Hey AI Developers, We Need Health Badgers, Not Banking Bots

AI Technology could set us free us from tedious work or enslave us. Now is the moment  to upend the top-down status quo.

Think of the tasks you dislike the most about your daily routine. Paying bills, dealing with medical bills and health insurance, housework, commuting in traffic. If you also run a business, the layers get deeper: scheduling, recruiting, insuring, managing benefits and coping with labor shortages. 

AI_Possibilities

Let’s fantasize for a moment, about artificial intelligence technology that’s advocating for us, not for our “owners,” as Comedian George Carlin used to call corporate America.

The Health Badger. This wonderfully irritating AI bot turns the tables on insurance companies. It checks every bill from a provider closely, reads all the fine print in our policies, and goes to bat for us, calling the insurer repeatedly, doing battle with their AI bots to get us the maximum payout at the best premium, pleading, cajoling, and pestering collection agencies until they leave us alone, or negotiate a reasonable payoff.

The Labor Angel. Our AI powered labor recruiter has limitless time and an omnipotent viewpoint when it comes to local labor forces. It knows when they are being paid  equitably, and when they’re being screwed, and is programmed to let them know. The Labor Angel aims to get the best deal for workers, identifying not only the bad actors, but also the companies in the region that offer good wages and good benefits and reliable pay. If companies want staff that sticks around, they can’t hide from the Labor Angel. It’s working 24/7 on behalf of plumbers, firefighters, police, nurses and many other undervalued careers.

The Family Fixer. This one’s a doozy. It acts as a psychoanalyst and liaison between you and your family members. Is your daughter estranged from you because she hates your new wife? The Family Fixer will tell you how to talk to her about the topic, the best peacemaking gifts and gestures to make, and how to explain it all to your skeptical spouse.

The Bank Spanker. Banks have become even more irritating now that they have discovered that chatbots can replace most of their staff. How about AI that runs circles around their canned chatbots, and handles our daily banking chores without us ever having to wait in a parrying cue again. It can also press for the best interest rates on CDs, warn us about fine print, negotiate for better credit card terms and help us pay off loans most efficiently.

Those are just a few of the zillions of possibilities. The fact is that AI could improve our lives. 

Jeremy Rifkin’s The End of Work gave us some early warning about mechanization of our lives, but the same principles apply to AI: Machines may not replace us, he explained, but they degrade the importance of our work, driving wages and personal value down. 

The problem won’t be that AI is good. The problem will be that it’s “good enough” to sell. That’s why actors and writers are terrified…because the people typically controlling the paychecks aren’t necessarily looking for groundbreaking performances. They’re churning out low-risk sequels and tediously consistent characters.

AI’s Impact on Housing

What will AI affect in the arena of shelter? On the downside, it’s likely to make the Wall Street purchasing of single-family homes and even faster, bigger problem. And if you think rental algorithms are bad now, wait until corporate landlords figure out how to do ALL of their evictions and tenant shuffling via impersonal AI chatbots. Untold suffering will ensue.

But of course, AI is already making inroads into the business of home plans and designs, along with estimates, permitting and development. Why pay a CKD when your AI pal can crank out any kitchen design on earth?

Trades will still be needed of course but without bottom-up tools for tradespeople and contractors, they’ll be forced to race to the bottom on cost. That’s why tools like the labor bot I suggested will be so important. We need forces to counteract the inevitable top-down greed that will be driving AI in corporate boardrooms. 

An article in Time by Bill Perrigo notes that a little bit of skepticism about technology right now may be healthy, in the face of AI overdrive. He reviews a book by Brian Merchant, called Blood in the Machine, that’s worth a read. 

 Merchant argues, the ruling classes popularized the pejorative definition of Luddism that exists to this day, not only to discourage workers from coming together and threatening their property, but also to dilute their wider political message. 

That message? That if new technologies erode wages and increase wealth inequality, it’s a result of a political choice by the owners of that technology, not a result of the inevitable and unstoppable march of progress. And that therefore, a more equitable way forward is possible—keeping the benefits of technology, but sharing its proceeds more widely. 

As Merchant puts it: “we can absolutely decide how we want technology to be used.”

I think we can all take that note to heart. We’re not powerless to steer AI, and it’s not the technology that is steering how it will be used. It’s people. We need to hold them accountable and dive deep into AI tech and create tools designed to change the system, not reinforce an ever-widening wealth and privilege gap.

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