Future Friday: Being Human in a Machine Age

by Michael Haberman on July 11, 2014 · 4 comments


Emotion was not part of the program.

Emotion was not part of the program.

I have written a number of times about the importance of figuring out what is human about your job. Of course that means you have also figured out what it is about your job that can be replaced by a robot or some other technology. A recent article by Andrew McAfee points out the importance of this “human measure.”

Important to be human.

McAfee is the co-director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy in the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is the author of Enterprise 2.0 and the co-author, with Erik Brynjolfsson, of The Second Machine Age. He knows what he is talking about and he says it is still hard to figure out what the alchemy is or will be between people and machines. In fact he is unsure how people will continue to add value in the future. Many of us may not. He says “Computers are clearly better at brute force computation and search, and their pattern matching abilities are improving by leaps and bounds these days. So what are we better at?”

This however, is where McAfee offers us a glimmer of what our role may be. He points out that so far experience has shown that “It appears that when the task is so wide open that searching through history or enumerating all the possibilities won’t work, our abilities are superior.”

What do we do?

McAfee says the answer to this is unclear. He says “we’re clearly doing something that our best digital technologists have not yet been able to master.” So right now in this space where super computers cannot handle all the possibilities the human brain appears to be able to perform better. He says this is also true for “many domains that require taste, creativity, or an aesthetic or emotional response.” For you Star Trek fans you know that Mr. Data was not all that well versed in emotion. We needed Captain Picard for the emotional response. (Earlier fans recognize this pairing as Spock and Captain Kirk. Kirk was the master of the emotional response.) McAfee says that the day may come when a computer can write a great short story, but for now that is still the domain of humanity.

What about your job? Have you sorted out the “human part” of your job? If you have make sure you preserve it, that is the key to continued employment.

 

Photo credit: Borrowed from Wikipedia


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