You would think it is an easy question. What can machines do better than people can? Most people could answer it though they had to draw breath first and repeat the question while they thought about it.
I was at the excellent Northumbrian Water Group Innovation Festival at Gosforth Park Racecourse. I was only able to attend for a day and had asked to join the ‘Tomorrow’s World’ sprint. The group was looking to what would their business be like by 2030.
I must be getting old as 2030 is the new 2020.
I came a day late to the party and the group had already boiled their investigation into ‘Manage emerging tech to enhance the human communications experience in an inclusive way.’ We looked at the questions we would need to ask ourselves to be able to unpack the problem.
Sue and I worked together on a couple of questions. We both decided to go and ask people around the festival for what they thought. The wisdom of the crowd. Sue asked ‘What are the current blockers to communication’ and I asked ‘What can machines do better than people can?’
The answers to my question were interesting:
Many talked about how machines can do things faster, more consistently and more accurately, with more precision. This is important in working in manufacturing such as making cars and beer, but also perhaps in surgery where we don’t want shaky hands.
Machines can do computation much more rapidly with a low margin of error. This can be used to classify images for example.
They are better at moving things about, through greater strength but also at height and depth.
Working in harsh environments is something they are definitely better at, such as in space or nuclear reactors.
Working longer, 24/7, is where machines excel, particularly with non-cognitive tasks,
They retain knowledge, they don’t forget. They think quickly based upon history and so are better at prioritisation, measuring and organising.
Most of that didn’t come as a surprise but I have left the best until last. Though they did not come out in this order I felt the following three answers were the most insightful:
Machines are better at doing stuff we don’t like doing, such as Hoovering, making coffee, chopping vegetables and cleaning pavements.
Machines make life easier by automating systems and services such as making an appointment at the doctors.
Machines are better at taking emotion out of situations. They can tell the truth and they can kill without conscience.
For me this was a really useful exercise. It told me that the situations where machines should be applied are to remove those things we don’t like doing, where it can make life easier and where emotion gets in the way.
It also reminds me how good it is to talk to people.