There has been mention on this blog of the coming age of the robots. There are those who see technology invading our workplaces and changing the nature of, or even existence of, occupations and professions.
Certainly, the examples have become numerous. In 2018, "Flippy the robot" was featured in USA Today. This is merely an adaptation of robotics to a new degree. Robotics Business Review reminds us that "Manufacturing automation has been common since the 1970s." Automation is not new, it is merely becoming more visible and thus noticeable in our daily lives.
But technological advances are not limited to robotics. Everyone by now has encountered the opportunity to scan their own purchases. Most of us by now has had the opportunity to place a fast food order using a kiosk. Most of us have noticed that the cycling of traffic signals in our community is less and less about rote cycles and is more reliant upon sensors providing data that triggers both signal pattern and duration.
There are also amazing advances in software. Computer programs are searching documents, prioritizing job applications, and replacing claims adjusters. Any doubters have not been around long enough to remember typing pools, correcting typewriters, and the amazing WordStar program us "old timers" were amazed by in the 1970s. As I type this and see WordStar underlined in red, prompting me to know of a possible spelling or grammar error "on the fly," I recall how far software has come in my short lifetime.
In some ways, the technology is comforting, convenient, and helpful. But for those who would otherwise flip the burgers or take the orders, the technology may be disconcerting. But for business owners, the financial impetus is clear, as discussed in Three-D Employment, What of the Buggy Whip Makers?, Ross AI, and the New Paradigm Coming, Chatbot wins 160,000 Legal Cases, and Nero may be Fiddling, What are You Doing?
The debate rages regarding what these advances mean to workers and jobs. There seems agreement that technology is "on the rise in the workplace," according to 60 Minutes. Some steadfastly contend that automation will both eliminate some positions/occupations, but will necessitate various other new occupations. They see a net gain in both productivity and employment. Some estimate that the gain will be significant.
A great many see the probability that the eliminated positions will be low-skilled labor positions. However, I have suggested in some of the posts cited above that effects could be of concern for paralegals, attorneys, judges and more.
An article in March introduced us to computers taking over judgment and interpretation jobs. The Associated Press (AP) reported "Computers will call balls and strikes." Is there anything more a part of the fabric of American life than baseball (hot dogs, apple pie)? Well, perhaps there is, but I digress.
All sports rely to some degree upon the interpretations and judgments of referees, judges, umpires, or others. There are rules to interpret regarding behavior and performance. There are lines that must be watched and calls that must be made regarding whether a line is or is not crossed. It is fair to compare the role or these sports officials to the role of judges in the dispute resolution process. Judges determining cases should be much like umpires. That is, calling balls and strikes, keeping the process on time, and assuring that our ultimate goals of due process and polite process are respected.
The AP story covers various changes being made in 2019 Atlantic League baseball, including changes in field dimensions. The new AI official is called TrackMan. This system uses Doppler radar (like speed devices used by police and weather predicting tools) to determine if a pitch is "ball" or "strike." However, for now, the computer will not announce its decision to the audiences. This season, the TrackMan will share its thoughts and perceptions with the plate umpire through an earpiece. Of note, the TrackMan only watches the ball, whether a player swings or check-swings is a decision left to the umpire alone (for now). Thus, there remains human necessity and nuance.
The Umpire will have the option to override the interpretation of the TrackMan. The human element will remain, but will be perhaps enhanced by the technology. In the same way, some will recall that search engines like Westlaw once helped paralegals. However, as those search engines have progressed, some fear that their integration with artificial intelligence could replace paralegals. Similarly, early manufacturing robotics assisted workers, then evolved to replace them in some roles.
Some umpires are not enamored with the TrackMan. In the AP story, they discuss the attributes of the system, and acknowledge that deployment of technology is not new. They mention the prior testing of QuesTec, and Pitch/FX. These technologies have been tested and evaluated since 2001. The evolution of baseball has been underway all of the twenty-first century.
One umpire noted that "The beauty of baseball is that it’s not foolproof." He notes there are many complexities in the game, and seems to admit that the art of calling balls and strikes may be among "the beauty." It is not uncommon for people to cling to the human element. I have heard fascinating similar arguments in that regard as to the procedure of reviewing human calls in American Football. There is recognition that the person closest to a play may not be the best to make a call regarding a particular occurrence. And those calls can be polarizing.
It is probably fair to say that not everyone is a fan of the TrackMan. But, historically, innovation after innovation has met both fanfare and criticism. Humans seem to both love and hate technology, in part on its merits and in part due to our inborn resistance to change. Time will tell if a computer can call balls and strikes, and whether those human umpires are inclined to accept or decline TrackMan's promptings.
However, as generations pass, perhaps, technology will become sufficiently trusted to replace umpires. A day may come when its accuracy and internal (though artificial) discretion is deeply trusted and accepted. However, I suspect that just as there will always be those who distrust human judges, umpires, and referees, there will likewise persistently be those who will distrust less expensive, perhaps more consistent, and less human alternatives that technology brings us. Perhaps the human element, the art, has a beauty and efficacy all its own?