Analogue thinking in a digital world

July 2014

The robots are coming. Whether in the form of cute little Baxter who’ll handle repetitive industrial tasks, through to the scary Big Dog that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads, these sensor heavy machines adapt to their tasks and environments. Being machines they are relentless; on and on they go. No breaks, no holidays, no sickness. Increasingly cheap, they are reaching the point where the economics of off-shoring are being reversed. Manufacturing… it’s coming home.

So far so good. For us at least. But robots come in software form as well. All the way up to IBM’s Watson the range of tasks software can accomplish is growing rapidly as a combination of advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence mean, as Google’s Sergey Brin said last week ‘We Will Make Machines That can Reason, Think, And Do Things Better Than We Can’. And therein lies the rub: if your job involves pure logic (e.g. is chess-like) then computers will be able to outperform you, as logic is what they are good at.

So best to become a hairdresser then? Well, no actually. The answer is not to forsake the digital world, but to digitise yourself before you get digitised. Adopting a digital mindset is the way forward. However, that means laughing at digital conferences where they ask you to turn your phone off, or printing (yes, on paper) reports about TechCity, or saving your work on your PC, or thinking click and collect will save physical retail, or that face to face meetings are the only way to collaborate, or that ‘the death of distance’ is a myth.

Being safe from the robots means digitising your complete business, every single part of it, and then working out what you can do that they can’t. Only the digerati can afford to be human.


PS This article first appeared in Estates Gazette 12th July 2014