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Dehumanisation technologies

  • Intelligent Systems
  • AI & Machine Learning
  • Robotics
  • Voice recognition
  • Chatbots

Dehumanisation is a Primary Trend – It is an overall category that comprises many kinds of technologies and systems whose objective is to remove humans wherever possible in pursuit of radical efficiency gains and new propositions made possible by de-manning and de-skilling, hence the name that I’ve used for trend.

Dehumanisation is not simply mechanisation or automation – That began with the Industrial Revolution, which is just mechanical and without cognition. Dehumanisation combines intelligence and automated processes, and is now penetrating much of what goes on around us. Read More…. 

Arguably the starting point for this was when when computers moved out of the lab, say around the 1950s. Whenever it began, it has been turbo charged by the falling cost of computing and storage, and the rise of ubiquitous networks. The World Economic Forum – Davos 2019 – refers to this trend as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – perhaps a name more politically correct than mine.

The future began a while ago

Intelligent processes and connected devices open up all kinds of possibilities – But these new possibilities are enabled by automated intelligence and smart processes, not humans. Whole sectors are set to be changed in fundamental ways, as dehumanisation opens up new directions and causes radical change to existing structures and methods.

The first wave often addresses Cost and Convenience– Innovations frequently appear to be dramatically and new, when they really just mechanise existing processes with radical changes in cost and convenience. The wave of innovation sweeping through retail banking and card services is highly visible and affecting most. In fact, hardly any new facilities are being added that were not possible before; many of these existed but would not have been practical, economic or worth the effort except in extreme circumstances. Now many are free and in your hand 24×7.

Dehumanisation enables the impossible as well – Intelligent automation does enable things that would not be possible otherwise, through being able to operate at scale, with economies and speed that could not be achieved with humans. One well established example is air traffic control, where has been a steady rise in the role of automation that now begins to call into question the role of humans Read More….

Legal delivery’s shift from brute force labor to automation and value maximization. Read More….

The Amazing Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Transforming The Music Industry. Read More….

Apple’s New iPhone 11 Pro Has the First Artificially Intelligent Camera. Read More….

Changes frequently throw things in the air as well – Some areas, like air traffic control,  have been improving steadily over the years, with progressive replacement of human with increasingly sophisticated systems. Not so elsewhere, where timescales are much more compressed. The fundamental changes now underway in accountancy and the legal profession replace armies of people, and this is making services more accessible, affordable and practical for customers. Crucially for those in these sectors, this also changes the opportunities and career ladder from junior to partner as it hollows out the middle of these firms.

Combine it all and things quickly become unrecognisable – Music and photography have been transformed as skills and people have been replaced by technology. Hand held devices came first, revolutionising cost and convenience, and now smart systems are sweeping away how things were done and changing what we do, with profound implications. The range of smart systems in just these two areas is astonishing and many are largely invisible

Major areas of routine human activity are up for grabs – With seemingly few exceptions, smart systems are far better at routine activity than humans – they tend to be more consistent and deliver a step function in efficiency and simplicity at scale. So almost every sector with largely repetitive, human activity, is being explored and tested to see where dehumanisation can get a foothold.

Removing humans is widespread – It’s hard to find an area with routine acivity where there are no signs of dehumanisation, and this all looks unstoppable and irreversible. Most have begun this journey, seriously, only in the last five years, some even less. Smart devices are finding their way into everyday life, with smart ‘phones and speakers leading the way. It’s all hardly begun.

Dehumanisation comes with a dark side – The social implications are non-trivial. Privacy looks like an early casualty, and loss of decision-making is not far behind. Shifts in the nature of employment are going to be far reaching, in the West and in regions that have been lifted out of poverty by outsourcing. 

The technology is moving ahead much more quickly than decisions about the social implications and ramifications. There are learned discussions but the wheels of policy and political action move much more slowly, and are affected heavily by regional culture and attitudes.

It pays to discover

Decision-makers alert – With the profound changes taking place at such speed, decision-makers in all sorts of organisations and businesses need to consider the implications for them of what’s happening, even if they see themselves strictly as followers of proven trends, not early adopters or pioneers. The alternative could be to be caught off-guard or, worse still, to realise that time is no longer on your side and that recent decisions now look questionable or even unwise.

Entrepreneurs and Innovators – The ambitious will aim to be swimming in the changing tide, and it’s so easy to be in a bubble preoccupied with realising your own ground breaking ideas and not know what’s going on close by.  The trends are there to be leveraged into new opportunities, but this world is moving very quickly and on a broad front. It’s easy to find yourself duplicating what someone is already doing. So many techniques can be brought to bear that few will be solving a big problem that’s not already being worked on, somewhere.

Scan the horizon and over it – Leaders, senior decision-makers, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs should do all they can to understand where the opportunities and vulnerabilities lie just up ahead.

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Peter is chairman of Flexiion and has a number of other business interests. (c) 2019, Peter Osborn.

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