It’s not personal, it’s just programming


We could be hearing this title line from the film Tomorrowland a lot more in the future.

Much of what we do is increasingly determined by robots.

It used to be determined by people in power.

The phrase “Nothing personal, it’s just business” is familiar to most people, and was apparently coined by organized crime, a group that rely on the application of power. The saying even made its way into the film Godfather.

So where do we see this happening?

The most visible application is in the recruitment business.

Everyone who has applied for a job and had to go through a screening process has experienced this.

From a recruiter’s perspective, sifting through a pile of applications can be the most time consuming activity in the recruitment process.

Surely it makes sense and is fair to get applicants to log into a portal, complete a set of questions that measure their match for the role and interview only the ones that score the best?

But hiring technology company HireVue takes this a few steps further. Their homepage looks like something out of the series Lie to Me, where an expert studies facial expressions to get to the truth.

The company provides the techology to carry out unmanned video interviews where candidates record their responses to questions and the software analyses their emotions and facial expressions, speech patterns and language patterns, integrating all that information to presumably provide recruiters with more insight into candidates.

It sounds like something the CIA would find useful.

Then there is the news, something which dominates our perception of what is happening in the world.

Is the information we are getting the “real” thing or are we being fed a diet of processed news by robots?

The Associated Press began using robots in 2015 to generate automated news stories based on fairly standard styles and outlines.

The idea was that the day-to-day standard news reports can be automated and free up humans for complex, nuanced stories.

In the UK, Google is funding a project where robots will write local news. They will take data feeds and create local versions so that you will be able get news customised to your location and criteria.

This activity also carries dangers. When it is quick and easy to take and rework and republish stories, the chances are that fake news can spread just as quickly as real news.

The checks provided by experienced, sceptical journalists that look to verify assertions may be lost in the process, resulting in an avalanche of incorrect information that can be impossible to reverse.

There is no doubt that the robots are here to stay, and as we use them more we will learn better how to use artificial intelligence, machine learning and algorithms to make better decisions about everything from which route to take to whom to marry.

If you’re on the wrong side of the table, however, life could get more bewildering.

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