Men and robots: what working relationships?
Recently, during a discussion, someone said in front of me “we are going to work more and more with robots. In any case, they are already there ”. To which someone else replied “No. We’re not going to work with them, they are going to work, period. The question is how are humans going to be able to earn money without working ”.
This raises the question of the working relationship between humans and robots. A subject which would have seemed surreal a few years ago but which applies today to the near future and, for some, constitutes first of all their present. A little clarification before starting: by robot we do not mean exclusively the “robot” physical machine as we have known it since the beginnings of science fiction but also the “software robot”, which is more of artificial intelligence. . The two can of course add up.
The best is not the man or the machine but the man who knows how to use the machine
The question of which of the human or the robot was the “best” became something other than a prospective debate on the day when for the first time a robot beat a human being in a game of intelligence and reflection. . We are talking about Kasparov’s loss to IBM’s Deep Blue computer. Was this the beginning of the machine’s supremacy over Man? Not really. Firstly, because Deep Blue was not “intelligent” in the human sense of the term: he owed his superiority only to his ability to calculate and consider more scenarios than his human opponent, but in no case to his creativity. Thereafter of students beat supercomputers using ‘normal’ computers, showing that the combined power of men and machines was greater than that of the most powerful machine.
Hence the principle, still valid in my opinion, that the future is not in the competition between man and machine but in collaboration between the two. It is therefore more appropriate to speak of “working with machines” than of replacing man by machine. And this even if the machine has changed a lot since Deep Blue. If you are interested in the subject, I suggest reading Race Against the Machine or The Second Machine Age.
The robot, more colleague than rival
If Deep Blue was only raw power, his heir is endowed with the ability to learn and live in a world where decisions are not binary, good / bad, yes / no. He knows how to work out probabilities, find correlations between elements, understands our natural language and looks, from a distance, a little more like a human brain (a little more does not mean that it is close to it).
This heir is called Watson and it too is the product of the work of IBM engineers. His achievement is to have beaten humans on the Jeopardy game show where the issue is no longer raw computing power but the ability to understand the meaning and the link between different information.
With such capacities, one can legitimately doubt the sustainability of the man / machine partnership. Because Watson is only the leader of a trend that is growing every day. I will not fit SIRI in this category because it is limited to a certain number of predefined operations but we will look with interest Facebook M or, even more, VIV, the new project from the creators of SIRI.
But here again the robot is not ready to do without humans. Whether we talk about Watson, M or VIV, today they are not worth much without having been instructed, educated … by humans. Without interactions with human trainers and users, they run out of fuel.
And for what we see the current use cases, mainly for Watson who is the most “professional” and the most advanced of the band, the robots are positioned more as assistants than as replacements. The robot is therefore at the service of the professional.
Robots sound the death knell for assistants
On condition of remaining well on the Anglo-Saxon meaning of professional, “professional” with what it involves of talent and specific knowledge. There is a difference between having a job, a trade, a profession and being a professional.
If some have to fear robots it is the “non-professionals” who perform a routine task without creativity. Starting with the assistants, in all their forms as we have just seen. The doctor’s assistant with Watson,the personal assistant with Watson integrated into IBM Verse. And if you can’t afford a Watson, Julie Desk will manage your agenda for less than 50 euros per month. It’s a good start. And in law firms it is the research assistants who begin to worry about their work.
Generally speaking, it is not the level of study required that will prevent a machine from doing your job one day, from replacing you after having assisted you. It is the routine vs creative nature of your work. A hairdresser is more likely to get away with an accountant.
We have to become more creative and learn to work with robots
I don’t think robots will replace all jobs but a growing part of them. Only creatives in the broad sense of the term are immune. For other jobs, the question arises. But anyway this is part of the evolution of positions, without unfortunately awareness being so clear at the level of the education system. And without it being clear either that our company is ready to manage the transition to a world where income is no longer linked to employment but to activity.
I don’t think this revolution will happen as quickly as it’s announced, but that’s no reason not to be concerned. In the meantime, the human worker will have to develop in two directions. The first is to develop skills and move up the creativity ladder to be as less exposed as possible. Not easy when you already have 20 years of career. The second is to learn how to actually team up with and collaborate with machines.
So back to the original question. Are we going to collaborate with the robots? They will do without us. It will be a mix between the two but one thing is certain, whoever fails to work with them risks getting out of the equation faster than the others.
The short-term priority is to improve human / machine collaboration, not to put them in competition.
Bertrand Duperrin is Digital Transformation Practice Leader at Emakina. He was previously Consulting Director at Nextmodernity, a firm in the field of business transformation and management through social business and the use of social technologies.
He regularly deals with social media news on his blog.