Artificial intelligence: your next competitor is a Centaur; Are you ready?
While many believe that the rapid development of artificial intelligence and automation will end work, the reality will likely be much more nuanced. This is shown by the experience of Garry Kasparov, the first world chess champion beaten by a computer. The experiments he has since carried out in the chess world suggest that the great stake of artificial intelligence is the intelligent collaboration between man and machine. This also applies to the company.
On May 11, 1997, Garry Kasparov was beaten by Deep Blue. For the first time, a world chess champion is defeated by a machine. Kasparov will later say that he was beaten by a sophisticated alarm clock, using brute force, but the blow is harsh and the champion is rang. Computers have since progressed and beat the human champions of Go, a much more complex game where brute force is not operative because the number of combinations is simply too large to be calculated.
Kasparov did not stop there. Stung by defeat, he took an interest in computers and developed a whole new branch of chess, called hybrid tournaments. In these tournaments, rather than having humans fighting against machines, which is no longer of interest, it is teams of men using computers fighting against each other. Everyone is free to use the computer as they see fit. Where it gets interesting is when you look at what Kasparov learned from the tournaments he organized while watching who wins these tournaments. Here is what he observes:
An average human + an average machine + a good process
is greater than
a great computer
which itself is greater than
an expert human + a machine + a bad process.
We observe that it is not the super computer that wins. He is not the expert either. On the contrary, what makes the difference is the process, that is, the way in which the average human with an average machine uses the latter. What makes the difference is therefore the way to use computing, not computing itself, however powerful it may be.
With this observation, which relativizes the belief in the omnipotence of the computer, Kasparov concludes that the future will give rise to what he calls Centaurs, half-man, half-horse creature from Greek mythology. A Centaur is a man-machine pair formed and functioning in such a way that everyone makes the most of their specificities.
In itself this is nothing new: since the dawn of time, man has been using technology to do more and better, but it has mainly concerned brute force so far. With the computer, and even more with artificial intelligence, it is now about intelligence. Steve Jobs thus considered computers to be “bicycles of the mind”. Kasparov’s result serves as a reminder that technological power in itself is nothing. It is seldom those with the best tools who win, but those who know how to use them best. At a time of a generalized phobia of a world of machines, the result is worth remembering.
It could therefore well be, if we transpose this result to the company in general, that the distribution of tasks between man and machine, and more generally the ability to create processes effectively combining one and the other other, will become a key competitive advantage in the years to come. The company that wins will be the one that can create the right human-machine association, not the one that has the most powerful machines. The creation of this association obviously has strategic and human implications: it raises the question of the role of HR and their ability to recruit and train Centaur employees now. To my knowledge, very few HRDs have even started to ask themselves the question.
Your next competitor will undoubtedly be a Centaur, or a company made up of Centaurs. Are you ready?
Philippe Silberzahn is professor of entrepreneurship, strategy and innovation at EMLYON Business School and associate researcher at thePolytechnic School (CRG), where he received his doctorate. His work focuses on how organizations manage situations of radical uncertainty and complexity, from an entrepreneurial perspective with the study of the creation of new markets and new products, and from a managerial perspective with the study management of disruptions, strategic surprises (black swans) and complex problems (“wicked problems”) by large organizations.