Monday, July 2, 2012

Can Machines Replace Humans?

I have recently read a great book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee called Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Professor McAfee is of course the one and the same who coined the term Enterprise 2.0 a couple of years ago and who worked with us at AIIM on the business-use cases for social software last year. I was thrilled to be a part of that project.
Andrew McAfee and I during the AIIM project last year.
In the book, the authors argue that we have now reached the point where technology is getting so advanced today that it is possible to automate tasks and jobs previously thought only humans could do. The chess-playing supercomputers beating Gary Kasparov were just the beginning. Now, we have computers driving cars and winning on Jeopardy, and we are only starting. The speed of innovation is growing exponentially and we are into the large growth numbers!

The repercussions of this hypothesis are far reaching. We are at the beginning of an incredible technology cycle. Do you think SoLoMo is cool? Do you get excited by the Cloud and Big Data? Consumarization? Gamification? Just buckle up! Another wave of incredible innovation is bearing upon us - innovations that will be able to replace, improve and automate many of our daily life activities. Tasks previously thought of as forever relegated to only humans will be taken over by machines. Is the Babelfish finally going to be released by Apple?

I can think of many incredible possibilities: image and video recognition, automated decision making, adaptive process flows, contextual experience, home automation, continuous authentication, and yes, real-time translation... there are so many things we could do! They are all possible in theory today but are just too impractical given the technology constraints. However, the technology - hardware and software - is improving at an exponential pace and constraints such as performance limitations or the overwhelming data volume will soon be no longer considered obstacles.

The consequences will likely be profound. Just like the bank tellers and stock brokers of the past, many jobs will be eliminated as a result of innovation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee went as far in their book as to suggest a blueprint for transforming society in order to accommodate for the massive shifts in the workforce. I really wish our politicians read the book.

With all the changes, I believe that technology ultimately creates opportunities. The sudden shifts may feel disruptive to the established order but we all know that only the most adaptive species survive in the long term, We need to embrace the technology. We need to harness its power. And, we need to adapt.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Lubor.

    There are certainly lots of innovation in the near future that will make we feel borderline cyberpunk but if there is something that computers playing super high level chess have thought us is that it is very hard to emulate human thought and behaviour and that mflops do not translate to IQ (we would be talking apples and oranges here).

    Even though chess was taken as the epithome of human intelligence the kind of play and algorithms used by computers have not an inkling of human chess thought, calculation and evaluation, but I digress...

    I agree with you though, technology will drive the next stage of human evolution, through software and hardware integrated to our own senses, I just wish to live long enough to see it happening.