The Impact Of The Man + Machine Revolution

We live in a time where patience is in scarce supply, connectivity and speed is expected if not demanded and our attention spans are shrinking.  There is a tradeoff for every “advancement” we make. I have been in the technology industry for over 30 years with leading high-tech firms and I believed that we could change the world and change the world we did. The question I think we need to ask ourselves is what are we changing the world to become?  I had hoped by now that with all of this advanced technology that we would have more time for the important things in life like family, friends and spending time in our communities and collectively working together on creating a better world.

What I am seeing in recent years is people with less time, more isolated and siloed fixated on their devices rather than taking time to talk to another human being with common respect and a willingness to share points of view and learn from each other to cooperate in making this world a better place.  We are entering a new Man + Machine era and it’s worth taking a moment to pause and think about the end-state that we are speeding towards.

We are at an historical pivot point in our evolution as humans as we see entirely new business and social models emerging that combine new man + machine interactions in our personal and business lives.  AI (artificial Intelligence) is the most predominant change agent in our current day that is causing us to re-imagine our business and personal lives.

Due to these major advances in AI we are changing how we interact with the technologies that are such a central part of our daily lives. AI as a technology has been with us for many years but the cognitive advances that we have seen in recent years through advanced AI as represented by advancements at companies like IBM with Watson coupled with the accessibility  of AI to the masses through consumer interfaces such as  Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri interfaces have taken AI to the mainstream.   Many leading technology companies are racing to incorporate AI into their products and offerings acting as front ends to websites, call centers and self-service offerings. It is said that by 2035 national productivity of developed nations could be doubled through the deployment of AI across industries.

Two Current AI Focuses: Enterprise & Consumers

Leading the pack are companies such as IBM, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce and Google. There are generally two camps in the current state of  the AI market, those focused on digital discovery and  digital assistants for enterprise level AI focused on big enterprise solutions and global issues and those focused on consumer interfaces for mobile and web interfaces.

Companies like IBM are leveraging their AI “Watson” capabilities focused on providing AI solutions for business, manufacturing, financial, life sciences, energy and healthcare solutions leveraging the power of Watson AI at a global enterprise scale. Then there is the consumer empowerment with natural language interfaces that empower digital assistants with technologies like Cortana, Alexa or Siri on phones, in cars or on in-home devices etc. Both approaches are having a dramatic impact on business and society. The consumer focus in particular is having an impact on society where the expectations of talking with and engaging with our computers and devices through new more natural language humanlike ways is becoming a common consumer expectation.

Managing Ai Driven Disruptions:

There is no doubt that there will be disruptions in business, society, our work force and skill requirements as well as business models that will be disrupted or even collapsed through the emergence of new AI driven models.  Economic models as well will be impacted.  We will undoubtfully also face ethical challenges in government, healthcare and military applications with such advances as un-maned military attack capabilities, AI driven surgeries and driverless cars on our streets.

Accelerated Discovery Disruptions: I think the biggest impact of AI today is around accelerated discovery in life sciences, business and personal empowerment that can truly positively change our lives and potentially save lives.  The ability of AI “smart” machines to consume, understand and act on mass amounts of data in real time changes the game of many industries such as physicians and care givers empowering them with a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips to provide the best care possible anywhere in the world.

Business Model Disruptions:

In the business world AI represents both a risk and an opportunity for truly transforming how business is conducted.  Historically with other advanced technology “revolutions” we would see innovators and start-ups drive much of this change before it becomes institutionalized. This “AI revolution” is a bit different as it is being mainstreamed at a pace faster than other technology driven shifts through larger players like Apple, Google, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft as well as start-ups.

This isn’t the first time we have had to modify our business process, skills and working environments to incorporate technology, but it is one of the most potentially impactful transitions on par with the industrial revolution, the introduction of computers and the mobile revolution. AI has the potential to transform, accelerate and eliminate jobs and as such it needs to be handled thoughtfully. The traditional roles of AI focused on accelerating productivity through robotics is still thriving but now being taken to a new level where AI systems are self-aware and able to become self-learning, perpetually improving and even self-programming.

In the rush to incorporate AI into all facets of business and consumer interactions we need to be careful to appropriately augment our human workforce with these new AI capabilities so as to evolve together in ways that empower humans to be better at what we do and free up time to allow us to pursue the creative endeavors that improve productivity and humanity overall.

This new Man + Machine revolution has profound implications on how business is conducted, how our educational system trains our current and future workforce and how general consumers interact with devices ranging from our cars to gas pumps to retail transactions to our refrigerators and smart homes.  This is a broad reaching evolution that will touch many aspects of our lives.

By nature, I am an optimist and I see the many benefits of the Man + Machine possibilities for improving healthcare, accelerating production capabilities, personalizing experiences and making our lives easier by augmenting our human experience with this advanced AI technology.  But, I am also a realist and I believe that with any great advancement there is a great responsibility that comes with it for those of us that are leading the transformation. I have been deeply involved in the digital revolution, mobile and social transformations and now the AI revolution and having the benefit of some hindsight I can see many wonderful advancements, but I can also see many negative social impacts that have become a bi-product of this digital era where we have lost some of our human connectivity and communication skills even though technically we are more connected than ever.

So as we enter this new Man + Machine evolution I encourage us all to stop and think about the end that we are driving towards and make sure that our application of these AI advances moves us closer to the world that we all want to live in.


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