Blog: I need somebody with a human touch
In the era of ‘exponential’ everything, the tasks we undertake at work and in our personal lives are increasingly automated. Whether it’s one click shopping for an e-book, booking a taxi in seconds or querying a bill via a chatbot, we can now do many of life’s mundane jobs effortlessly through software applications without the need for human contact.
Consequently, many businesses we engage with have evolved how we interact with them, adopting more and more technologies to deliver their products and services whilst reducing the people needed on the front line. For retailers, the number of stores and staff they require has decreased as more of their business moves online. Retail banks have slashed their branch networks in response to the rise of digital banking and high street travel agents are fast disappearing as as the OTA (Online Travel Agent) takes over.
Some studies have suggested that we’re entering a new age where many humans will eventually be displaced by machines as software and robots eat their way up the value chain. However, whilst technology has delivered phenomenal changes to the way we shop, eat, travel and work, the idea that technology alone will run our lives is myopic.
There’s no doubt that administrative and repetitive tasks are ripe for automation. Forward thinking organisations have already adopted the processes, tools and technologies to deliver benefits in these areas, with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) delivering efficiencies across insurance claims processing, KYC and AML compliance programmes and invoice and sales order processing to name a handful of the many-use cases.
As we move up the spectrum of value beyond common routines, the logic might become ‘fuzzier’ but many of these more complex activities requiring an appreciation of degrees of right or wrong and built in optionality are still well within the reach of today’s more advanced applications. Here we see more sophistication in how content is presented to us based on preferences or behaviour, where mapping engines are becoming smarter as a result of contextual awareness and where ‘next best action’ type advice is developing rapidly.
But as we start start to deal with the really complex requests, balancing seemingly irrational and rational thinking and introducing ever higher degrees of context and nuance, then we’re in a world where we’re pushing at the boundaries of machine capabilities.
Today there are times when a person plus a machine is more valuable to a situation because brute computing power or scaled rational logic isn’t appropriate. People are wired to deal with emotion and illogical thinking. They know that the most rational or optimal answer might not be the one you need or want, but they can see why it makes sense.
Right now, and for the next decade (at least) the machine + human opportunity offers more. Think about the awesome power of scaled computing doing the grunt work whilst the thousands of years of the evolved human brain works through the most complex end of the spectrum.
Some examples to consider:
- The doctor that can search a national database to find potential matches and then apply her own layer of medical acumen to come to a decision.
- The lawyer who uses the software to analyse thousands of cases and reduce the ones he really needs to spend time on to a handful.
- The merchandiser that can take suggested mark down curves for a clothing range, and apply her own experience to deselect items that she knows still have margin potential in them.
- The long distance truck driver that knows a particular city is really tough to navigate due to last minute roadworks so switches off the autopilot as he enters the rat run of downtown streets.
It’s clear we will increasingly live in an AI-assisted world, but let’s balance the hype with reality and not sell ourselves short just yet. There’s still plenty of mileage in the brain.