The Human Backlash Against AI is Coming

Artificial intelligence promises – and continues to deliver on – increased productivity, reduced costs, faster time-to-market, and boosted revenue. From completing healthcare datasets to predicting marketing outcomes, AI and machine learning will play a role in the future of nearly every successful business.

However, not everyone will want to deal with machines all the time. We’ll see a human backlash as AI becomes more prevalent. What will the AI-human backlash look like?

It won’t be John Connor battling Skynet as Terminators ravage the landscape.

It’ll look a lot more like the local craft brewery.

Rage Against the Machines

As we mechanized and automated industries like food, beverages, clothing, and other mass-produced goods in the last 20 years, we’ve seen the rise of a backlash against the impersonal:

  • Boutique fashion stores opened up, selling interesting, offbeat clothing.
  • Artisanal bakeries opened up, following time-honored traditions that rejected the efficiencies of mass production.
  • Small-batch craft breweries exploded, each offering their unique take on a mass-produced beer industry.
  • Hometown coffee shops and custom roasters popped up everywhere, rejecting the notion that we all must go to the same coffee chain.

What do all these businesses have in common? Each intentionally and willfully rejects maximum efficiency, scale, and productivity in favor of a less scalable, less efficient, more personal relationship with its customers. Customers chose to pay higher prices and The local brewery or coffee shop will never scale beyond a single operation, and for those people who patronize such businesses, that’s the way they prefer it.

Why do some customers prefer a less efficient, more expensive, less scalable business? The inherent inefficiency of personal businesses demonstrates effort in a human relationship, a sense of connection. We know it’s effortless for a machine to remember our name and greet us mechanically at the door. We know it requires effort and thought for a human proprietor to do so.

The Human Backlash Against AI and Machine Learning

Fighting against mass production isn’t limited to consumer goods. As major chains have opened up in every industry, niche producers appear to challenge the status quo.

Expect the same in AI: as massive companies adopt AI technologies to increase scale, productivity, and efficiency, more boutiques will appear to challenge their often impersonal relationships with customers.

While many boutiques may not use the same language as their consumer goods counterparts, the underlying sentiment will be the same. Probably no one will advertise for hand-crafted legal advice or artisanal tax return filing, but the emotions these anti-AI boutiques will invoke will be familiar.

The Way Forward: Smart Hybrids

The smartest businesses will adopt a hybrid model: applying AI and machine learning where it makes the most sense to do so, and keeping human relationships less scalable. These businesses will accept a tradeoff of moderate inefficiency in order to preserve and grow the human interactions that inevitably lead to repeat business.

For example, in a law firm, AI and machine learning will dominate the processing of case files, digestion of case law, and summarization of facts, but the human lawyer will still shake hands with the client and stand before the court.

In a medical office, AI will be the second set of eyes on every diagnosis and will ensure common foul-ups like prescription mismatches or conflicting medications are all but eliminated. The doctor will still be the human interface to the AI, collecting data and helping the patient feel welcome.

If complete adoption of AI across a business is turning the dial to 10, businesses will likely find that maximum profitability – if not efficiency – require the dial tuned to a 6 or 7. Keeping the dial at 6 or 7, where AI is the back office and humans are the front-end, will minimize the backlash while still reaping many of the benefits of scale, productivity, and efficiency that AI brings.

Humans will continue to want to deal with humans for important matters. We may not care who serves us a burger and fries that’s already standardized and mechanized, but if our fortunes, health, and happiness are on the line, the human interface will continue to matter. The power of AI and machine learning will be to augment and reinforce correctness in human decision-making, but not to replace the human-to-human interface.


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