Executive Insight, Policy & Regulation, Smart Grid

Reconnecting the human to AI and globalization

Elon Musk doesn’t admit he’s wrong very often.

The mega mind behind PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla is devoted to technology at its most extreme and, this type, exciting level. Yet even he conceded that one can take robotics and automation too far.

“Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake,” Musk tweeted last year after his Tesla plant struggled to meet Model 3 electric vehicle production goals by relying more on robots. “Humans are underrated.”

One can question Musk’s esoteric tendencies and bold predictions, but time may prove he was right about that last one. Jim Wilson, a co-author (with Paul Daugherty) of the book “Humans and Machines: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI,” said the sci-fi doomsayers missed the point.

“We think of robots as competitors,” taking jobs and laying waste to the job landscape of the 21 century, said Wilson, also an Accenture information technology and research leader who spoke his company’s International Utilities and Energy Conference near San Francisco. “It’s a great story line but…”

…It most likely will be wrong, he said. Newer research is showing that neither humans nor robots wholly can achieve alone when they can do together. And although nearly three-fourths of executives queried in an Accenture research study say they plan to use artificial intelligence (AI) in their businesses, the human-machine combination outperforms the solo effort by a three-fold margin.

This is a good thing, maybe even lifesaving in more ways than economic. Wilson also pointed out a breast cancer study that looked at the success rate in identification of wayward cells. AI working alone caught 92 percent of the cancers, while doctors found 96 percent.

Physicians collaborating with AI identified 99.5 percent of the cancer cells within biopsies.

The world of AI and machine learning is creating job titles which never existed until this age. Explainable machine learning engineer. Fintech AI Innovation Strategist.

The key to success with data and robotics is never to forget the humanity behind and beside it. The key to sustainable business success, Zita Cobb pointed out, is never to forget the local.

Cobb, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur and author, told the Accenture IUEC crowd about her humble childhood on Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland. Her father, like many on Fogo, was a self-sufficient fisherman until industrial-size fishing operations nearly wiped out the cod population.

“This to me was a failure of accounting,” Cobb said. “Who was counting the fish left in the water?”

We in the business world and humanity in general are suffering from a crisis of meaning, she continued. The business people out there are still making money; in fact, maybe the economy has gotten too good at making money.

“There’s a broken relationship between the inherent value of things and their financial values,” Cobb added. “The challenge over time is to evolve our economy in a way that is regenerative.”

Cobb and her family left Fogo Island many years ago, made their fortune in the world and now have returned. They have created sustainable businesses like fishing (for shrimp and crab instead of cod), making furniture and boats. Ecological tourism there was featured in Forbes.

She called it the ABCDs-Asset Based Community Development. Like Wilson’s book on machines, this type of economics considers the human element. How do we profit in a way that sustains itself or does a business go the way of coastal cod fishing?

Cobb quoted Gill Chin Lim’s concept of humanistic globalization.

“One of the globalization’s lessons is we’ve forgotten the local,” she recounted.

The connection is that globalization must regain its ties to the local as much as AI and the Tesla Model 3 need the human touch.