The following Insights post is contributed by Eric Garland – Managing Director at Competitive Futures, Inc. and expert JPK Group Presenter.
I’m excited to be speaking at the Business Forecasting and Analytics Summit in Chicago on September 21. My closing keynote is “The Future of Forecasting” and, in it I’m going to explore one of the biggest trends to impact the field: the relationship between man and machine.
I am bullish about the field of strategic intelligence, and also bullish about the future of jobs in the field. Some people are worried about software and artificial intelligence becoming so powerful that executives will no longer need insights from strategy professionals. I don’t worry. I don’t think that software will ever threat our jobs because computers are never more than hardworking idiots. Humans will do the thinking and computers will do the computing.
Don’t worry, I think that it looks a little scary at times. Check out this genius kid who made a “robot lawyer” that can appeal parking tickets. This program has written the appeals on more than two million pounds sterling worth of tickets – impressive, and if you’re an attorney, ominous. Also, I am told that AI is just around the corner because “look at the advent of self-driving cars.”
Look, there is no question: Moore’s Law, the most famous technological forecast in history, is still in operation. The power of computer chips continues to grow. Sensors are getting smaller and cheaper. Software grows in sophistication year after year. It is also very clear that many of the robots upon which we rely for daily life – cars, clothes dryers, and toasters – are designed with increasing levels of “smartness.” They interpret data generated from sensor arrays and use software to arrive at a decision: yes, pump the brakes, no the clothing isn’t dry enough, hey the toast is starting to burn. This smartness enables robots to do tasks for us with fewer negative outcomes.
In strategic intelligence and forecasting, we already have robots to aid us in our tasks, and they are very handy. Google Alerts can tell me when something new has happened on a topic of interest – let’s say a story about my competitors. Digimind software can tell me how much that story has popped up in different parts of the world and display it on a map. Compelligence can plug into Salesforce and make sure my business development people know about that news if they run into those competitors on a certain opportunity.
But which software is going to tell me why Amazon bought The Washington Post? What algorithm can tell my why Wal-Mart’s acquisition of jet.com is important? Which software package is going to explain to me why our brand needs to appeal more to Generation Y – and how to get there?
For quantitative tasks, nobody has been able to beat computers for a very long time. And for predictive modeling, they clearly have an advantage at treating large sets of data that humans will never approximate, much less duplicate. But qualitative analysis – what something means – requires a human element that computers are nowhere near. There are patterns in business and government that computer software has not – to date – been able to identify, because the job simply requires the quantum computing power of the human mind to interpret. Strategic thought requires art and philosophy as much as it does math and statistics. And when it comes to delivering that information to a human executive with a distinct and usually quirky personality – it’s much more about art. We’re a tricky species, and we’re just scratching the surface of understanding, neurologically and psychologically, how we really make decisions.
In the years to come, computers will help – a lot! There will be new capabilities, new powers, new speed – and it will still come down to the messy, imprecise work done by professional analysts that will help leaders.
Either that, or we’re closer to a dystopian world when we are slaves to our robot overlords – but I don’t think so.
For nearly two decades, Eric Garland has been trusted for his unique insight and analysis on economic trends, geopolitics, and society. He personally consults executives on market growth strategy, leads transformative educational sessions for organizations, and specializes in keynotes that spark conversations. Mr. Garland is the founder and Director of Competitive Futures, a competitive analysis firm that provides insight and expert guidance to corporate clients and government agencies. A brief list of notable clients includes Energizer, Coca-Cola, Siemens, the country of France, the City of Charlotte, the state of South Dakota and the Principality of Monaco.