Originally published in LinkedIn
Recently, Morgan Stanley began using bots to make better investment decisions. The investment bank will use algorithmic assistance to make its army of 16,000 financial advisers smarter by analyzing markets, portfolios, tax laws, cash flow, etc. and help drive better investment decisions[i]. What Morgan Stanley realizes is that human advisers build relationships with clients over decades while algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) help them understand what is happening in markets and the lives of their customers. Both types of capabilities – building relationships and managing information -- are required for successful business. In other words, the Man-Machine combination is an exciting one. To use a worn out but highly appropriate cliché, the sum of the two is more than its parts.
Let me explain this a little differently. We live in 2017, in the throes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, whose chief narrative seems to center on the obsolescence of jobs, rather than on an improvement in the quality of life. The First Industrial Revolution, driven by mechanization, brought about great change in manufacturing and agriculture. There was a remarkable improvement in the quality of life. The revolution also displaced jobs but it did not displace humans. People learnt new skills when old ones were not required. And once they did, we were ready for the next industrial revolution. And the next. Now, we are on the cusp of an exciting Everything-Smart Revolution: smart grids, smart homes, autonomous cars…the list is long. Technology is destroying old jobs and creating new ones – as it has always done for decades.
Here is what is happening. Automation is increasing our productivity, especially around rules-based, repetitive tasks. This requires many of us to put in less effort, creating time and availability for tasks that require high levels of human cognition and judgment. But the most forceful area where transformation is taking place is where Man-Machine collaboration begins.
Man-Machine collaboration is not a new idea. In 2005, the website Playchess.com hosted a “freestyle” chess tournament in which various combinations of humans and computers could compete against each other. After a number of games, researchers wanted to know who won the most number of games. Was it the computer program? Was it the grandmasters? It turns out it was neither. The maximum number of games was won when chess experts worked seamlessly with the computer program. This tells us about the power of Man-Machine collaboration.
Smart organizations are using this simple truth to create wildly successful businesses. Uber, for example, is using it to make humans more powerful and offer a better customer experience.
Imagine the impact of automation, Machine Learning and AI on the medical profession. Agreed, nothing can replace a doctor’s training and intuitive understanding of a patient’s condition. But the doctor can gain a lot from the assistance provided by technology. In an instant, years and even decades of data can be analyzed and presented to doctors for more accurate diagnosis and treatment regimes.
Under normal circumstances, it would have taken doctors years of practice to gain the kind of insights technology can generate. That investment in experience (time) is not required anymore.
The bottom line is that instead of worrying about job loss, we need to work on making the Man-Machine interface better. See that hyphen between Man and Machine? That hyphen is what creates the magic. That hyphen is where the worlds of man and machine are integrated. We must devise integration that is hyper-aware, self-organizing and adaptive. That’s where we need to focus our attention – on the awesome hyphen.