Machines vs Humans?

Automatically operated machine that replaces human effort’ – Definition of ‘robot’ in the Encyclopaedia Britannica

Machines vs Humans ?No, the Future will be Humans & Machines

Machines already have topped the best humans at most games held up as measures of human intellect. For for instance in chess, when IBM’s ‘Deep Blue’ computer won 3,5-2,5 against world champion Garry Kasparov 19 years ago.

But with Go, a 2’500-year-old asian game with a 19×19 grid of lines that’s exponentially more complex than chess, the human grandmasters could maintain an edge over computing systems  – until this year.

Last month, ‘Alpha Go’, developed by Google’s company DeepMind, won 4 out of 5 ‘Go’-matches by resignation vs Lee Sedol from Korea, the strongest human Go-player in the world.

But these games and high-profile-showcases dubbed as ‘man vs machine’ are not the main purpose of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For John Kelly, senior vice president of IBM Research, it’s not about machines gaining intelligence or taking over the world or recreating the human brain. But AI is very much about taking inspiration from the brain and changing the current computing architecture to better handle data and further our understanding of the world. The brain is very good at some things – image perception, intuition, reasoning, even a sense of morality – but inept at making sense of vast amounts of data. So the goal is to augment human intelligence with AI, not replicate it.

‘Take medicine, for example. In a single lifetime, a person can generate over one million gigabytes of health-related data, mostly in the form of electronic records and medical images. Multiply this by our current population, and the secret to health and well being may be hidden among this data’, says Kelly.

The progress in medicine is indeed breathtaking: people paralyzed from the neck down will soon be able to move robotic arms by thought alone.

The first patients will be implanted with the devices by 2018, says Professor John Donoghue director of Switzerland’s Wyss Center for Bio and Neuro Engineering.

And in about 20 years patients will be living relatively normal lives as neuro-communication technology restores movement to all four limbs. ‘For anybody who has paralysis, we are going to make it so that when they are out in the world, other people won’t know it’, Donoghue predicts.

While nobody would argue against this medical progress, the rise of robots could become even more significant for many of us at our workplace.

Reports by the Berkley Group from last year or by the World Economic Forum in 2016 have predicted that within the next 10 years about 5 million human’s jobs will be performed by robots, a number that will only increase over time.

As it always is with revolutionary changes – some of us embrace them as useful and a much needed tool for progress while others see primarily the risks of losing their jobs and income for instance.

But we are not the first generation who has to handle radical changes at the workplace. In the 19th century, inventions like the dynamo paved the way for the industrial revolution that brought the change from hand- to machinery-production processes. Daily life was influenced severely for many with short-term negative aspects. Certain jobs became obsolete, others suffered from competition. The linen weavers in Germany ventured an uprising against exploitation by the industrialists and wage decreases, attacked homes and warehouses, destroyed machinery, and demanded money from local merchants. The army was called to restore order.

Still, the technological progress in the 19th century increased productivity and caused a sustained rise in real income first in England and, as its effects spread, in the rest of the Western world. The ‘new-technology’-based industrial revolution led to dramatically improved living standards and was the most important event in the transition to the modern age.

So, back in the 21st century, don’t think of robots in terms of ‘machines vs humans’, it’s more a scenario of ‘humans plus machines’ that will shape our workplace and our future.

For Leslie Willcocks, Professor of Work, Technology and Globalisation at the London School of Economics, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is set to be the biggest game-changer for organizations for 2016 and beyond.

In the latest issue of ‘The Europen Business Review’, Willcocks underscores the striking benefits in terms of productivity by using RPA. A study he conducted shows that what previously took 2 days of human work to process, needed only 30 minutes with RPA and led to superior results in terms of higher quality, less errors and a better regulatory compliance. 

RBA also massively increase output. UK mobile communications provider Telefónica O2, whose deployment of more than 160 robots to process half a million transactions each month, yielded a return on investment of 650% with only 4 trained staff.

Though this sounds not very promising for human employees, Willcocks’ research shows also, that in order to integrate such systems effectively, RPA must be guided by human intelligence. The possibilities for automation and robotics are set by human imagination and will – something which AI is a long way off replicating – ensuring humans remain in control of the workplace.

‘The challenge that business leaders will face is merging human and automated roles and responsibilities effectively, and providing human employees with opportunities to apply their own natural skills’ Willcocks explaines.

Contrary to many doomsayers, he thinks that robotics could facilitate the rise, not the demise, of knowledge workers. But managers would do well to prepare staff for the unavoidable changes to their current job roles, enabling them to upskill, specialize and re-train where necessary. Willcocks’ survey shows that for every 20 jobs lost through advanced technologies, 13 new ones would be created.

Companies will struggle if they do not reach for the real benefits of automation. And the same is true for workers. Those who stay passive will be the losers of the new wave of automation by RBA, those who can adapt to the technological changes in the coming years through education and training, will find more satisfying (and better paid) jobs in the future.


The only way for better paid jobs is to accept and adapt the challenges of automation through education and training

humans and machines

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