One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to advances in technology is that humans will become redundant because computers will be better performers for a wide variety of tasks. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. While computers are able to perform simple, repeatable tasks at a high level; there are many areas that human capabilities are underrated. The most likely future state is that humans and technology are complementary partners in the development of solutions designed to make the world a better place.
Computers Run the World
is one of the most popular science-fiction movies ever produced. This movie hypothesized that at some point, the intelligence and capabilities of computers would significantly exceed that of humans. In this scenario, human beings would serve as the ‘battery power’ to our computer overlords. While that made for cinematic excellence and numerous conspiracy theories that we were actually unknowingly living in a computer simulation, there are many challenges to that theory. Elon Musk, one of the most passionate technologists, of this generated recently recognized this technical limitation as he sought to automated the production of the Tesla Model 3. On the path to have the most technological advanced automobile factory in the world, Musk found that there are things that are better left to humans. In fact, Musk found that excessive automation actually produced vehicles at a much slower rate than expected
. Society has been manufacturing automobiles for more than a century. And even with advances in robotics and computational processing, Tesla still found challenges with improving the efficiency given the well-defined set of boundary conditions. For those who have had challenges with getting a good Wi-Fi signal in their home or hosting a VOIP call at work this should not be a surprise. In fact, it will likely be several decades before technology is superior in accomplishing some of the most basic human needs.
Humans Run the World
While there will be some tasks that computers can perform better than humans, one of the most significant challenges for technological innovation and capabilities is within the realm of unstructured problem solving. In fact, to excel at computer programming means that you are better able to develop boundary conditions for a given set of conditions and also consider numerous edge cases where things do not go exactly as expected. For humans, the ability to process edge cases real-time to determine a logical solution is extremely efficient. Computers on the other hand, require hundreds of thousands of lines of code for this. And even then, computers do not always get it right. In fact, one of the reasons why many computer programs, websites or mobile applications crash is because the technology did not know what to do given a certain edge condition. One of the proposed solutions to this challenge is artificial intelligence – the theory and development of computer systems able to perform human intelligence such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision making and translation between languages. While artificial intelligence has been under development since 1956, it still has not been able to meaningfully replicate the natural intelligence of humans. However, there have been meaningful advances recently n that of speech recognition – Amazon Alexa & Apple Siri. But, there is still much more ground to cover if humans are going to be displaced at the top of the food chain.
Humans & Computers Work Together
From the prior discussion, we can see that both humans and computers have limitations. In reality, the most likely scenario for the future is when humans and computers partner to make the world a better place. The routine tasks that have defined boundary conditions which when automated improve efficiency will be where computers dominate. Those tasks that are unstructured and require creativity and empathy will be left to humans. The technologists who figure out how to develop technology based solutions to improve the problem solving capabilities of humans will see their market share grow significantly. One example of this emerging solution is self-driving vehicles. Although there are many variables involved in transportation, computers along with the improved processing capabilities are best able to sort through the data and automate these real-time decisions. Removing the mental bandwidth and stress of a daily commute for most humans will enable us to be fresher at our jobs because we arrive with our minds fully clear since there weren’t accidents to avoid or people we are upset at from being cut off on the way to work.
While the first wave of technological innovation has been focused on automation of routine tasks – word processing and financial analysis, the coming wave of progress will be focused on groundbreaking technological advancement that cures disease, solves hunger, eliminates war and generally improves the human condition. As a whole, society will welcome innovation within this space and we will no longer view technology as a threat but as an enabler to advancing the human condition.