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Is AI the End of Jobs or a Beginning?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing so rapidly that even its developers are being caught off guard. Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in Davos, Switzerland, in January that it “touches every single one of our main projects, ranging from search to photos to ads … everything we do … it definitely surprised me, even though I was sitting right there.”

The long-promised AI, the stuff we’ve seen in science fiction, is coming, and we need to be prepared. Today, AI is powering voice assistants such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri, allowing them to have increasingly natural conversations with us and manage our lights, order food and schedule meetings. Businesses are infusing AI into their products to analyze the vast amounts of data and improve decision-making. In a decade or two, we will have robotic assistants that remind us of Rosie from “The Jetsons” and R2-D2 of “Star Wars.”

See also: Seriously? Artificial Intelligence?  

This has profound implications for how we live and work, for better and worse. AI is going to become our guide and companion — and take millions of jobs away from people. We can deny this is happening, be angry or simply ignore it. But, if we do, we will be the losers. As I discussed in my new book, “Driver in the Driverless Car,” technology is now advancing on an exponential curve and making science fiction a reality. We can’t stop it. All we can do is to understand it and use it to better ourselves — and humanity.

Rosie and R2-D2 may be on their way, but AI is still very limited in its capability, and will be for a long time. The voice assistants are examples of what technologists call narrow AI: systems that are useful, can interact with humans and bear some of the hallmarks of intelligence — but would never be mistaken for a human.  They can, however, do a better job on a very specific range of tasks than humans can. I couldn’t, for example, recall the winning and losing pitcher in every baseball game of the major leagues from the previous night.

Narrow-AI systems are much better than humans at accessing information stored in complex databases, but their capabilities exclude creative thought. If you asked Siri to find the perfect gift for your mother for Valentine’s Day, Siri might make a snarky comment but couldn’t venture an educated guess. If you asked her to write your term paper on the Napoleonic Wars, she couldn’t help. That is where the human element comes in and where the opportunities are for us to benefit from AI — and stay employed.

In his book “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins,” chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov tells of his shock and anger at being defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in 1997. He acknowledges that he is a sore loser but was clearly traumatized by having a machine outsmart him. He was aware of the evolution of the technology but never believed it would beat him at his own game. After coming to grips with his defeat, 20 years later, he says fail-safes are required … but so is courage.

Kasparov wrote: “When I sat across from Deep Blue 20 years ago, I sensed something new, something unsettling. Perhaps you will experience a similar feeling the first time you ride in a driverless car, or the first time your new computer boss issues an order at work. We must face these fears in order to get the most out of our technology and to get the most out of ourselves. Intelligent machines will continue that process, taking over the more menial aspects of cognition and elevating our mental lives toward creativity, curiosity, beauty and joy. These are what truly make us human, not any particular activity or skill like swinging a hammer — or even playing chess.”

In other words, we better get used to AI and ride the wave.

Human superiority over animals is based on our ability to create and use tools. The mental capacity to make things that improved our chances of survival led to a natural selection of better toolmakers and tool users. Nearly everything a human does involves technology. For adding numbers, we used abacuses and mechanical calculators and now have spreadsheets. To improve our memory, we wrote on stones, parchment and paper, and now have disk drives and cloud storage.

AI is the next step in improving our cognitive functions and decision-making.

Think about it: When was the last time you tried memorizing your calendar or Rolodex or used a printed map? Just as we instinctively do everything on our smartphones, we will rely on AI. We may have forfeited skills such as the ability to add up the price of our groceries, but we are smarter and more productive. With the help of Google and Wikipedia, we can be experts on any topic, and these don’t make us any dumber than encyclopedias, phone books and librarians did.

A valid concern is that dependence on AI may cause us to forfeit human creativity. As Kasparov observes, the chess games on our smartphones are many times more powerful than the supercomputers that defeated him, yet this didn’t cause human chess players to become less capable — the opposite happened. There are now stronger chess players all over the world, and the game is played in a better way.

See also: Microinsurance? Let’s Try Macroinsurance  

As Kasparov explains: “It used to be that young players might acquire the style of their early coaches. If you worked with a coach who preferred sharp openings and speculative attacking play himself, it would influence his pupils to play similarly. … What happens when the early influential coach is a computer? The machine doesn’t care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine. … The heavy use of computers for practice and analysis has contributed to the development of a generation of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train.”

Perhaps this is the greatest benefit that AI will bring — humanity can be free of dogma and historical bias; it can do more intelligent decision-making. And instead of doing repetitive data analysis and number crunching, human workers can focus on enhancing their knowledge and being more creative.

May the Forms Be With You!

“Star Wars” first appeared in theaters on May 25, 1977, unleashing one of the great, galactic pop culture tsunamis ever seen. And while there has been an explosion of technology and innovation since that time (one that would rival the explosion of the Death Star), virtually nothing has been done regarding the way insurance information is shared via forms, certificates of insurance, driver ID cards and the like.

Workers’ compensation may be leading this backward trend.

It’s no wonder that workers’ comp insurance draws a lot of attention. Covering more than 90% of the workforce, with more than $45.5 billion in total premiums from both private carriers and state funds and a combined ratio of 94%, workers’ comp is one of the few bright spots within the commercial lines market.

With payrolls rising $316.5 billion by year-end 2016, not to mention $1.16 trillion in construction projects, there will be billions of dollars in new premiums for workers’ comp coverage. If economic growth and hiring continue as projected, workers’ comp exposure is likely to remain among the faster-growing major commercial P/C lines of insurance in 2017 and beyond. And this positive outlook takes into account that workers’ comp fraud is 25% of the P&C industry-wide annual fraud problem of $34 billion.

Many are investing heavily in new systems and technology to reach this rich marketplace. Carriers, brokers, agents and third-party service providers are all positioning themselves for a larger slice of the workers’ comp pie through innovative and forward-thinking technology.

However, with all the technology available within the workers’ comp ecosystem, it consistently takes a giant leap backward when it comes to requesting, generating and delivering proof of insurance. Form-based certificates of insurance are universally produced and passed like a hot potato between different stakeholders, yet they provide no real proof of insurance. As one industry pundit put it, “At best, it’s just a piece of paper that shows proof of coverage at the time it was issued. At worst, it’s fraud.”

Some are touting the ability to request proof of workers’ comp coverage from a mobile device. Yes, through an app, you can request a workers’ comp QR code that can be used to request a certificate PDF. But this PDF has all the usual limitations: no updates, no notice of cancellation, no ability to compare data with coverage needs, no exception processing.

See also: How Should Workers’ Compensation Evolve?  

Because the form-based certificate of insurance has been the forum for exchanging dead data, people have been attempting all sorts of subterfuge to require wording on the certificate in a vain attempt to make it say something that is not in the workers’ comp policy. It’s important to realize, from a business and insurance standpoint, that a certificate has many inherent limitations and weaknesses. For example, a certificate CANNOT:

  • Extend or modify policy conditions or rights to the certificate holder. The insurance policy is a contract, and changes to those terms can only be accomplished by following proper procedure as outlined by the insuring company. Extending policy rights, such as additional insured status, can only be accomplished by properly endorsing the insurance policy in question.
  • Guarantee a policy will not be canceled in accordance with the conditions of the insurance policy. Cancellation of a workers’ comp policy is controlled by state statute and cannot be modified by a certificate.
  • Provide insurance coverage to the certificate holder. The insurance certificate only indicates coverage found in place on the policies in force at the time the certificate is issued. A certificate of insurance coveys no insurance coverage to the certificate holder; only proper endorsements to the insurance policy can achieve that.

There are many large industries that are totally dependent on workers’ comp coverage and proof of insurance — construction, transportation and agriculture, to name a few. Roads, bridges and buildings don’t get built or repaired without workers’ comp insurance. Nothing moves across our highways without workers’ comp insurance. Crops, fruit, cattle and food do not get produced, harvested or delivered without workers’ comp insurance.

As we move forward into a 21st century economy, more companies and workers are shifting into the gig economy where workers’ comp is either not there at all or has substantial holes. Under current definitions, gig economy workers, sometimes called on-demand workers, are neither employees nor independent contractors. If a rideshare driver is attacked by a passenger, sustains severe injuries and cannot work for a long period, how is his or her income replaced? For that matter, if any on-demand worker is injured on the job (accident, repetitive motion injury, etc.) how is his or her income replaced? And with the current state of health insurance, or the lack thereof, how are his or her health bills paid?

While there are a number of instances where coverage verification is needed for workers’ comp alone, many times other lines of business need to be verified simultaneously. General liability, commercial auto, commercial property and other types of insurance also require verification at the same time with workers’ comp, by the same stakeholders. These coverages may be within a single business owners policy (BOP), or they can be spread across multiple policies, written by multiple carriers, with different effective/expiration dates.

See also: Five Workers’ Compensation Myths  

Rather than pushing around forms filled with dead data, workers’ comp deserves a digital ecosystem where all stakeholders can securely connect and share coverage information. Online and continuing coverage verification automatically validates that insurance in force. Additionally, the needs of each stakeholder are evaluated, alerting stakeholders on an exception basis.

It’s time to move forward from, “May the forms be with you” to “Let the data be with you.”

This is GAPro’s vision and mission.

Workers’ Comp and Due Process Don’t Mix

If attorneys and judges really want due process with regard to workplace injuries, then they should endorse the workers’ compensation (WC) alternative in Texas that we call nonsubscription. They won’t, even though nonsubscription is consistent with the Fifth, Seventh and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — the amendments that identify due process as a key component of our national identity. The Fourteenth Amendment is very clear: “[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law . . .” In this legal context, employers are considered persons, so WC statutes mandating them to pay insurance premiums — regardless of fault — are violations of due process. That argument was so powerful it nearly prevented the original enactment of WC laws around the country a century ago.

Unlike WC, Texas nonsubscription never required employees or employers to fully surrender their legal rights to a system of special adjudication, so when employees sue their nonsubscribing employers, the cases are of the big-boy variety: tort. In Texas nonsubscription, we’ve seen about 100 judgments/settlements at or over the $1 million mark — much bigger than what WC constituents are used to. Moreover, our lawsuits in nonsubscription are processed in the civil court system, which is both a hallmark of due process and a reminder of what a day in court really looks like.

By contrast, WC disputes are typically relegated to administrative systems, where attorneys are sometimes tutored on procedure during hearings by administrative law judges. If this sounds like due-process-with-training-wheels, it’s because training wheels are necessary for everyone involved in the system (from lawyers and judges to regulators and legislators) to keep their balance as they attempt to negotiate two types of terrain at once. Due process can be thought of as a reasonably smooth legal pathway that’s been cleared for centuries by lawyers and judges. The special adjudication reserved for WC can be thought of as a smooth but abbreviated fast track that’s subject to change at the will of a legislature. But the fast track to fairness within the confines of WC is now littered with bumps and potholes because judges have permitted lawyers to drag due process procedures into a system of special adjudication that was never designed to accommodate them.

See also: Back to the Drafting Table on Work Comp  

To fans of due process, the nonsubscription system in Texas does say: “We will not deprive our employees and employers of their life, liberty or property unconstitutionally.” To fans of special adjudication, the WC system in Texas (and everywhere else) should say: “We understand why an expedited process for solving problems related to workplace injuries appeals to both employers and employees, and we can reduce costs, save time and improve outcomes for injured workers by minimizing attorney involvement.”

So if you are an employer or an employee committed to due process in the world of workplace injury, you should do everything possible to support Texas nonsubscription. But if you are committed to foisting due process concerns onto existing WC systems, you’re probably just a lawyer looking for a payday.

These Aren’t the Droids You Are Looking For

The lack of due process in unconstitutionally seizing property from employers is the obvious and gaping flaw that attorneys and judges don’t want to discuss when promulgating due process in all other areas of WC. They certainly don’t want to alter the funding of WC. Strict due process was a hurdle that WC couldn’t clear when the Grand Bargain was struck in the early 20th century. Due process almost destroyed WC then — and it threatens to destroy it today. Simply stated, strict due process and WC do not mix. This critical warning continues to fall on deaf ears as state Supreme Court Justices from New Mexico to Florida apply due process wherever it is convenient for the legal profession (but not necessarily where it is most critical for injured workers).

When forced to address this unconstitutional seizure issue, the legal community has, thus far, successfully used mind tricks akin to the one made famous by Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lawyers want us to forget that reduction of legal friction was a key incentive for employers to abandon their due process concerns and accept the Grand Bargain in the first place. Each time a new generation of entrepreneurs asks, “Why do employers have to foot the bill for this whole sprawling WC system?,” legal spokespeople respond, “Everyone already agreed to this,” deftly deflecting through a sort of Jedi mind trick. And when the business owners who have done their research press the matter by asking, “But didn’t everyone also agree to bypass other areas of due process in favor of special adjudication within the confines of WC?” the legal spokespeople wave their hands and shake their heads very convincingly as they chant in unison, “No. That is not the argument you are looking for. ”

As with Kenobi’s lie, there’s no substance to the lawyers’ falsehood beyond the confidence with which they assert it, but the mind trick continues to work. “Well, I guess that isn’t the argument I am looking for,” you might hear from an exasperated CFO. “These attorneys have been trained in the law, so they must know. Carry on.

Those who lie about due process’ historical place within WC need to know that we are on to them. Their flawed arguments need some work.

See also: What Happened on the Oklahoma Option?  

Texas nonsubscription has provided a robust case study in what due process looks like for employers and employees alike. WC worked well under special adjudication for decades. But over the past half century, as layers of procedural due process have been added to WC’s inner workings, the legal community has cried foul about the lack of substantive due process — except it selectively disincorporated that whole funding-by-the-employer component from its argument.

I support due process in Texas nonsubscription.

And I support special adjudication in WC.

Let the legal community dictate what happens in nonsubscription. But let the legislature dictate what occurs in WC — which was the original deal. Mixing them has never worked.

AI’s Promise Is Finally Upon Us

We have been hearing predictions for decades of a takeover of the world by artificial intelligence. In 1957, Herbert A. Simon predicted that within 10 years a digital computer would be the world’s chess champion. That didn’t happen until 1996. And despite Marvin Minsky’s 1970 prediction that “in from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being,” we still consider that a feat of science fiction.

The pioneers of artificial intelligence were surely off on the timing, but they weren’t wrong; AI is coming. It is going to be in our TV sets and driving our cars; it will be our friend and personal assistant; it will take the role of our doctor. There have been more advances in AI over the past three years than there were in the previous three decades.

Even technology leaders such as Apple have been caught off guard by the rapid evolution of machine learning, the technology that powers AI. At its recent Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple opened up its AI systems so that independent developers could help it create technologies that rival what Google and Amazon have already built. Apple is way behind.

The AI of the past used brute-force computing to analyze data and present them in a way that seemed human. The programmer supplied the intelligence in the form of decision trees and algorithms. Imagine that you were trying to build a machine that could play tic-tac-toe. You would give the computer specific rules on what move to make, and it would follow them. That is essentially how IBM’s Big Blue computer beat chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997, by using a supercomputer to calculate every possible move faster than he could.

See also: AI: Everywhere and Nowhere (Part 2)

Today’s AI uses machine learning, in which you give it examples of previous games and let it learn from those examples. The computer is taught what to learn and how to learn and makes its own decisions. What’s more, the new AIs are modeling the human mind itself, using techniques similar to our learning processes. Before, it could take millions of lines of computer code to perform tasks such as handwriting recognition. Now it can be done in hundreds of lines. What is required is a large number of examples so that the computer can teach itself.

The new programming techniques use neural networks — which are modeled on the human brain, in which information is processed in layers and the connections between these layers are strengthened based on what is learned. This is called deep learning because of the increasing numbers of layers of information that are processed by increasingly faster computers. Deep learning is enabling computers to recognize images, voice and text — and to do human-like things.

Google searches used to use a technique called PageRank to come up with their results. Using rigid proprietary algorithms, they analyzed the text and links on Web pages to determine what was most relevant and important. Google is replacing this technique in searches and most of its other products with algorithms based on deep learning, the same technologies that it used to defeat a human player at the game Go. During that extremely complex game, observers were themselves confused as to why their computer had made the moves it had.

In the fields in which it is trained, AI is now exceeding the capabilities of humans.

AI has applications in every area in which data are processed and decisions required. Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly likened AI to electricity: a cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything. He said that it “will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century ago.  Everything that we formerly electrified we will now ‘cognitize.’ This new utilitarian AI will also augment us individually as people (deepening our memory, speeding our recognition) and collectively as a species.There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different or interesting by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 start-ups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. This is a big deal, and now it’s here.”

See also: AI: The Next Stage in Healthcare  

AI will soon be everywhere. Businesses are infusing AI into their products and helping them analyze the vast amounts of data they are gathering. Google, Amazon and Apple are working on voice assistants for our homes that manage our lights, order our food and schedule our meetings. Robotic assistants such as Rosie from “The Jetsons” and R2-D2 of Star Wars are about a decade away.

Do we need to be worried about the runaway “artificial general intelligence” that goes out of control and takes over the world? Yes — but perhaps not for another 15 or 20 years. There are justified fears that rather than being told what to learn and complementing our capabilities, AIs will start learning everything there is to learn and know far more than we do. Though some people, such as futurist Ray Kurzweil, see us using AI to augment our capabilities and evolve together, others, such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, fear that AI will usurp us. We really don’t know where all this will go.

What is certain is that AI is here and making amazing things possible.