Another Layer in the Automation Cake (From the FastFulcrum Archives)

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We’ve established that it’s humans who shove jobs formerly performed by you, me, our friends and many strangers over the professional precipice and into the gaping, ever-expanding maw of automation. The bots aren’t moving into our gigs of their own accord … carbon-based folk (you know, the chummy kind you smile at in the hall at work and see having too much tipple at the annual holiday party) are making the call to tie us to a rocket and fire it at the soup line. They’re a lot like you and me, but they’re the ones who get to light the fuse.

But that’s just one layer of the automation cake. The ooey-gooey layer, the ironic can-kicker, is that we have created the very environment which requires Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (AIR) to be deployed.

That’s right …focusing on the threat posed to the white-collar/knowledge worker/information-age-assembly-line-laborer, the staggering amount of data that is currently collected (and getting increasingly vast with each passing second) is unusable to humans. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mr. Spock (yeah, yeah, I know that he was half-human). We simply can’t ‘manually’ derive meaning from the reams of data thundering forth from the various environments we have deemed valuable.

Seriously, the much-overused expression, “drinking from a firehose” doesn’t begin to capture the dynamic. Picture having your jaw ratcheted and locked open with a dental tool, then being tied to the deck of an open pontoon boat which is then piloted under Niagra Falls. Chug-a-lug, bub. Yeah … that analogy seems more in line with reality.

Anyway, that’s far too much data for us to comprehend and fold into something which we can actually use. We need bigger guns, smarter tools that are designed to thrive in this environment.

Humans are evolved to tell stories, to construct an experiential narrative from which we can extract what we consider to be “meaning”, not to number-crunch like a walking abacus on a double-hit of espresso and crack. In order for us to make decisions based upon data, it has to be distilled into a story that makes sense so that we can get a handle on what’s being shown. Hit us with a blunderbuss of data and we’ll go all slack-jawed and drooley … help us cook it into a narrative and we can make practical decisions with it.

Organizations need to make efficient use of the sea of data they’re collecting and/or buying. Why? In many cases, it boils down to a matter of, “All the better to sell to you, my dear.” So they call in an AIR strike … bring in the automation that can get the job done on such a colossal pile of data.

So, the punchline: humans created the environment (technology, the use of that technology and the data that emerges from its use) that requires the use of AIR, forcing tribes of humans (corporations, etc.) to make the decision to lay off/fire other humans, which is then performed by humans. We can cry about this as unfair, or see it as some people do: that the age of Artificial Intelligence & Robotics represents the next phase of evolution – we will be heavily augmented or replaced entirely. They believe we should midwife it in and then get out of the way, wild-smiling like a village idiot on nitrous oxide as we lay our neck on the moist chopping block.

Pass.

In January of this year, the World Economic Forum met in Davos, Switzerland. During one of the panels addressing AI, an audience member expressed this very sentiment. The moderator responded to the audience member by saying that was “like the turkey voting for Christmas.”

Well said, well put.

The way we should view the situation is this: we dug this hole, now we have to get out. Will Rogers once said that if you find you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging. The thing is, this is a complicated hole – we can’t stop digging. What we can do is figure out how to dig smarter and how to deal with the hole.
Humans are not evolved to sit still and atrophy. We are evolved to move, to do, to live. Life is about dynamism and creation. Work is part of that. It feeds the soul.

Rather than allow the tools that we have forced ourselves to create relegate us to a condition of dependency, ennui and decay, we should take upon ourselves the initiative to instead see it as the next stage of evolution: one that does not belong to the machines, but to us.

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