IBM Watson was fed all the existing 6.9 million definitions in The Urban Dictionary. It didn’t take IBM engineers too much time to dump all that data in Watson’s “brain”.
On the other hand, humans take several years to learn how to speak and read, and even more to memorize random definitions. And because of our limited capacity for memorization, it would certainly be an improbable (impossible?) task to keep 6.9 million definitions in our mental hard drive.
The Urban Dictionary’s definitions and millions of other facts are stored in Watson. That’s why the most successful human competitors on “Jeopardy” couldn’t beat IBM Watson in 2011.
But the human–Watson competition was unfair (so to speak). And the reason is that in “Jeopardy”, people don’t get real-life situational questions. They are only asked to regurgitate random facts.
We can’t beat IBM Watson in memorizing facts. Actually, we can’t beat most technology in storing facts, performing calculations or doing the same task in a seamless (perfect!) way.
That’s why we use a calculator, that’s why we have dictionaries, and that’s why we save our documents in the computer and not in our brains.
That’s one of the things machines are good for: to do repetitive everyday tasks for us, in exactly the same way they did it the day before. And unless we forget to “oil and fuel” those machines, they could be doing the same thing forever, in exactly the same way.
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Of course, Artificial Intelligence is not just any technology. It can learn. It analyzes trillions of data points in seconds, memorizes all possible facts, and can put together coherent “ideas”.
It’s easier for AI to use data and predict potential scenarios than it would be for humans. We can’t do that on our own, because we can’t store all the data in our minds and run thousands of parallel thoughts simultaneously. That’s not how we are designed and wired.
So, when it comes to analyzing data, memorizing facts, predicting potential scenarios, and doing it all in seconds or nanoseconds, we WILL NEVER be able to beat technology.
Technology is better than us in that department. It is beating us there. It will continue to do so. And it will supersede humans in that kind of “brain power”.
That’s why those careers that consist of doing repeatable, step-by-step, standard activities will be disrupted. Machines are better at that than we can ever be.
Where do we humans make a difference? What is it that will help us remain relevant?
All research and predictions about the future show that the most powerful skills to remain relevant in the future are precisely what make us (and made us) humans in the first place.
I call it going back to the basics.
- Emotional intelligence
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Leading by influence
- Proactivity and initiative
- Effective communication
- Analyzing information (not necessarily data, but more making sense of that information)
- Curiosity and imagination
- Social intelligence
- Cross-cultural competency
- Design mindset
- Complex problem solving
- People management
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
Of course, “solving complex problems” as a human in the year 2018 is not the same as it was in the year 50,000 BCE. Technology sets the context in which we use these skills today.
Nevertheless, most of those skills are the same ones that we had to learn and effectively use to solve extreme problems in life or death situations and evolve to become what we are today.
IBM Watson beat us in memorization and “Jeopardy”. But I’m pretty sure that IBM Watson would have had a hard time working with another IBM Watson to track a mammoth, to sense a dangerous situation and to collaborate with other humans in finding food. And IBM Watson would also have a very hard time succeeding at a design thinking session, at an office celebration, or asking directions on Fifth Avenue in New York at 8.30 a.m. on a Monday.
Unfortunately, when I think about the skills that brought us here, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that our education and corporate systems were designed precisely to nurture the opposite: fact-learning, memorization and skill at repetitive work.
We are trained in school to learn facts. And at work we are asked to repeat the same step-by-step process-oriented activities to deliver our product, whatever that may be.
Still today, at the dawn of the artificial intelligence revolution, when it’s becoming more evident than ever that technology poses serious challenges for humankind, schools and companies still focus on the same assumptions: learning facts and mastering repetitive tasks make people “top performers”.
The revolution of going back to basics
The pace of technological advancement is going to continue on its exponential path. It has already outpaced the speed at which humans can learn. And unless we unplug all computers in the world, the pace of change will only continue to increase.
To remain relevant, we must fire up the revolution of going back to the basics in humanity and relearn those fundamental skills that are dormant within us.
We have to reform the entire education system to teach not facts, but critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.
We must transform entire industries so that people are not required to do the same thing over and over, but instead we awake their curiosity and imagination so that they can see opportunities and connections that are absolutely invisible to machines.
More importantly, we must rekindle empathy and emotional and social intelligence, in order to understand and work better with each other.
The times ahead will be turbulent and chaotic. Such revolutions (agricultural, industrial and technological) are extremely challenging during their transitions. Many people will lose their jobs, and the economic, social and political burdens and turmoil will radically increase everywhere in the world. Although it might not happen too soon, it will happen.
The revolution of going back to the basics of humanity is about bringing each of those skills back to our reality at home, school and work.
It is because of those skills that we have evolved over thousands of years. And it is because of those skills that we will survive and thrive in times of technological disruption.
Enrique Rubio is a Tech and HR Evangelist. He’s passionate about Human Resources, People Operations, Technology and Innovation. Enrique is an Electronic Engineer, Fulbright Scholar and Executive Master in Public Administration with a focus on HR. Over the past 15 years Enrique has worked in the HR and tech world. A lot of his research and work revolves around the digitization of the workplace and Human Resources. Enrique currently works as an HR Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. He’s also the founder of Hacking HR. Enrique is currently building Cotopaxi, an artificial intelligence-based recruitment platform for emerging markets.