I read a lot, I always have. I learn by reading about things that I know nothing about. I also learn by doing, and even in my sleep. The world is changing so rapidly around us that it is difficult to put things in perspective; what is significant, which changes are relevant? Machine intelligence and robotics are giving rise to a whole new breed that utilizes machines both physically and mentally. This transition is bound to change cultures as well as patterns related to work and earning, while also requiring us to learn new things at an ever-increasing pace.
Mechanization of cognitive human abilities
The social and technological evolution of mankind only began a while ago. For more than 200,000 years, the evolution of humans as a species was fairly slow and happened in small steps. However, at the end of the 19th century, we embarked on a journey as a species. So far, this journey has taken us to space, to other planets and to this moment, where we are truly wondering where the machines we have invented will take us and whether we will be able to develop as a species and society in a way that allows as many people as possible to benefit from the wellbeing created by machines. At the same time, we are afraid that machines might take away our importance, jobs and livelihood. Machine intelligence and robotics represent a transformation at least equal to the one started by the steam engine in the late 19th century. At that time, we multiplied our physical strength by utilizing machines. We were able to move from one place to another more quickly and produce things at a faster pace with machines. We created the industrial society that produced a Western standard of living – much like the one we are now enjoying in Finland as well.
The next significant thing we are witnessing is the mechanization of cognitive human abilities such as seeing, hearing, speaking and thinking. Robots used to replace human labor in physical activities, but today artificial intelligence and robotics are able to outperform us in intellectual tasks in terms of speed, quality and results. This means that some of the tasks of traditional highly educated professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants, will be taken over by machines. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is already available to all organizations and can be used to automate routine processes in areas such as payroll administration. Cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, which is represented by actors such as IBM Watson, enables teaching computers vast amounts of data. Computers learn and are also able to have a natural conversation in our language, but they can process and analyze information many times faster than we can. Even a very simple software robot can be used to automate up to 80% of rule-based manual processes, and a robot works tirelessly 24/7.
Digital and cognitive solutions generate efficiency for organizations
We are on the verge of an era that will force us to abandon old-fashioned conceptions of learning and teaching. Memorizing things is no longer sensible, as everyone can access answers just by asking a computer. When practically anyone can use artificial intelligence to make decisions about matters that used to require decades of practice and studying, we need to change our way of learning and studying new things. For knowledge workers, this is a great opportunity to take a quantum leap in efficiency and change the nature of work so that it becomes more creative and non-mechanistic. Cognitivity combined with new digital learning opportunities can play a decisive role when the basic structures of our society change as digitalization, robotization and machine intelligence become commonplace.
For companies, digital and cognitive solutions enable improved customer service through all channels in an individual and efficient way. With the help of machine intelligence and analytics, self-service can be supplemented with digital assistants capable of, for example, helping select the right products, suggesting better options for your specific needs or offering affordable complementary alternatives. Similarly, people's learning paths can be supported by utilizing a large amount of data on different learning styles, paces and results. Individual study paths created by a cognitive process and even fully customized study materials (level of difficulty, number of exercises, additional reading, etc.) enable the most efficient learning results and can help organizations take major quantum leaps in efficiency.
However, mere technological development will not suffice; we also need to be able to regenerate mentally. Curiosity and learning are natural features of the human species, and we can utilize our new digital friends in order to develop both as individuals and as communities. Finally, if you want to read just a couple of books during the upcoming Christmas holidays, I would recommend these two:
- The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. Brynjolfsson, McAfee.
This book is a sharp, forward-looking description of the technological revolution and explains how we can prepare for it and survive both socially, economically and individually. The authors are MIT scholars.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari.
Harari's book describes, starting from the very beginning of our species, how we have ended up as modern Homo sapiens and what kind of scenarios can be created for our future as a species. As the most significant turn in the evolution history of mankind, the book emphasizes the cognitive revolution that gave us the ability to create machines that are more intelligent than we are.
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