Many of us, at one point or another, were hopeful that technology would provide quick fixes to systemic problems. Those hopes haven’t panned out. It turns out that some problems are so tricky that they can only really be fixed by lots of people working together over time. As cool as advances of AI are, we don’t actually have any reason to believe that this dynamic will change any time soon.
To be more specific, the community resource directory problem is a supply-side problem – there is not a reliable supply of accurate information about services – which means AI tools are uniquely ill-suited for solving the problem, because their quality is directly dependent upon the quality of the data they are supplied.
AI can’t solve this problem because the root of the problem is in an array of perverse incentives and disincentives across the health, human, and social service sectors. For instance, many providers of health, human, and social services just don’t have strong incentives to be found by more clients! This means their information just might not be out there on the internet – not in a sufficiently detailed and up-to-date form that technical wizardry like web scrapers and chatbots might need to generate reliable results. Ultimately, if we want to have reliable information about these services over time, human beings need to talk to each other. Open Referral is working to make sure that technology can facilitate and enhance these human interactions – rather than pretend like we can eliminate the need for it, which might ultimately get in the way or even cause harm.