Benjamin Shestakofsky finds interconnections between humans and machines

The question of whether artificial intelligence will replace human workers has taken on renewed urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. But while you may now find robots delivering your food or cleaning your hotel room, it’s unlikely that automation will take over the workforce anytime soon.

Benjamin Shestakofsky
Benjamin Shestakofsky, assistant professor of sociology. (Image: Omnia)

“The idea that AI is going to proceed in one direction, whether we like it or not, while we’re left to collect whatever crumbs remain—this is a fallacy,” says Benjamin Shestakofsky, assistant professor of sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences.

Shestakofsky studies the impact of digital technologies on work, employment, and organizations. Drawing on field research, Shestakofsky is part of a new wave of social scientists examining the specific real-world conditions under which software systems replace, complement, or create human labor. “There’s more and more recognition of the importance of going down into the realm of production—onto the so-called shop floor—to see what actually happens when these new technologies emerge,” he explains.

“When we think about algorithms, we usually think about a computer program that takes data as an input and performs a particular function or transformation that yields a specified output,” says Shestakofsky. “But of course algorithms can—and have been—performed by hand, by humans, for hundreds of years.” A company might also turn to computational labor to reduce cost or test an experimental feature.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative that AI will make human workers obsolete, Shestakofsky says that the more digitally mediated our lives become, the more we’re going to need people to help us understand how the technology works.

This story is by Duyen Nguyen. Read more at Omnia.