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augmentation not automation


Staff member
Feb 16, 2024
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In automation vs. augmentation, inspired by danah boyd, I wrote that I am mostly in the augmentation camp, though I am concerned that automation + capitalism = a perfect storm. This was the case with the augmented work enabled by the personal computer. Knowledge work improved significantly but wages did not. We are seeing this emerging in the ‘AI wars’ featuring ChatGPT, Bard, Co-pilot and others. It’s a battle between big money to get the biggest slice of this pie, not to augment human work or improve society, yet the mainstream press treats these algorithms like actual artificial intelligence that can think and even ‘hallucinate’ for themselves. But they are just algorithms.

Dave Snowden has a good article about this on anthropomorphising idiot savants — “AI is a set of algorithms and energy-hungry training datasets that may also manifest in physical objects.”

The real potential of this type of AI is in the augmentation of human work. But the kicker is that the way tools like ChatGPT work, expertise is required to understand and use them properly. Of course, this is not the direction the market is going.

“That aside, if we understand the training datasets and have the ability for human intervention, then technology has the transformative potential for the better. We can see this in various medical and pharmaceutical applications, as my car does most of the work for me with predictive capabilities and warnings, making late-night drives back from the Rugby or Opera a lot safer. These are all examples of augmentation … If you know the subject correction is easy; if you don’t, then the temptation to go with what the Magic Algorithm has produced will be overwhelming in a stressed workforce— Dave Snowden 2024-01-19

I am sticking with some of my earlier observations as the AI hype cycle continues.

Human oversight of machines and software will be essential as these systems permeate our economy and society. —2023-02-27

GPT & LLM extend our voices, obsolesce many forms of human writing, retrieve the ancient Oracle of Delphi, and when pushed to their limits reverse into Potemkin villages. GPT & LLM provide instant synthesis that may be good enough, but often contain errors. If they get used to answer all our questions then they become tools for “aphoristic nincompoops posing as techno-oracles”. —2023-03-15

As Dave Cormier noted, the danger is auto-tuning our minds.

“The real danger is not to people who are experts in their fields. Super experts in every field will continue to do what they have always done. All of us, however, are novices in almost everything we do. Most of us will never be experts in anything. The vast majority of the human experience of learning about something is done at the novice level.

That experience is about to be autotuned.”

ChatGPT search – Autotune for knowledge

Marshall McLuhan's media tetrad: every medium — extends a human property, obsolesces the previous medium (& often makes it a luxury good), retrieves a much older medium, & reverses its properties when pushed to its limits GPT-LLM Extend our labour Obsolesce basis skills development Retrieve the Oracle of Delphi Reverse into mass deception
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