This picture in my head may be due to the fact that I was overexposed to Hollywood movies that depict the end of the world as a sci-fi existence that has human beings fused with computers.
It has also become apparent that when others think about the fast approaching augmented age, they may very well have a similar picture in their heads.
I would like to think that while the augmented age will bring about a massive rethink of processes involving dynamic decision making and pattern recognition driven by machine intelligence - it will also bring about massive opportunities. As with all changes, there is good news and bad news, so let’s begin with the bad news.
We are in the eye of the mobile storm. We live in an era where mobile devices are extensions of our bodies. The mobile era is a bridge between the internet era and the information era. While the Internet era was all about disruption of distribution, availability of information and rethinking the value chain, the next age will be about disruption of information.
I believe this will play out in a few different ways, all underpinned by the adoption of artificial intelligence, technology integrated into our natural world and massive supporting infrastructure as an enabler. In this new, augmented world, commerce will be driven by artificial intelligence - which at its core is the discipline of information management toward dynamic and more intuitive decision making.
Technology-fused environments turning our natural world into a dynamic membrane through which technology and experiences are delivered. To enable this kind of world, there will be an astronomical amount of computing power required - always on and always learning.
The infrastructure implications are huge and present new and exciting commercial and consumer opportunities.
Why is this bad news?
Generally, for the man in the street to imagine a world like this can be challenging and unnerving. Humanity is about self preservation and the question at the centre of all this advancement in technology is, what then is the role of the human being?
If technology were to assume a more central role in our society where then does that leave humanity? According to the Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Linus Pauling, and his fellow academics, Gerard Piel, and Gunnar Myrdal, humanity has entered a new era of production. They argue that there is a “cybernation revolution” on the go - in which near-unlimited productive capacity is now achievable with progressively less human input. Apparently, this so-called cybernation is already altering the world’s economic and social order to suit itself. Cue ominous theme music.
It’s difficult to disagree with the fundamental shift in the world of work and how things get done. However, running for the hills now would be the same as, if, during the agricultural era, farmers ran for the hills because a tractor muted extent of physical labour required to till the land.
In fact, the farmer should have been more excited at the development of this new tractor, because it allowed him to focus on other, high order, cognitive tasks towards the same end.
Which brings me to the good news.
In the augmented era, humans need to be more human, because we have different value propositions in the augmented era. Computers are able to execute rules extremely well. Repetitive, structured and defined rules. We humans on the other hand, are better are cognitive processing of information that may not have pre-existing rules or conditions.
Why is this good news? Well, the downside is that many industries will be made redundant if they continue to exist without accounting for the strengths of humans in relation to computers. Those that do, open up a whole new world of opportunity linked problem solving, with empathy at its core. Educations systems have an opportunity to reinvent themselves in an astonishing way and the way we extract value from the human brain is entering a whole new frontier.
The notion of problem solving from first principles is something I observe in my son all the time. To get him to grasp complex tasks, I break them up into simpler, more focused ones.
Over time, solving the smaller tasks brings about confidence and mastery in the bigger task. This approach will be hugely advantageous in the augmented age and is the idea that if we tackle complex challenges and break down a problem into smaller more specific components.
A great example is a braai or chisa nyama from first principles: Hunger + Meat + Fire. It is said that decisions have two inputs - information or data and some processing capability. Solving for the role of the human being in the augmented age from first principles considers three equations.
The first is with the human brain as the processing capability. There are natural limitations to the computational power of the average human brain.
There will always be a limit to the quality of decisions that can be made by a human being. The opportunity cost is time, so better decisions require more data and will take longer to make, because of processing time. A computer on the other hand, has no computational limit as to how much it can ingest and the speed at which it can process. However, what brain power does that computing power doesn’t is account for new information, nuance that may come with undefined scenarios and lastly empathy.
This still makes the human a critical part of any industry and in an ideal world, the equation that yields highest value in augmented age is: information (data) + computing power + brain 0power = decisions.
I certainly believe that in the near term, this is the intersection of humanity and technology. In my very optimistic view, there is no need to run for the hills (yet), because the best news of all is that the humans will still be relevant for some time because our ability to solve “common sense” problems by finding parallels that we understand, will give us insight when confronted with new situations.
Our capability to exercise empathy is one of the most relevant distinguishing human traits and will be difficult to replicate. Finally, creativity is being a combination of the two skills above and is irreplaceable. If you can’t apply old knowledge to new situations and can’t empathise with other people, it will be difficult to write a touching book or produce provocative artwork.
Musa Kalenga Chief executive and founder of Bridge Labs and an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is passionate about using technology to empower the digitally invisible.
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