Human minds vs. Robots – Who is winning this battle?

The monster of automation and Artificially Intelligence (AI) is finally upon us! This statement was as true in last 10 year as it will be in the next 10 years or more. Is it eating our jobs like never before? A lot of thought leaders and news reports indicate so. But are automation and AI very new? Definitely no, but it has progressed faster than many tech wizards had anticipated it to.

Traveling back in time, in a very rudimentary language, this started many decades ago as an effort to develop superior machines for industrial revolution. The element of digital gradually entered the world of mechanical machines and repeated predictable physical activities were automated. The automation spread in every other industry, entered in our homes, and whether we like it or not, it has changed our day to day lives.

While there are several benefit areas, as outlined in quadrant 1 below, some of the things in #2 do irritate at times. I am sure many of us have had those frustrating moments when we call up the customer care center and can’t find a human being after several permutations and combinations of the interactive voice response system (IVRS). Similarly, what about the scary fact that for a majority of flight duration, the plane is controlled by a machine (auto-pilot) mode and the active steering by experienced pilots is only for 3-7 minutes.

On the other hand, there are several jobs/tasks (#3) which should have been automated yesterday but appear to be the last in the queue. This is particularly true in India, where cheap labor is easily available and there is little motivation to automate them immediately. We can easily locate several such needless employees around us in hypermarkets, malls, airports, parking floors, and of course in public sector units.

Unfortunately, the biggest irony of automation and AI is that it can hardly work where it is needed most (#4). For example, The judiciary. Despite an extreme shortage of judges in India, can Robots fill those ever open positions? Despite an acute shortage of quality doctors and surgeons, can Robots be deployed to perform critical surgeries of our dear ones? NO.

AI is not an end in itself and it can never occupy a space which human does. Humans being are relentless in the way they work and we always supplement our skills with varying degree of emotional quotient. There are several research projects going on to estimate when AI will become better than human minds and different estimations are available but we need to understand that jobs involving cognitive work (decision making, creativity, leadership and managerial skills, etc.) can’t be fully automated and only a certain activities in them will be automated.

Just an example– Data Science, one of the hottest job today, heavily relies on the power of algorithms. The algorithms are becoming smarter by doing self-learning every time they are put into use. By this trend, today’s Data Scientists should become irrelevant tomorrow. However, as per a study by Indeed, the Data Scientist has been considered one of the most future proof jobs!

The current automation wave is going to uncover the true potential of humans. As quoted by HBR, humans have an understanding of the dynamic nuances inherent in working relationships and the ability to respond and adapt to those nuances; machines probably will not get there. With every technological disruption in past, people found new ways to stay relevant and this wave is going to be no different.

“Technology in nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
-Steve Jobs

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