Can technology replace people?

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By Muggie van Staden, MD and CEO of Obsidian Systems

Many people believe that automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) will eventually replace all of us. Some managers might even joke that they are likely to substitute a poor performing staff member with a well-written script. But more realistically, technology will only take over certain roles leaving us to focus on delivering more strategic value.

Take the automotive sector as an example. Many decades ago, Japanese manufacturers used technology to replace specific roles when it came to assembling cars. This fundamentally reinvented the way cars are built with today’s assembly lines, a predominantly computer-driven affair.

In healthcare, the availability of big data and complex ML algorithms have made it possible for computers to diagnose cancer much more effectively than a team of doctors. These machines are ‘trained’ based on the knowledge and experience of specialists. In turn, the extensive computing power is used to examine an X-ray and identify the patterns that suggest cancer. So, while doctors will always be critical for healthcare and treatment, the role of diagnoses can be replaced by technology.

Even in the legal field, technology can be used to enhance the process. Computers can access all case law throughout history and regurgitate the relevant information faster than what any team of paralegals will be able to accomplish. Of course, lawyers will always be necessary to litigate.

These are just some examples of how technology can replace certain roles people are performing, freeing them up to reskill and upskill into different areas.

Training process

Thanks to the rate of technological innovation, we no longer have to be stuck doing menial work. This unlocks significant opportunities for growth across virtually any industry. Having the opportunity to learn new skills mean employees can become far more dynamic than to what they are currently limited.

This will never result in a computer taking over from an individual as that person can always fulfil a more significant role inside the organisation. People will always be a necessary resource at any company.

Consider song writing. Yes, there are examples of computers writing music. If we give them enough data, they will be able to extrapolate key words and phrases that imply a romantic song. But technology will never understand love, romance, and heartache. There will never be that emotional connection to the lyrics and the music.

Symbiotic relationship

Rather than viewing it as an either or scenario, it is about combining people and technology to unlock value. Without people, technology will not know what to do. Using this as a basis, it is possible to better enable customers to benefit from today’s digital world.

For instance, Obsidian provides our customers with the tools, technologies, and processes to reach the strategic goals they set for themselves. Technology makes this a much easier process enriched by the expertise of individuals. It is about taking strategy, putting it into action, and making things more observable.

Ultimately, technology helps people execute better, faster, and in more agile ways. It is here to make things easier and take what is improbable and transform it into something that is possible to do.