Race, or embrace, the machines: The Human Use of Human Beings
February 7, 2023
4 min read
Business and work are becoming automated in profound ways. Soon they will have to change the name of the department from HR to HRR: Human and Robot Resources.
The rise of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence and other cyborg related workers is changing the fundamental structure of Management, Labor and business. We are moving into a future where many businesses can scale rapidly with non-tangible products, and services can be infinitely replicated.
Computer programs and algorithms can perform the interface with customers more efficiently. Soon we will be interacting over the phone with chatbots like Siri and Alexa and not realizing we are talking to a computer. These interactions will meet the Turing Test.
The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.
The good news is that we will no longer be put through the gauntlet of dealing with “if you want blah blah press one…” and awful hold music and repetitive loops of “your call is important to us…” I won’t miss any of that. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
These trends have profound implications for how we think about work and the nature of value and productivity. Call Centers will soon transform from cubicle farms to racks of servers.
Human Use of Human Beings
How we relate to automation not only has implications for how we think about business models and operating leverage, but also about how we perceive ourselves and our careers developing over the course of a lifetime. Developments in robotics, automation, and AI, have wide-ranging implications for our sense of self worth and how we impute meaning to our lives.
Blue-collar jobs in manufacturing have been impacted over the recent decades as robotic systems have replaced workers on factory floors and assembly lines. Repetitive tasks represent relatively straightforward processes and lend themselves to automation. Now entire factories are operated by a handful of workers monitoring computer screens. As the leadership guru Warren Bennis predicted: “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”
The replacement of manual labor by dexterous programmable machines was the first wave of worker displacement. Worker Displacement 2.0 is now underway as Artificial Intelligence is becoming more widely implemented in practical systems. AI is posed to transform the world like electricity did a century ago.
The virtual personal assistant Siri is a good example of an AI powered system that interacts via voice and incorporates language recognition and response. Siri performs tasks by searching and retrieving information and employs a voice activated user interface.
White collar jobs are now being replaced in fields previously thought impervious to the encroachment of automation. Accountants, lawyers, doctors, and other professional fields; science and engineering jobs; courts and call centers are all affected. What we choose to train for and how we position ourselves and think of our strengths and skill sets will be tested as we are confronted with continually encroaching prescience of automation and computing power.
It will be our task to recognize, predict, and adapt to this inevitable change. We are going to be tasked with forging productive alliances with new itools and leverage a newly focused understanding of our strengths and interests in fruitful ways.
Put differently, our relationship to robots and artificial intelligence, and robots equipped with artificial intelligence will increasingly determine how happy, content, and satisfied we are in the future.
This Brave New World offers opportunities to delegate mundane repetitive tasks and even rule based thinking tasks to machines. We can robo-source dirty and dangerous work. Machines don’t get black lung or extremities crushed.
Innovative and complementary pairing of machines and humans in hybrid models allows businesses to approach tasks in novel and productive ways. We already recognize that tasks that are difficult for us humans are often easy for machines, and conversely, tasks that are easy for us are often complicated to implement in software and mechanical systems. I regard this situation as an opportunity to unleash creative and energies.
Implications and Preparation
Implementation for companies comes down to a Capex vs. Opex financial decision. As this new reality unfolds, we must prepare to provide economic safety nets to the disrupted work forces in the near future.
Universal income is the way a possible way of addressing the coming disruption. The possibility that there might not be that many jobs available in the near future because most of the routine, rule-based tasks are being more efficiently and effectively done by robots, is not such a bad thing.
This can free us all up to follow our interests and passions without having to impose an immediate business model on them. Providing an expressive outlet for all of the latent creativity and pent up frustration at not expressing it now, could make for a potentially much more healthy, physically and psychologically, population. And who knows what fantastic discoveries and inventions can emerge from such play.
Reducing the current frustration with performing jobs we don’t want to do would also reduce the passive aggressive half-baked work product currently palmed off in organizations.
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