Keep the human in the room

The psychological effects of a smile are too many to mention. Researchers know this. Mothers know this. Friends know this.

The effects of touch on human behaviour are studied similarly well. Waiters and waitresses know this. Psychologists know this.

Does this mean that all our interactions need to be smiley-touchy-feely all the time? No, of course not. Any sort of interaction can be unwarranted and unwelcome, including these.

But on the whole, every time we give a machine a chance to do a piece of emotional labour for us, we're not giving ourselves a chance to create a positive interaction ourselves. Machines save us time and effort, so it makes sense to put some of the human stuff back into the process.

A teacher can save hours of her time getting the homework marked by a computer program. The human thing to do would be to give back 15 minutes of that time to look over the marks, and leave a short personal note to every learner.

A hiring manager can meet more candidates, and maybe more relevant ones, by getting the resumes screened by a machine. (Opinions on this will vary, but the automated screenings are already a thing). The human thing to do would be to give back some of that time to look back over the screening results and make sure the candidate pool is inclusive, diverse and equitable.

We talk about it now, because of AI. Here's the thing: we talked about it earlier, because of the internet, computers, television, radio, the factory line, railways...

I'm optimistic that we'll find a way to remain human, and to retain the touchy-smiley moments we care about, even when our toasters come with chatbots. Optimistic, but also clear about the need for constant work to keep the human in the room.

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