This is an essay that I recently wrote. Just read through it and share your views.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
– Murphy’s Law
Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he’ll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he’ll have to touch to be sure.
Peter Drucker once said that a knowledge worker isn’t one who does the next thing right, but one who does the next right thing. In this age of rising machine intelligence, managing humans alone is a concept of the past, and so is the concept of knowledge workers managing themselves in accordance to values, optimal work aesthetics, skill enhancement requisites and such other ambient conditions.
Human Resource (HR) Management has, through the years, been compressed in its scope and compelled to accommodate the idea of Machine Resource (MR) Management. The current age isn’t about just interpersonal relations, but about machine-personnel relations. The synergy is one that people had longed for and the relationship is one that pose the greatest threat to our future, the “our” here referring to the humans as a society of interdependent species.
This essay looks at exploring the various choices that confront the human-machine paradigm by stimulating the regions of intuition and curiosity of the readers. Various inter-related cyclic scenarios that explore deep into the minds and emotions of people are presented here and it is left for the reader to decide on whether Artificial Intelligence is a necessity, a luxury or the reckoning of the human society.
Unless you first come to the church you will never find the Gate to the Kingdom of Heaven.
No, until you first look for the Gate to the Kingdom of Heaven, you don’t belong in church.
– Peter F. Drucker
Outcomes, Means and Core Constitution
If there are only so much firewood left in the world that can either be used to power up a machine or be used by a farmer to prepare his food, for which of these two purposes would you want the firewood to be used?
How one arrives at a solution to the posed question depends on one’s ability to factor into the cerebral blender a value system that manages to produce an acceptable result by comparing the relative effectiveness of the outcomes of direct allocation of the resource under consideration either to a human or to a machine.
Most people, when posed with this question, based on their values of morals and codes of ethics tend to ask, “What is the machine being used for?” This very question suggests that we, as a society, like to believe that a task undertaken is only as meaningful as the outcome of that task. Further, it can be postulated that if the outcome of a task is that which is desired greatly, then the means taken to provide an ambient condition for producing that outcome is accepted irrespective of its legal and ethical statuses. Meaning, outcomes determine the means, so when the means are conflicting, often the nature in which the decision maker is nurtured determines the path chosen.
The outlook subscribed in this essay is one that is based on the idea that machines are tools used to enhance human life, make work easier and help produce greater and more beneficial results, whilst keeping in mind that machine intelligence can never equate to human conscience. Any development in the intelligence of machines should thus be directed towards the betterment of people and not stray from this design at its core constitution.
So, in regards to the question, if human life is allotted a higher priority, then the firewood under purview must be directed to the farmer and the machine must be let to shut down.
The power to prioritise and to allocate resources accordingly must ultimately vest with an entity that has conscience, bound by values and capable of processing factors that aren’t in the form of true or false / 0s and 1s.
Can such a machine be designed? If so, what is the difference between a human and a machine? To put this in a simpler construct, “What are the implications of a successful Turing Test”? And do we really want it to be successful?
This essay is one that roots against the success of the Turing Test, which is used to determine man-machine similarity, and upholds the idea that the conscience of men will always outweigh the intelligence of machines.
The following argument further sheds light on this assertion.
Priorities, Growth and Naturalisation
Adding to the previous question, If the machine is turned off, the lives of two people who have been living under the support of a ventilator would end, and if the farmer doesn’t get to make food, his life would end.
Such situations where priorities between the numbers of human lives have to be asserted, what scale of comparison must be employed?
This essay, in addition to valuing humans over machines, also ventures in the direction of the law of nature. That is, when priorities have to be set between human lives, that which is natural must be adopted rather than that which is artificial or forced.
In this case, the allocation of resource must thus, again, be made to the farmer, the rationale being that without the intervention of technology, the natural course of events would have, most likely, led to the demise of the two people supported by the ventilator and so the farmer would have ended up with the resources necessary for his living.
Leaving this assessment at the hands of a machine would imply programming into the system or constructing boundaries and thresholds that would, in times of crisis, put its very existence in jeopardy. Under such situations, since humans are to have an upper hand or the ultimate control of the machine, technological growth or adaptation must be restricted in its growth and must be curbed or cut-off once the threshold is reached. The threshold being the point where human lives would have to be parlayed for the functioning of the machine.
One point to be noted, however, is that the word “natural” here doesn’t refer to non-existence of any machine. “Natural” refers to those technological entities that have been naturalised over time and that which have been proven to aid people and have the best interests of such a people programmed into their core philosophy. Emphasis must also be laid here on the word “aid”.
Consider a smoke detector or a hurricane alert system and such. These systems can detect the possibilities of threat to lives and offer means to take action in order to avoid catastrophe. However, entities like that of ventilators that replaces human intervention and takes into its hand the act of being “in-charge” as opposed to “aiding” must be, in times of crisis, rejected and humans must be prioritised.
Ancillary Support and Synchronicity
Further, consider a case where an automated car is cruising on the street. Now, assume a case where the mechanical brain of the car is confronted with two possible scenarios. One, the car gets hit by a truck, putting the driver in potential life risk. Two, the car runs over a man who is crossing the street, in order to avoid getting hit by the truck.
Of these two situations, which one would likely be chosen? If the car is programmed to avoid collision with passers-by, then the passenger would be at risk and if the vehicle is programmed to prioritise its passengers, then the passers-by would get run over by the vehicle. Unlike humans, the machine cannot understand the concept of humanity, of instinct, of sacrifice or fear. One person might choose to get hit, another might choose to run over and yet another might choose to jump out of the car. Humans can always rely on intuition and arrive at a decision at the moment of impact, unlike machines that run simulations under fixed conditions of constraints.
So, while automation is welcome across all field, true automation that can compete against the conscience and intuition of humans is close to impossible, even after having the machine digest infinite amounts of big data from across the globe and learn through assimilation of such data.
Now, in a lot of cases, technological advancements in the digital sector can lead to improving human intuition and enhance his/her abilities. Mathematical concepts to predict the occurrence of crimes by predicting hotspots is currently being used by the Los Angeles Police Department in addition to various other law enforcement entities and research scholars. This utilisation of technology might prove constructive to the law enforcement authorities in order to keep special watch on areas of prime concern and prevent major crimes. The technological growth in this regard can be deemed fit, for the system is merely predicting the trend based on facts and is not taking the issue of solving the problem itself. This is aiding the law enforcement authorities in its mission to protect and serve and this approach is one that signifies man-machine synchronicity.
Virtual assistants like that of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now and Windows’ Cortana have all been built into smartphones, which greatly aid people in accomplishing their tasks. However, emphasis must be giving to the fact that these applications are only aiding the people in accomplishing their goals and not doing the work itself. Similarly with the search engines and the internet in general. Technologies that offer ancillary support to human’s activities, with the due consent and authority of humans, which are designed accurately with predefined protocols that inspires faith, confidence and stability can be considered and used to amalgamate man and machine, and help achieve a symbiotic synchronicity between the two entities.
Extrapolations, Productivity and the Nexus
Sampling all the mentioned cases, extrapolating it, mapping it across pools of interest and applying it to companies, it can be seen that humans make better decision-makers when it comes to cases where multiple scenarios of interest are presented and where judgment from a purely cerebral and emotional purview is needed. However, in cases where mundane repetitive work is needed and where decisions aren’t of catastrophic nature, machines can be made to replace humans and this change is much needed. It is an essential part of evolution and it cannot and should not be curbed.
The people, whose jobs were replaced in the said process of evolution, however, must be offered alternate jobs or must be trained to an extent where they can get alternate jobs. This training help make a competent person a star performer. Also, this training must also be from a purely knowledge centric point and it must be achieved by keeping current with the trends of society and derived from pools of globally collaborative knowledge societies.
Also, when cases where a CFO is challenged to invest funds in procuring advanced machinery in a quarter and paying wages to employees, the condition of payment to workers must be offered priority over the procurement of machinery.
The point of focus always being that machines must be used to enable the betterment of human life and make work easier, but not do all the work itself and pose threat to human survival. Productivity isn’t and shouldn’t just be valued only in terms of revenue outcome of a company, but also in terms of effective utilisation of its man-power, developing a conducive and aptly defined Human-Machine work environment and forward-thinking cum dynamic mission and vision of the enterprise. This will help keep people away from purely technocratic mindsets, and this approach will drive an enterprise and the people in it towards true progress.
To aid in this pursuit, the people in decision-making entities must overcome intellectual arrogance and be equipped to solve conflicts between values and strength, thus driving the enterprise towards harmonious productivity. This conflict resolving ability in humans differs from machines in that it is acquired and not defined in terms of clear-cut boundary conditions. Thus, the rationalisation, realisation and implementation of decisions based of well-nurtured values stands as the ultimate test in deciding the characteristics of a leader, and the credibility of his/her judgement.
This leader, who will this point forth be called the Nexus Leader (N-Leader), must maintain healthy communication on his/her decisions to adopt newer technologies in industries, ensure that the human resource is effectively managed to work with the machines being deployed, direct or train the human workforce to secure jobs in alternative departments/sectors, and give the employees/knowledge workers the freedom to learn and choose how they can effectively contribute to the enterprise in furthering its vision.
The employees of an enterprise must also be continuous learners and implementers. The knowledge gained must not pertain to just one particular sector, but must be in synchronisation to the changing knowledge environment. Each employee must be able to recognise his trends and weaknesses, focus on improving the strengths and concentrate on areas of high competence. This Nexus Worker (N-Worker) must develop an indigenous feedback system that will help him realise his position in the enterprise and then set targets to meet the contributions he must make in order to be considered an asset to the enterprise.
Feedback, Strength and Leverage
The feedback criteria that must be used by the N-Workers is unique to each individual and it depends on whether one chooses to perform either as decision maker or an advisor or a worker, which is in perfect tune to that of Drucker’s principles. Also, the employees’ preference to work alone or as a part of a team or his/her stand to take up stressful work or work in a subordinate-like manner as opposed to a being in-charge manner, must be given due consideration.
The N-Worker must be able to dynamically communicate his opinions/decisions with their N-Leader and choose to work in a more rewarding, stimulating and socially stable environment. This communication must involve information on the workings of a machine being used in a particular sector, the pros and cons of upgrading such system, the ease of accessibility, opinion of the human workforce, market response to the produce of the sector and so on. This information must in-turn contribute a significant part to the leaders’ feedback analysis, thus enabling him to take reasonable stand on conflicting issues.
In addition, the N-Leader must also assess his/her ability to lead and drive the enterprise through turbulences caused by ever dynamic trends of the society. If the result of this self-assessment is one that would pose counterproductive to the productivity of the enterprise, then he/she must make an informed decision to delegate his/her office to a worker who can perform in the capacity of a leader, for, as Drucker postulated, sustainable organisations are increasing built on on trust than through force.
These leaders, are a democratic minority, who in-turn do not have another leader. The task of an N-Leader might involve informing another such Leader to assess his/her credibility, however, the informer isn’t in-charge of taking decisions as to the validity of his/her leadership. These N-Leaders of tomorrow are what knowledge-workers were yesterday. Informed, forward thinking, self-aware and pragmatic.
Such leaders must leverage digital technology to connect people across borders, promote a viable democratic structure in choosing work environments and encourage collaborative innovative efforts in knowledge sharing, learning and creativity.
“The machines used to further human productivity must come with off switch that is in the hands of a democratic minority of humans, and not in the autocratic hands of a machine”.
When leaders who understand the essence of the involvement of human element in policy making delve themselves in think tanks and advocacy groups, while networking with the society on various fronts, work towards achieving a symbiotic balance between the appreciating markets, the development of the economically and socially downtrodden, and the creation of a machine-personnel relationship in an enterprise/office, while remaining dynamic to the societal changes with a mindset to deploy into field the products and aids of frugal innovations and research that would help stay being prepared for a newer tomorrow, they transcend into the class ofNexus Workers of a New Digital Age.
And, when employees of today realise and think from the point of view of their leaders, then a complex yet simple symbiotic hierarchy of leader/worker/machine can be achieved.
This class of forward thinking and open minded leaders/workers will be ushered into tomorrow’s technologically advanced digital era as glorified global citizens who will have what it takes to influence developmental pursuits and remain in control, while adapting to the ever-changing turbulent circumstances.
Then again, equilibrium is the order of nature and any action towards distorting it can result in things going wrong. And according to Murphy’s Law, it will go wrong.
One-Point-Five Decades From Now
There exists a vast ocean of knowledge on the Internet, and each new second, millions of bytes of data is being added to this ocean. The society and technology are tightly bound in an interdependent construct, and together, both are changing at a nerve-racking pace. The only way for an entrepreneur or an employee to survive the future is to keep track of the market trends and accordingly dip his/her toe in each trending field. One has to learn to be prepared to give up what he/she thinks they are excellent at, and one has to be prepared to switch careers or profiles in accordance to the confronting circumstances.
I use technology extensively to run my company, to research, maintain a sound social profile, blog, study and of course, for entertainment. I have learnt to leverage technology to my benefit without it interfering with the offline affairs of either my company or my non-profit. I still prefer to read the newspaper once in a while, meet people at cafes and interact with people off the net. I would continue to stay on the same trajectory and adapt to changing circumstances, thus giving myself a sense of security and preparing myself well for the coming man-machine era of tomorrow.