Automated Seinfeld Script Is More Evidence Robots Won't Replace Us

Automated Seinfeld Script Is More Evidence Robots Won't Replace Us
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The classic situation comedy Seinfeld was known as a show about nothing. But a recent attempt to write a script for the show using predictive keyboards actually demonstrated something very important: Regardless of how valuable artificial intelligence is, it cannot easily replace the human touch.

Some comedy writers joined together to use computer technology to create a Seinfeld script, by feeding libraries of text from the show’s third season into predictive keyboards for the four principal characters – Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. The resulting script starts off with the opening, a brief monologue by Jerry that echoed the comedian’s diction and patterns of speech. But once the script shifts to the actual plot, it dissolves into incoherence. Many of the sentences make no sense at all. Those that do are out of context. And an eager Seinfeld fan will find almost nothing funny to laugh at.

The experiment demonstrates a key fact about AI: Regardless of how valuable it is becoming, it will not replace the human touch. It will not substitute for the creativity, nuance and even collaboration human beings are uniquely capable of.

The poor results of the attempt to use computers to produce humor demonstrates there will continue to be a vital role for human beings. Many worry this won’t be the case. Many assume that rather than being able to take advantage of AI, people will be replaced by it – or overwhelmed by it. But what we are seeing is not economic devastation, but transformation. The economy has transformed itself many times over the past few centuries. People haven’t just survived, they’ve thrived. This is just part of that continuing process of learning and adapting.

In 1900, roughly 40 percent of the working population earned their living farming. Technological innovations – such as the tractor, incubation and improved irrigation – have made it possible for us to meet our food needs better than ever before utilizing a far smaller proportion of the population. At one time, roughly 1 in 5 American workers were employed by the railroads, until new technologies – including automobiles and planes – made most of those jobs redundant.

But tractors and airplanes did not replace us – and AI will not replace us now. Rather, it will make us better able to create more wealth, more efficiently. The same automation that eliminates many jobs spurs the creation of even more – most of them better paid and more satisfying. What we are seeing – as we have for more than two hundred years now – is not job elimination so much as job churn, as new technologies eliminate some jobs and spawn others.

Bringing down costs, through the development and adoption of new technologies, makes it possible for businesses to create more jobs to take advantage of potential opportunities. It brings down prices, freeing up cash that consumers can spend on other goods and services. It even makes possible entirely new industries. A quarter-century ago, few of us had ever heard of a search engine. Now we’ve all heard of Google, which employs over 60,000 people.

Rather than replace human beings, new technologies augment them – taking care of some of our needs more efficiently, thus giving us the means and opportunity to pursue others.

Just a year ago, Deloitte made big news when it conducted a study with two Oxford University professors that indicated 35 percent of jobs in the United Kingdom could be eliminated over the next decade or two. But a new study by the firm indicates that the number of jobs eliminated due to new technologies will be dwarfed by those it spawns. While technology may have contributed to the elimination of 800.000 jobs in the U.K, it seems to also have contributed to the creation of 3.5 million new jobs – jobs that on average pay about 10,000 pounds more than the jobs that were eliminated.

The U.K, like most modern economies, has seen and will continue to see a decline in jobs that are repetitive, manual and low-skill, and will continue to see an increase in jobs in creative occupations, business and caring occupations that demand a high degree of manual dexterity and cognitive skills.

We are seeing a shift in importance from the strength of our upper backs to the strength of our brains. AI is crucial to that shift, and to a future of wealth and opportunity. But AI will not replace human beings. Anyone who thinks otherwise should read a script generated by a computer with one written by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. They will discover one big difference: The script written by talented human beings offers a lot more laughs.

Allan Golombek is a Senior Director at the White House Writers Group. 

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