Staying ahead of smart machines

Staying ahead of smart machines

I’m fascinated with advances in technology that allows us to create faster and smarter machines, and this inevitably triggers the discussion about how machines would take jobs away from people.

For example, a few months ago I invited my team to consider a future where the ecommerce websites would be so large that it would make available millions of products a day. This website would need at minimum the product information, price, pictures and reviews. The sheer amount of content that needs to be produced daily could be solved by computers putting content together, publishing and automating the entire production. This could be achieved by clever algorithms that manipulate templates and large content databases. The human alternative will likely be non-scalable and cost prohibitive.

A writer in my team then asked if that was the right way to create content. She doesn’t see her work as a mindless automation of text, but rather a craft with the ability to influence the reader into doing or feeling or thinking about something, and ultimately doing an action like register for an event, or filling up a contact-us form or explore the website.  I agree with her in parts where in order to differentiate ourselves from machines, we must be able to generate value where machines can’t. I believe there is a place for machine automated content and I would expect to pay cheaply for it (eventually that is), while a human generated content should be able to do more than state what is factual. It needs to stir emotions and thoughts and leave a lasting impression.

The truth about smart technology

I was recently at Sydney attending the Quintiq World Tour, an annual event bringing together customers, industry experts, and partners to share ideas and learn about the latest innovation in planning and optimization. Although the speakers come from diverse background, such as logistics, transportation, manufacturing, energy, and workforce, they share many common challenges and one of them is how to manage the people within their organization when it comes to adopting new technology.

In the case of Quintiq customers, the challenge is around the distrust employees have towards a piece of software that seems to be able to create a roster or plan faster and taking into consideration all constraints – something that was not always possible with human planners. The distrust stems from the fear that the technology will make human planners obsolete, however this is further from the truth.

What smart technology actually does is take away the complexity and calculation intense work from the human planners, freeing them to do higher value tasks such as analysis and simulation of different scenarios that they never had time to do before. These planners have 20 to 30 years of planning experience and our technology was designed to complement their skillset and respecting the “soft-knowledge” they possess. For our customers, change management includes building that trust step by step and proving to their employees that the technology is a valuable tool that increases their value within the company rather than diminishing it.

Humanity remains a competitive advantage

I think smarter machines forces people to develop different skills and evolve new ways to stay ahead. I read this article with interest, and I agree that humanity is in itself a competitive advantage. In other words, working faster, and smarter is probably not enough to make you a linchpin, but tapping into qualities that makes us more relatable to others, and influencing how others feel may be the Holy Grail to not just better team performance and productivity but also more successful companies.

Commoditization can happen in every market, product or services. You can be replaced by a faster machine, or cheaper person half a world away, or someone fresh out of university. In marketing, we fret over the USPs, and the customer experiences. The magic hook is often an emotional one going back to one single memory or one single emotion. Unearthing this nugget requires that human touch.

My two favorite end-of-the-world apocalyptic scenario would involve either flesh eating zombies or robots hell-bent on extinguishing the human race. If I’m being honest, the robots don’t scare me as much as flesh eating zombies simply because I’m convinced the likelihood of robots outsmarting humans seems far-fetched, while engineered viruses that could mutate people, is perhaps less so? Or maybe I just prefer to be killed by a robot than to be eaten by my zombified family.

What are your thoughts on smart machines working alongside humans? Let me know what you think.

This article was previously published on LinkedIn.

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Planet Planning

AUTHOR

Yong Siew Mee.

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Yong Siew Mee

About Yong Siew Mee

Being open-minded has led me to try many different things. For example, I started my career as a researcher studying computer networks and applications, then I moved on to designing digital user experiences. Currently, I'm VP of global marketing at Quintiq, the fastest growing company in supply chain planning and optimization. I love good food and believe in the life changing power of books.