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Let computers be machines and let humans be humans

A recent article reported that in the United states, self-driving cars are being attacked/vandalized. Most vandals were taxi drivers or couriers or people feeling threatened by this new technology. History has seen such an instance before during the late 18th century when women ‘attacked’ factories with the Spinning Jenny. The Spinning Jenny was the latest technology capable to produce cloth much more efficiently than with manual labor. As such, the women feared future unemployment and wanted to stop progress by smashing the machines they felt threatened by.

Although not effective, one can understand the attitude. When people experience massive disruption and technological advancement, insecurity will rise. For many it can feel as if the earth underneath them starts to shift and this uncertainty creates stress and hostility. This is especially true for people not capable to adopt the new technology. As such, people without any affinity for IT can feel insecure and fearful.

However this is not necessary, because the current disruption does not only require people with IT skills but also people that have excellent human skills. Being empathic, understanding and knowing how people work is the one skill that computers cannot adopt and it are their skills that are necessary to make the future digital world interesting [1]. In this blog I will try to explain why.

Humans only accept humans

Humans crave real experiences and this means, experiences with other humans. We want to interact with humans. We want to be loved, admired and want to connect with other human beings and especially during hard times. Experiences created by machines or with the interaction of machines are not considered real or at least worthwhile by most people [2].

In a world that is being automated and digitalized getting the human touch becomes imperative. As such it is even stated that human nurses become more important and wanted. When considering that if you were getting diagnosed with a deadly sickness this becomes clear. You would not want a machine telling you this but rather a empathic person. The machine may do the diagnosis but the person has to tell you.

As such humans will be needed to communicate, explain and make sense of the actions of the machines. We need human beings that can relate to us.

Thinking outside of the box

Another feature of human beings is that they are capable of illogical creativity. We as human beings can connect issues which are illogical for programs or systems. Artificial Intelligence can come up with extremely creative designs but only within the field it was programmed for. It cannot go beyond its programming. At least, not yet.

As such it cannot understand important changes in the zeitgeist and have difficulty in what is wanted, cool or culturally relevant. In an age where memes rule and videos can go viral we are continuously pushing the envelope, culturally speaking. Humans can understand trends and even start them.

Checking purpose

A third important feature of human beings is checking whether the system still functions correctly. Systems are not fool proof, they can fail and more importantly, they can be badly designed. Although it is not something we want to do, we need to check whether the process has led to the desired outcome.

This means more than a simple checkup, this means having the courage standing up and challenging the system. In a LinkedIn post Pauline de Wilde addressed the need of people to stand up and speak their mind. Companies in the future will want people criticizing the very systems they operate, build, manage and sell. This criticism goes beyond only accepting whether the system functions the way it is designed. It also has to achieve the goal it was meant to achieve.

Conclusion

In conclusion the idea that computers, robots and algorithms will take over everything is a misconception in my view. We still want and need a world that is empathic, creative and purposeful. We need people with these qualities to give real value to the world that we are living in.

However the capabilities that do not make us empathic humans, will be less needed. Being cold toward others (or business-like), being rigid or predictable and being non-critical are human features that will not be needed. In this sense digitalization will provide us the opportunity to ‘remove the machine from the human’. Let the computers be machines and let humans be humans.

 

[1] A. McAfee et al., Machine Platform Crowd.

[2] R. Nozick, ‘Anarchy, state, and utopia’, 1974, Basic Books, New York.

Wouter Mertens

Business Manager IT

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