By Nick Andrews
I read this article by Nicholas Carr on 21 Nov in the Wall Street Journal with interest and it’s not often I feel I can take issue with esteemed Finnish Architects and never before with Harvard professors called ‘Bright’ but I feel I have to on this occasion.
The premise of the article is that computers are becoming so sophisticated and automation so widespread that they are replacing our ‘most prized intellectual talents’. From our perspective the opposite is true. Process Automation (where we specialise) frees up talented resources not from creative, artistic and intuitive work but, instead, liberates them from doing boring repetitive, rules based tasks that they don’t want to do and for which they are probably over-qualified.
The factory analogy doesn’t really apply can only be taken so far. In the case of manufacturing, real skills and craftsmanship were replaced by machines which were faster, more accurate and much lower cost. These craftsmen supposedly became button pushers (who built the machines by the way?).
In our experience, the exact opposite is true in Process Automation. Valuable resources who have previously been doing the equivalent of pushing buttons, albeit at terminals (cutting pasting, comparing, entering data) can be freed up to do much higher value creative work which requires skills, talents and judgement that are still the exclusive domain of people.
The skill isn’t built into the machines (sorry Professor) instead the machine is slavishly doing what it’s told such as registering customers, processing invoices, e-mailing important information and even routine analysis.
“Yesterday’s machine operators are today’s computer operators” Not true. We would say that today’s computer operators are tomorrow’s front-line nurses, tax-inspectors, salesmen, analysts, creative designers, managers and customer services people.
Process Automation adopters, far from dumbing-down are cleaning up. They are becoming more agile, more creative, more flexible and smarter because they have more skilled resources to deploy and better information to make informed decisions (the information is collated and delivered by the robots). The creative team have ‘delegated’ their drudge work to willing, relentlessly hard working and ruthlessly efficient ‘robots’. In effect they have ‘up-skilled’ without having to recruit anyone.
Many of our clients have become Process Automation adopters with this strategic aim in mind from the outset.
Further analogies used are not valid comparators. Pilots relying on fly-by-wire, doctors allowing computers to conduct diagnoses and architects being constrained by their computer’s limitations are all missing the point. Here in the article the users are not deploying the technology to free them up for higher value more creative activities they are just sitting back and watching technology do their job for them which is usually sub-optimal, as reported.
In reality artificial intelligence as we know it today is not really ‘intelligent’. There is a world of difference between real intelligence and the ability to learn / not repeat mistakes. Artificial intelligence simply allows our clients to automate the most complex and diverse processes even when the inputs are unstructured and in multiple language and formats.
Where we do agree is that there is an alternative and we see it every day. Human-centric or adaptive automation is what we do. We don’t replace people with technology so that the people become de-skilled, instead we deploy the technology to augment their time and abilities.
As the article states, Artificial Intelligence HAS arrived but, in our world it’s hugely beneficial to all concerned.