We humans need to sing our own praises.

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New ideas come from experiencing new things, meeting new people and exciting people’s imagination. You rarely get new and groundbreaking ideas in an environment where employees can’t interact, are chained to a desk and are essentially keyboard warriors. Routine processing work is not for entrepreneurs. That’s the kind of work that is ideal for the emerging robot army. Emerging technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a good case in point. The ability to codify a set of finite business rules and instructions and then allow the technology to run with the rules will set humans free to do what they do best, whatever that is? These ‘robots’ will infinitely outperform humans physically, computationally and vigorously in these mechanical rote tasks.

So where exactly is it that humans are better than robots? Where should we be utilising them?

We Humans are Inventive

Whilst AI is getting more sophisticated and ‘intelligent’ it is automation and rules engines that have seen the most progress. Right now, and in the near future humans are much better at creative thinking than technology. Basically, we can perceive connections when they are not there. We ponder and have imagination. We see the bigger picture. Bots though are slowly catching up, speak to a bot and it can utilise related word searches to find alternative interpretations of your sentence and work out what you really meant, they still can’t create per se.  Bots can grasp rules and play with them much faster than we can, they can bend rules to find new solutions.

Prof. David Cope of UC Santa Cruz has a robot named Annie that he trains with the masters of classical music. It is near impossible to distinguish Annie’s compositions from those of a human. She knows the rules of the game and works out ways to bend them or to find the optimal moves. That’s ‘creativity’ within the rules, but we humans can change the rules. We can invent new games to play, like combining the fields of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology with medicine in the company, Kitcheck, or creating a movie like Avatar (i.e. commercially enormously successful) as opposed to just another superhero sequel.

Humans are good at Relationships

We humans are social animals (mostly) and we need to work together which is in stark contrast to machines. A good example of our need here is our approach to the game Ultimatum. The game is a behavioural economic experiment where…

  1. Player ‘A’ (the proposer) conditionally receives a sum of money, say £100, and proposes how to divide the sum between the proposer and the other player, i.e. 50/50, 70/30 etc.
  2. Player ‘B’ (the responder) chooses to either accept or reject this proposal.
  3. If Player ‘B’ accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. Win-Win
  4. If Player ‘B’ rejects, neither player receives any money. Lose-Lose
  5. The game is typically played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.

Studies have shown that most people offer a reasonably equitable split, 50/50 (or close to it), i.e. the ‘win-win’, with the understanding that any combination that deviates too far would be rejected by “B.” i.e. the ‘lose-lose’. As an ‘A’ player the starting point for a machine is an offer of £1/£99 with the argument that this is free money! you had nothing before and now with £1 you are better off. On the flip side, in the ‘B’ player role the machine would also accept an offer of £1, leaving you with £99. The machine has no concept of fairness. Humans are good at understanding the give and take of a relationship, whereas a robot is the ‘know-it-all’ that loses its friends pretty quickly. Simple bots may have a hard time recognising that over 50% of communication occurs none verbally through body language or in other undertones that only comes from human intuition or long term relationships.

While some robots are starting to understand human emotion, whether, through facial expressions or analysis of vitals, it’s difficult to algorithmically detail an appropriate response – you don’t necessarily want a mirror. For example there are instances of organisations using AI to filter our recruits who don’t match certain criteria with regard to communication skills. Sometimes you don’t want the robot to take your perspective and ‘solutionize’; rather, you might want the robot to tell you that “It’s going to be ok.” Robots usually don’t have opinions, i.e. a perspective that may or may not be based on facts. They are second to none at fact-based analysis. Indeed some humans are also like this, of your friends these are the ones you might call ‘a robot’. It is clear that we will have to learn to communicate effectively with machines that are developing at such a pace they may well learn to understand us better. However dealing with humans will be the domain of other humans for the foreseeable future.

Humans are great at Deal-making

A large element of sales necessarily involves an understanding of human emotions. For example, in banking, while most trading is done algorithmically, retail traders can fall victim to fear and greed, eventually buying high and selling low. Angel investing plays on high-net-worth individuals’ strong feeling of regret. Most retail sales take into account irrational things like free trials and subscriptions that have us buying things that we don’t really need or want. Human sales have a good intuition of what someone really means when they say what they want (or don’t want) and can ‘socially engineer’ the desired result. Like relationships, robots still haven’t figured out how to empathise with us to figure out why we would want to buy something as opposed to rattling off features and benefits. Online shopping giants can do a good job by comparing you to other similarly behaved humans on low cost commoditised products like books, movies and electronics, but for a complicated high-value sale humans cannot be replaced. Machines are rational and most humans have an inclination to buy things irrationally, based on emotion not practical need. Or at least it takes a real effort to ensure a logical purchase. But as humans, we recognise or failings.

Online shopping giants can do a good job by comparing you to other similarly behaved humans on low cost commoditised products like books, movies and electronics, but for a complicated high-value sale humans cannot be replaced. Machines are rational and most humans have an inclination to buy things irrationally, based on emotion not practical need. Or at least it takes a real effort to ensure a logical purchase. But as humans, we recognise or failings.

We have common sense and intuition and trying to replicate that in a robot is proving difficult.

Post by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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