Welcome To The Machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

You might think from Roger Waters‘ lyrics he was thinking about privacy. His take was on the recording industry but the song came to mind as I was thinking about robots. I’m hoping today to get you to ask yourself about them as well. Specifically, are you better than one, or at least the one that can replace you in the business world.

Before you laugh that off, consider a few things. We have cars that are driven by robots and they will absolutely do a better job than a human driver most of the time. Sure, there will be times when a road is temporarily closed and the mapping software will be lost. The car will need some immediate human input but that’s probably the exception. Most trips will be safer and less stressful.  Bots don’t get tired or distracted.  Can you say the same?

Bots can write and do so in a way that is pretty indistinguishable from humans writing the same stuff. Around 10% of Wikipedia articles were written BY ONE BOT. How many people do you know that are that prolific? You’ve read sports stories both on the web and in newspapers that were written by bots interpreting statistics to produce a game narrative.  Financial reporting is being done by bots too.  They do an excellent job of sticking to the facts, uninfluenced by some PR flack’s spin.  I’ll admit that I get weekly reports on Google Analytics that are written by a robot.  They’re not great but they do a good job of calling my attention to things that require further investigation.  I imagine they’ll continue to improve.  Much media selling is now done by robots and programmatic ad buying is forecast to have robust growth as more publishers, advertisers and agencies embrace programmatic technologies. As a result, Magna Global projected that the volume of transactions will grow to $17B by 2017 in the US, of which $10.5B will be RTB-based.  Those are lots of sales, sales support, and media buying jobs going away.

Am I bringing this up to depress you? Not at all.  We need to think about how we can do many things – still – that can’t be replace by a machine.  Nested phone menus for customer service are a form of automated response – do you know anyone who prefers that over talking to a human for service?  Bots are only as good as the algorithm that drives them.  While we’re heading to a world of artificial intelligence and algorithms that will self-improve, I suspect that we’re a long way off.  That said, we need to emphasize the human parts of every interaction.  A bot could present the facts of this post but I don’t think it can provide tone and nuance (or ramble quite as much).

So that’s the question for each of us, isn’t it?  Can we be replaced by a bot or are we adding things that are uniquely human to our business – and non-business – lives? What’s your answer?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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