The many nursing schools in the Philippines churned out a humongous lot resulting in a glut and soon, job opportunities abroad dried up. It was call centers that saved the country’s surplus of RNs from joblessness. In fact, many graduates of the “unemployable” courses have found succor in what used to be a very high demand for call center agents. But there comes bad news in the wake of advances in robotics and automation that have produced robots capable of maintaining an interesting, though partly scripted, conversation. It is predicted that call center agents will soon become superfluous as their jobs will be taken over by automation.
I do not have a pleasant experience at all with automated answering machines. In fact, I am irked at them. Try calling any call center of either of the country’s networks, and you should shortly get the point. After the pre-recorded perfunctory welcome (that does not sound welcoming at all, as one fully knows that it is pre-recorded), one is offered a menu of buttons to choose from.. Press one button, and one gets a second recital of yet another choice of buttons. Choose one and you will be put on hold — if not referred to yet a third array of choices. If one is lucky, one will hear an automated enumeration of possible complaints to choose from. If one wishes to hear a human voice, one is given an escape route that can, if luck is on your side, yield the welcome warmth of human voice at the other end of the line, or, as many times happens, return the dial tone, and thus must the rigmarole start all over again.
Repetitive jobs—such as drilling holes, precision cutting, installation of writes, laying down integrated circuits —these are rightly consigned to automation. It has been a point well made that confining a person to a repetitive function can be not only boring but also smothers creativity and actually de-humanizes. Similarly, programmed heavy equipment that allow skyscrapers to rise without the back-breaking, spirit-wrecking toil that brought about the pyramids and the monolithic structures of the ancient world—and even the medieval cathedral-fortresses —can only be hailed for their liberating effects on human toil. So automation is, in this way, both the product as well as the buttress of the human spirit. I have never subscribed to the superstition that one day, computers will be more intelligent than human persons. In terms of memory they may be more capacious; in terms of permutations they may be faster at combinatorial results. But they will always remain products of human imagination, inventiveness and the intelligence of the human spirit that has infinity as its sweep and breadth.
However, with automation comes redundant human labor, just as with the industrialization and mechanization of the farm, there arose the problem of what to do with redundant farm labor. One does not rush headlong into mechanizing and automating, no matter how dazzling the prototypes and prospects might be, and then wonder later on what to do with the human workers rendered superfluous by machines. And that is bad news for the thousands of young Filipinos who now work in shifts in the country’s booming call center industry. Of course, we are offered the consoling thought that this loss will prompt us to search for new possibilities. But not all searches end up well, and successfully! And while we are on this search, what do the jobless Filipinos do? Trek to the embassies for yet even more visas to work abroad? Aside from the dangers experts have repeatedly pointed out about an economy dependent in great measure on foreign remittances, we have to start getting alarmed that the bright Filipinos who learn their skills here, earn their degrees here, acquire their competencies here are not serving and working here. The bench of the skilled and the competent is not growing any wider!
We are told about planes being flown by robots in the future. That sounds very much like sci-fi but it will be well for us to remember that many of the devices that are part of 21st century life—like mobile phones, video-conferencing devices, tracking equipment —were very much the stuff of sci-fi not too long ago! In a way, planes are already flown by robotics, because auto-pilot is one form of this contemporary marvel. Notice however that when contingencies strike —unforeseen turbulence, the threat of attacks from the ground, engine malfunction —the human pilot disengaged the autopilot and takes over. There is something about human decision-making that is not substitutable. “Robo Cop”, though fictional, is not an administrator of justice. It is the mechanical matching of givens to a pre-determined result, many times with inhuman, unreasonable and absurd results. It is only a human judge who can make considerations of equity, unconscionability, and good faith part of a judgment, and this, automatons cannot do for the very simple metaphysical reason that no human being is ever self-creating! It is not possible to program a computer nor to write out an algorithm for compassion and mercy. These simply belong to another dimension to which nothing corresponds in the realm of the “artificial.”
We have been given the salutary warning by logical analysts that terms beguile. “Artificial intelligence” is one such term. What we mean by artificial intelligence though is a simulacrum of human intelligence, an analogy of human intelligence, not its reproduction, not its duplication, and most certainly, not its surpassing! And it is human intelligence that should make the call: when to let “artificial intelligence” do the task, and when the line must not be crossed in respect to that which must be left to the sublimity and sacredness of the human spirit!