If AI Is So Great, Why Is Managing the Digital Realm Eating Us Alive?

By Charles Hugh Smith

The financial analysts gloating over the prospect of higher corporate profits resulting from firing workers overlook the collapse of customer satisfaction, productivity and leisure.

If AI is so great, why are we all wasting so much precious, irreplaceable time deleting spam, unsubscribing from junk email and dealing with multiplying layers of digital incompetence? This is called shadow work: work we perform that isn’t paid or even counted as “work,” though it eats up our time and energy, leaving us less leisure and more frayed.

Work that once was performed by the companies and agencies offering these services has been offloaded onto the customer. The customer must now delete endless spam, unsubscribe from endless junk emails, deal with security breaches, navigate incompetent third-party providers, fill out endless forms relating to privacy–a Kafkaesque bit of humor, given that our data is constantly plundered by hackers–and find their efforts to get anything fixed in the digital realm foiled by AI-chatbots and phone apps.

The horror stories are becoming ever more Kafkaesque. To cite one recent example from a reader, the process of qualifying as a professional healthcare provider for payment from Medicare was once a relatively straightforward submission of documents. Now it has been offloaded to a third-party provider–keepers of the inner circle of Digital Hell–which charges $3,000 for providing a truly Kafkaesque labyrinth of frustrating incompetence.

Recall that in Kafka’s final novel, The Castle, the castle is buzzing 24/7 with office workers who are too busy to answer the phone: the work is endless yet nothing gets done.

I recounted a few of my own experiences with AI-digital incompetence in Digital Service Dumpster Fires and Shadow Work:

Digital services–the foundation of the digital economy–are dumpster fires we’re supposed to put out ourselves. The services are broken, dysfunctional rubbish, and yet somehow the agencies or corporations that are responsible for the endless dumpster fires of their digital interfaces have shifted the burdens of this incompetence onto the consumer / customer, who is supposed to put the fire out ourselves and make do with the smoldering sludge at the bottom of the dumpster.

The financial analysts gloating over the prospect of higher corporate profits resulting from firing workers overlook the collapse of customer satisfaction, productivity and leisure. AI is creating additional layers of frustrating, time-sink shadow work, and the only possible conclusion is that AI–as instantiated by corporations and public agencies–is innately incompetent. The entire system of digital services is a wretched mess of incompetence and shadow work dumped on a public corralled by monopolies and cartels and a compliance-obsessed bureaucracy of state/federal agencies.

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Cory Doctorow summarized the situation rather neatly:

One of the truest things I know about AI is: ‘we’re nowhere near a place where bots can steal your job, we’re certainly at the point where your boss can be suckered into firing you and replacing you with a bot that fails at doing your job.’

One wonders what we’re paying for via taxes, products and services, when we end up having to do so much of the work ourselves, at the cost of our productivity, leisure and mental health.

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