Meet the People Who Train the Robots (to Do Their Own Jobs)

Before the machines become smart enough to replace humans, as some people fear, they need to be taught.

SAN FRANCISCO — What if part of your job became teaching a computer everything you know about doing someone’s job — perhaps your own?

Before the machines become smart enough to replace humans, as some people fear, the machines need teachers. Now, some companies are taking the first steps, deploying artificial intelligence in the workplace and asking their employees to train the A.I. to be more human.

We spoke with five people — a travel agent, a robotics expert, an engineer, a customer-service representative and a scriptwriter, of sorts — who have been put in this remarkable position.

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  • Dana Garcia

    Don’t worry, the robots will be teaching each other soon. Humans are so slow.

  • Waffle

    Again, we are in danger of falling int love with our man-made creations. Yes, even simple digitization opens up a world of never-previously dreamed of possibilities. But there are risks.

    My favourite (and terrible) example is the case of Sanchia Bulgin. Sanchia, a post-op patient at Toronto’s much-revered Hospital for Sick Children, was hooked up to an electronic monitor which is standard procedure. It’s an efficient way for a single nurse to check the status of numerous patients.

    Well, Sanchia’s monitor started bleeping. Ordinarily, the nurse would have gone to check the patient. She did not. A doctor did. However, he just looked at Sanchia. He never touched her. If he had, he would have known that her skin was cold and clammy, a tell-tale sign of distress. The nurse decided that the monitor was malfunctioning (it had happened before) and turned it off. The rest of the shift was quiet and uneventful. Sanchia died. She was 16 years old.

    That was 16 years ago. Advances have since been made. Would new monitoring technology incorporating A.I. have made a difference? Perhaps, but if humans decide that the device has gone haywire can the robot override its creator’s willfulness?

  • El Martyachi

    Free Ted Kaczynski!