Human relevance in an age of automation
Gareth Rees, Director of Global Partnerships, says, “Specialised resources and key managers are still relevant. In fact, they need to be allowed to be more relevant by driving innovation and improvement, rather than monitoring and managing a system that can self-organise.”
Following a series of talks from prominent industry players at the African Automation Fair, panel moderator Martin Sanne, Executive Director of CSIR, noted that two patterns had emerged.
The first was that IoT and digitisation is a reality, particularly in mining industries where IoT is alive and being used.
The second was that humans are not being replaced. The need to interpret data and make decisions based on it is becoming more and more important.
Reactions to the role humans will play during, and post, the 4th Industrial Revolution are nothing new. With each industrial revolution, lives have been affected and industries shifted. Yet, each time, society continues to innovate and drive industries forward.
“In the past technology has always ended up creating more jobs than it destroys. That is because of the way automation works in practice, explains David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Automating a particular task, so that it can be done more quickly or cheaply, increases the demand for human workers to do the other tasks around it that have not been automated.” — The Economist
Driven to do more with less, meet ever-increasing demand and innovate faster, industries are cognizant of the fact that failures can be deadly and can cost millions. Fearing downtime, manufacturers are embracing big data, and the sensors that feed into it, so that engineers can spend time solving problems instead of looking for them. Businesses are deploying more and more digitalised processes, but is all of this automation cause for anxiety?
Machines can learn to behave and process data in certain ways, once boundaries and parameters have been set by a human. What they can’t do is express raw human emotion, care or provide the type of therapeutic benefit that is derived from being able to express fear, the benefits of which are well documented, particularly in healthcare.
“A computer doctor will do a better job than a human on looking at a massive amount of data … but on cases that require judgment or creativity or empathy, we are nowhere near any computer system that is any good at this.” Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator. “As technology improves health outcomes, the human part for a physician actually becomes more important.”
Digitised systems can’t always react to the millions of criteria that need to be reacted to, decide which data is important and when the utterances from political figures will rock the markets. The can’t anticipate the need for agility. They can run experiments but can’t, necessarily, determine the need to conduct them. Most of all, they can’t spot opportunity gaps to drive new business revenue.
“This notion that there’s only a finite amount of work to do, and therefore that if you automate some of it there’s less for people to do, is just totally wrong,” he says. Those sounding warnings about technological unemployment “basically ignore the issue of the economic response to automation”, says Mr Bessen.
The simplest example? e-commerce. It didn’t kill retail. It allowed a single store to reach an infinite audience, offering expansion without the costs that used to accompany developing a brick and mortar footprint. Before you bring up instances like Instagram’s so called killing of Kodak, remember that it was, in fact the emergence of the smartphone that did that, and that the smartphone industry employs a lot more people than Kodak ever could.
“An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.” — Klaus Schwab, Founder, World Economic Forum.
Keep an eye on our blog this week for a post by Gareth Rees, our Director of Global Partnerships, as he looks at new styles of people management that are being driven by data transparency.