Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, recently spoke to The New York Times about the company’s current challenges and his plans to address them. When asked whether Silicon Valley still has the idealism that appealed to him earlier in his career, he gave a very interesting answer that raises a key question: are people overly reliant on technology?
Pichai said: “Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. It was always naïve to think so. Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems.”
This statement is worth examining across industries and disciplines, but it rings particularly true for those of us in the data analytics space. While automation alone is effective for many uses cases, industry experts have stressed the importance of human interpretation when analyzing data as issues can arise when decisions are made based on the numbers alone. This includes ethical concerns where technology makes decisions that can impact people in negative ways, including subjecting them to racial or gender bias.
So how can companies foster the necessary collaboration between people and technology and ensure the right balance—particularly in today’s automation age?
The industry doesn’t have all the answers yet, but a good place to start is looking at areas that require distinctly human abilities, such as creativity, empathy and judgment. To borrow Pichai’s term, technology should be seen as an “enabler” that helps people utilize their distinctly human abilities better and more efficiently. This could mean relying on technology to integrate, cleanse, and prepare large volumes of data for analysis, or using chatbots to address common customer service complaints before routing more complex issues to live agents.
Making humans smarter or more efficient with technology is not a new concept, but it is easily overlooked when AI, machine learning and other innovations are frequently touted as answers to the problems mankind has yet to solve. A recent Deloitte article on the topic stressed that these technologies should be used to complement humans, stating: “If anything, humans and their innate skills seem to be growing more important as the need to devise, implement, and validate AI solutions becomes widespread.”
Do we rely too much on technology?
It’s certainly a cliff we teeter on, and a mistake we’ll continue to be in danger of making, as the adoption of automation and other emerging technologies increases. As such, all of us bear a responsibility for ensuring the balance between human and machine doesn’t tip too far in either direction.