI symbiosis for the upper-left-hand quadrant can be found in the field of medicine. I have little doubt that AI algorithms will eventually far surpass human doctors in their ability to diagnose disease and recommend treatments. Legacy institutions—medical schools, professional associations, and hospitals—may slow down the adoption of these diagnostic tools, using them only in narrow fields or strictly as reference tools. But in a matter of a few decades, I’m confident that the accuracy and efficiency gains will be so great that AI-driven diagnoses will take over eventually.

One response to this would be to get rid of doctors entirely, replacing them with machines that take in symptoms and spit out diagnoses. But patients don’t want to be treated by a machine, a black box of medical knowledge that delivers a cold pronouncement: “You have fourth-stage lymphoma and a 70 percent likelihood of dying within five years.” Instead, patients will desire—and I believe the market will create—a more humanistic approach to medicine.

Traditional doctors could instead evolve into a new profession, one that I’ll call a “compassionate caregiver.” These medical professionals would combine the skills of a nurse, medical technician, social worker, and even psychologist. Compassionate caregivers would be trained not just in operating and understanding the diagnostic tools but also in communicating with patients, consoling them in times of trauma, and emotionally supporting them throughout their treatment. Instead of simply informing patients of their objectively optimized chances of survival, they could share encouraging stories, saying “Kai-Fu had the same lymphoma as you and he survived, so I believe you can too.”

These compassionate caregivers wouldn’t compete with machines in their ability to memorize facts or optimize treatment regimens. In the long run, that’s a losing battle. Compassionate caregivers would be well trained, but in activities requiring more emotional intelligence, not as mere vessels for the canon of medical knowledge. They would form a perfect complement to the machine, giving patients unparalleled accuracy in their diagnoses as well as the human touch that is so often missing from our hospitals today. In this human-machine symbiosis created by the free market, we would inch our society ahead in a direction of being a little kinder and a little more loving.

Best of all, the emergence of compassionate caregivers would dramatically increase both the number of jobs and the total amount of medical care given. Today, the scarcity of trained doctors drives up the cost of healthcare and drives down the amount of quality care delivered around the world. Under current conditions of supply and demand, it’s simply not cost-feasible to increase the number of doctors. As a result, we strictly ration the care they deliver. No one wants to go wait in line for hours just to have a few minutes with a doctor, meaning that most people only go to hospitals when they feel it’s absolutely necessary. While compassionate caregivers will be well-trained, they can be drawn from a larger pool of workers than doctors and won’t need to undergo the years of rote memorization that is required of doctors today. As a result, society will be able to cost-effectively support far more compassionate caregivers than there are doctors, and we would receive far more and better care.

Posted by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee on Jun 11, 2019 in All Posts AI and You In the Media

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