The Future with Machines, AI and Uncertainties — Rui Coutinho
Uncertainty is the only Certainty
Life is constantly uncertain. About life you can have a million doubts. “Will I become rich or not? Will I become educated or not? Will I become enlightened or not?” But death is a hundred percent certainty. There is no doubt about that. With death, there is no question. So, why sit on uncertainty instead of certainty? If you knew that you are like a flower that blooms in the morning and dies in the evening then you would not miss a single flower on the way. If you look at death, it will put everything in its proper perspective. Your fantasies will collapse, reality will rule. If your fantasies rule your mind, you do stupid things. Only if reality rules your mind, you behave sensibly in the world.
Uncertainty can be a guiding light but we have to understand some things that are changing :
1. Pace at which digital revolution is taking place
Digitization is rapidly changing customer behavior and, at the same time, giving rise to considerable uncertainty across industries. Customers are now becoming increasingly accustomed to contextualized and relevant interactions, and businesses and industries are already seeing this become a mainstream expectation. To succeed, companies will need to evolve into a world of design doing — enhancing their design process with a much deeper understanding of the individual customer context, and at the same time, accelerating the pace at which they develop and take products to market, learning rapidly from customer responses to scale or fail.
2. Humans trying to work like machines which is not possible
If we send a human to do a machine’s job it is very likely that the human will do it worse. Beyond the physical and cognitive limitations common to all the members of our species, there will be a risk of “human errors”, and we will observe a higher variability in productivity and output quality. Notwithstanding, there is a bigger problem we cannot ignore: working like a machine has negative consequences for humans.
- A person will hardly find in a machine’s job many opportunities to put into practice and develop the kind of skills that will be most demanded in the job market. Consequently, doing a machine’s job may cause a standstill in the person’s professional development and a loss of employability, which is something extremely risky in a highly volatile labor market.
- On some occasions it can be less costly if a job is performed by a person rather than by a machine, even if technology to automate that activity is already available in the market.
- On other occasions it can respond to social reasons. Especially when unemployment rates are high, or when it comes to individuals who are not easy to reskill to adapt their profiles to what the labor market demands (or will demand). In such cases, doing one of those “machine’s jobs” can be preferable to stay at home living off subsidies.
But, whatever the circumstances let’s admit it: doing a machine’s job is not the best for a person’s development and growth.
3. Under uncertainty, traditional approaches to strategic planning can be downright dangerous
Underestimating uncertainty can lead to strategies that neither defend against the threats nor take advantage of the opportunities that higher levels of uncertainty may provide. In one of the most colossal underestimations in business history, Kenneth H. Olsen, then president of Digital Equipment Corporation, announced in 1977 that “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” The explosion in the personal computer market was not inevitable in 1977, but it was certainly within the range of possibilities that industry experts were discussing at the time.
At the other extreme, assuming that the world is entirely unpredictable can lead managers to abandon the analytical rigor of their traditional planning processes altogether and base their strategic decisions primarily on gut instinct. This “just do it” approach to strategy can cause executives to place misinformed bets on emerging products or markets that result in record write-offs. Those who took the plunge and invested in home banking in the early 1980s immediately come to mind.
4. Don’t try to be like robots, Collaborate with them
With all the news of grocery-delivering robots, wandering telepresence ‘bots and crop-planting drone swarms, one would be forgiven for believing there is a robot takeover afoot. Well, you may be right. Some industry observers are predicting that the next big growth trend in robotics is the collaborative robot, a smaller, smarter and more lightweight version of older and more dangerous industrial-sized robots.
There are many reasons for the emergence of collaborative robots: companies are using them because they can be placed alongside humans in small-spaced electronics assembly lines, because they are affordable and easily trainable, and because they are flexible to handle short runs, repetitive and boring jobs, and ergonomically challenging tasks.
While there is understandable concern that this may mean a loss of jobs for humans, the positive aspect is that these robots will no doubt end up undertaking dirty, dumb or dangerous jobs that aren’t the best use of human potential anyway. New roles for humans will be created, like robot inspection and supervision. Either way, collaborative robots will redefine what we think of work, and how it gets done in the next few years.
5. Unlearning perfectionism
It may not seem like you’re trying to inject perfectionism into every little thing. You may just not realize that it’s there and it may be ingrained in your day to day approach to things. There’s a big cost to not seeing the forest from the trees. When you’re in the mindset of getting everything “right”, there’s only one way things can be. It’s actually very limiting and you end up spending time on things that aren’t important. Time being the most important resource you have and an irreplaceable asset, wasting it is just about the worst thing you can do if you want to see results.
What to consider:
- Could I do things faster or more effectively?
- Do I tend to get hung up on things that should only take a little while?
- Do I obsess over the details to an extent that is counterproductive?
- Am I always thinking about everything that could go wrong instead of thinking about how I’ll give it a try and work through the feedback from users or stakeholders as it arises?
6. Combine AI with Emotional Intelligence
Automation and AI are bringing new opportunities and greater efficiencies to both businesses and society. This is increasing employee and organizational focus on unique human cognitive capabilities that machines simply cannot master. Emotional intelligence is one such area that AI and machines find hard to emulate, making it an essential skill set in today’s age.
7. Uncertainty and the Economic need for trust
Trust pricks up it’s ears when expectations are disappointed. That may be due to an accident that is no-one’s fault. Expectations can be broken due to inattention, lack of commitment, lack of competence or outright cheating. One does not automatically know which cause of broken expectations is at play. There is casual ambiguity, and this is a part of uncertainty or risk of trust. Especially the cheating opportunist will claim some mishap. This implies some crucial importance of openness for trust. If something is about to go wrong, one should not hide it but inform the partner of the imminent problem, pledge help to minimize the damage, and to come up with proposals, for after the crisis, of how one will prevent such problems from occurring in the future. That is trustworthy conduct. Openness is also a crucial part of dealing with risk and uncertainty.
8. Innovating in an age of Uncertainty
We are living through an era of intense turbulence, disillusionment and accelerating change. In any period of uncertainty, never mind a public health crisis and economic downturn of this scale, a company’s inclination can be to buckle down and focus solely on maintaining business as usual. It often takes the reality of a genuine crisis to shake an organisation out of complacency. It can boost organisational courage and give it the impetus to take actions that would be unthinkable in times of calm. However a crisis also brings with it an information overload, supplying us with overwhelming amounts of new data and choices. Faced with half facts, facts, figures and conflicting views of the future can lead many of us into a state of analysis paralysis
In the latest Bromford Lab Podcast , Ian Wright of the Disruptive Innovators Network talks about the challenges of innovating during a crisis and the number of employers who are now recognizing the role that well being plays not only in increased productivity, but also creativity. Refreshingly he says the organisations he is working with see the challenges presented by COVID-19 as an opportunity rather than a reason to scale back.
It’s inevitable that faced with uncertainty, the knee jerk reaction of some of those holding the purse strings will be to stop the clock, peddle simplistic solutions and retreat to the past. However it’s precisely because of these uncertain times that they must continue to invest in innovation. With the fast pace of change, and the pressures on our organisations and wider society, we need to find new ways to work and live.
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