Artificial intelligence is a much favoured subject in the world of cinema but over the last few years it has leapt from the silver screen and firmly established itself in our day-to-day lives. If you turn to pages 40-41 you will find a report on its increasing usage in the motor claims sector – and, although this AI narrative may lack the ‘edge of the seat’ excitement depicted in Blade Runner, Terminator et al., it isn’t lacking in epochal significance.
Indeed, the real movie of the story of AI wouldn’t be the preserve of Hollywood behemoths like Scott, Cameron and Spielberg – who all specialise in the imagining of dystopian futures; the real movie would be made by someone with less of a reputation for imagining dystopian futures but instead depicting today's dystopian realities: Britain’s very own Ken Loach.
The trope that runs through Loach’s fine body of work is societal injustice, and it would not be overstating things to suggest that AI represents an existential threat to vast swathes of society. The specific threat of AI in the bodyshop sector is articulated in our report by David Punter, a non-executive director at the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors. He says: “I think in the future, whilst AI may be used to assess cosmetic damage in the early stages, which is a real benefit, you will still need the skills and expertise of assessors for more complex repairs or for intervention when the above factors require ‘human intelligence’. In time AI will grow in its understanding via machine learning, but right now it removes a lot of the common repetitive tasks that we as humans add little benefit to – so it is a worthwhile journey.”
A “worthwhile journey” for whom, I am prompted to ask? Certainly not the tranche of workers whose livelihoods depend on getting paid for fulfilling these “common repetitive tasks”; tasks, I should add, which underpin our economy. There is also the associated threat that AI will be used in a manner akin to the Sword of Damocles: hung over workers as a means of control; a forbidding reminder their jobs could be taken by robots; ‘man versus machine’ in a most literal and terrifying sense, with man forced to work harder and harder to keep machine at bay.
Even if AI does increase workplace productivity we must ask ourselves: what does any increase in efficiency actually achieve? Is the potential streamlining of the claims process really going to be that beneficial? Because if the creeping introduction of AI into the automotive sector leads to job losses, or to workers’ repression, then I don’t believe any incremental improvements achieved in process and output are worth the sacrifice.