Summary of Human/Machine by Daniel Newman and Olivier Blanchard

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Human/Machine by Daniel Newman and Olivier Blanchard

Humans and machines have a love/hate relationship. On one hand, machines and technology make our lives easier and on the other, they’re taking over and stealing our jobs. But is this really the truth? Sure, we were once afraid of robots and artificial intelligence taking over thanks to the plots of sci-fi movies and books, but now, those ideas are tangible. At this very moment, we are making unbelievable headway in technology, robotics and artificial intelligence. Which makes understanding the human/machine interaction more important now than ever.

Human/machine relationships are our future whether we like it or not. In all honesty, though, it may not be as bad as you might think it to be. It actually has the potential to be quite beneficial for us. Marie Curie famously said, “nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood”. So too should the human/machine relationship.

In this summary readers will discover:

  • Why machines should be considered tools
  • AI is not coming after your job – at least not in the way you expect
  • How to adapt
  • What companies should consider

Key lesson one: Why machines should be considered tools

When our ancestors first started using tools, their lives changed drastically. They were able to hunt and feed their families, light fires to stay warm. This lead to social gatherings and the start of civilization as we know it. Since then, throughout history, new tools have continued to make our lives better by making it easier to accomplish our tasks. 

Machines have done the same. Did trains not improve the way we travel? Have smartphones not made communication and staying in touch easier? Machines have become the tools of our age.  Take for example the AI that was developed by Moorfields Eye Hospital, University College London and Google’s Deep Mind that diagnoses eye disease. There is no longer a need for endless scans to diagnose a patient, this perfectly trained assistant takes care of it. Technology like this in medicine is common. More and more are being developed every day to help doctors around the world do their jobs more effectively.

That is what technology has done thus far – it has made us more effective in what we do. So we should be optimistic about its applications in the future. It fosters creativity, allowing us to express ourselves in a different way. Just like how tools helped us do things better, technology helps us do the same. And as long as there exist problems to solve, we will continue using them.

Key lesson two: AI is not coming after your job – at least not in the way you expect

The reason why most people are hesitant to embrace AI and technology is that they think it will make them redundant. Numerous movie plots have depicted a world run by robots with people being left without jobs. However, that’s not where we are heading.

What happens in the movies is not what is happening in real life. AI is nowhere near that level. The algorithms which are used now are used for things like facial recognition on your phone. They have very specific purposes and have specific requirements in order to function. Even self-driving cars require familiar empty roads to function. As soon as you plot a new route in traffic, they will battle. 

They won’t be replacing your job anytime soon but what they are capable of is cutting out repetitive tasks. If your job is mainly repetitive tasks like say, personal assistant tasks, then yes, AI could take over all these tasks. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing as it will free up your time to use your other human skills. Which brings us to the simple fact that human skills cannot be replaced. Human interaction is increasingly a selling-point in a technological world. Consumers don’t appreciate the idea of everything is automated. Companies have realised this and have made concerted efforts to keep industries like education, care and hospitality free of too much technology as human sensitivity is an integral part of the job. Even research shows that emotional intelligence is now a sought after skill in the workforce. This is followed by creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. All of these are human skills and AI cannot replace them. 

There are some cases were automation could take over. Once again it is in industries with highly repetitive tasks like car assembly lines. While it will be awful to lose one’s job, in the long run, it may be better that these jobs are no longer the duty of humans. Much like the Industrial revolution, it will at first lead to employment but thereafter, new jobs will be created. In fact, the World Economic Forum has already estimated that automation will create 133 million jobs by 2022. So, while it may seem bleak at first, the future is still full of opportunities. Humans will be free of repetitive, mundane tasks and will be able to use their skills more creatively.

That being said, it won’t hurt to amp up your skillset now. Having a broad skillset which has some form of science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) or human interaction focus, will greatly increase your job opportunities in the future. It does seem like a bit of an ask since this will take time and money which, if we’re being honest,  is hard to come by but it will definitely be an investment for your future. In order to survive the changes that automation will bring, you have to be able to adapt – and to adapt you need more skills than you do right now. Automation will always be limited by ethical decisions which is where humans will be required to step in. Find ways to develop the skills that make you human so that you will always have a place in the workforce!

Key lesson three: How to adapt

For companies, adapting to the changes in the technological world is crucial to their success. With most industries, they’re trying hard to hold on to their traditions but this can be their ultimate downfall. This is because they will eventually fall so far behind that they will be unable to compete anymore. You can’t afford to ignore technological advancement forever. As a company, you will be unable to grow if you do not adapt. 

Take Disney as an example. They’re as traditional as it gets but they understood the need to adapt in a changing world. They spent years looking at ways to improve their services. The result? They collected data differently by implementing the use of sensor technology in its parks. This allowed them to monitor visit behaviour and establish what they enjoyed in the park. They also started using virtual reality and 3D videos, being one of the first in the industry to do so. These implementations allowed them to save costs and improve customer satisfaction. 

Now consider a company like Kodak. Kodak invented the digital camera and dominated the market for years. However, they refused to make the change to filmless photography. They wanted to hold on to their tradition a bit too tightly and it cost them dearly. They eventually had to file for bankruptcy in 2012.

Innovation needs to be considered. You can’t allow yourself to fall behind like Kodak. However, smaller businesses have the added benefit of being able to make quick changes, something that Kodak lacked. When the markets change, smaller businesses are able to adapt quickly without suffering huge costs. This is a huge advantage. So if you have it, use it.

Key lesson four: What companies should consider

Companies need to keep up with changes. They need to consider which technologies will work for them and which will not. Companies, naturally, tend to look at this from a cost perspective. Technological innovation is not cheap, and for them to consider implementing it, the benefits need to far outweigh the costs. But what they forget about are social costs. 

An excellent example of this is Hasbro’s creation of a speaking teddy bear for the elderly. The thinking behind this teddy bear is that it could provide the elderly in healthcare with solace all day every day. This would save money and be more effective as AI don’t have to take breaks or move around to see other patients. Although this was a noble cause, it ended up doing more harm than good because it decreased the social interactions of the elderly and left them feeling more depressed. In response to this social cost, Hasbro is now working on communal robots in the hopes that it will bring the elderly together and encourage social interactions.

Smart homes produce another example. Sure, they make our lives easier and reduce costs and emissions but they also inadvertently collect data about our daily habits. In the wrong hands, this data can put people at risk. This is why tech companies need to carefully consider the technologies they create. As much as they are used for one purpose, they can be easily adapted to something else. So they need to figure out what problem they are solving with their innovation and whether it is worthwhile to society.

There is also a certain level of trust that needs to exist between developers and society. It’s the only way for human/machine partnerships to continue. Using self-driving cars as an example, they would be of huge benefit to us as they would be safer and allow us to have more time to complete other tasks while commuting. However, if we continue to distrust the ability of a self-driving car, there will be slow adoption of this technology and it will severely impact the companies that produce them. 

Innovative technological solutions are meant to make our lives better. We have to have a little trust that they are the tools of our future.

The key takeaway from Human/Machine is:

Although humans may have a love/hate relationship with technology, there is no denying that they help make our lives more efficient. You should not allow yourself to be influenced by sci-fi movies and books about robots taking over the world. The AI that is currently being used is nowhere near that level nor will it be. Automation is not a threat to your job, it is more likely to take over the repetitive functions of your job which might free up your time to do other tasks. You have to be cognizant of the fact that technology is a huge part of all industries and whether as an individual or company, you should adapt. Human skills will always be an asset so make sure that you broaden your skillsets to ensure that you stay relevant. Machines and technology make our lives easier, you just have to let go of the fear and prepare yourself for a new kind of future.

How can I implement the lessons learned in Human/Machine:

Broadening your skillset will ensure that you have skills which remain relevant in a technologically driven world. As a business owner, remember to stay abreast of technological developments in your sector and don’t be left unable to compete just because you want to hold on to tradition. The Human/Machine partnership is an important one, and it’s only going to get more important in the future. 

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