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Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Smart are the smart machines II

Hardware and software will continue to get better, but rather than waiting for next- generation options, managers should be introducing cognitive technologies to workplaces now and discovering their human-augmenting value. The most sophisticated managers will create IT architectures that support more than one application. Indeed, we expect to see organizations building “cognitive architectures” that interface with, but are distinct from, their regular IT architectures. What would that mean? We think a well-designed cognitive architecture would emphasize several attributes:

The Ability to Handle a Variety of Data Types

Cognitive insights don’t just come from a single data type (text, for example). In the future, they will come from combining text, numbers, images, speech, genomic data, and so forth to develop broad situational awareness.

The Ability to Learn

Although this should be the essence of cognitive technologies, most systems today (such as rules
engines and robotic process automation) don’t improve themselves. If you have a choice between a system that learns and one that doesn’t, go with the former.


Humans and cognitive technologies will be working together for the foreseeable future. Humans will always want to know how the cognitive technologies came up with their decision or recommendation. If people can’t open the “black box,” they won’t trust it. This is a key aspect of augmentation, and one that will facilitate rapid adoption of these technologies.

A Variety of Human Roles

Once programmed, some cognitive technologies, like most industrial robots, run their assigned process. By contrast, with surgical robots it’s assumed that a human is in charge. In the future, we will probably need multiple control modes. As with self-driving vehicles, there needs to be a way for the human to take control. Having multiple means of control is another way to facilitate augmentation rather than automation.

Flexible Updating and Modification

One of the reasons why rule-based systems have become successful in insurance and banking is that users can modify the rules. But modifying and updating most cognitive systems is currently a task only for experts. Future systems will need to be more flexible.

Robust Reporting Capabilities

Cognitive technologies will need to be accountable to the rest of the organization, as well as to other stakeholders. We’ve spoken, for example, with representatives of several companies using automated systems to buy and place digital ads, and they say that customers insist on detailed reporting so that the data can be “sliced and diced” in many different ways.

State-of-the-Art IT Hygiene

Cognitive technologies will need all the attributes of modern information systems, including an easy user interface, state-of-the-art data security, and the ability to handle multiple users at once. Companies won’t want to compromise on any of these objectives in the cognitive space, and eventually they won’t have to.

What’s more, if the managerial goal is augmentation rather than automation, it’s essential to understand how human capabilities fit into the picture. People will continue to have advantages over even the smartest machines. They are better able to interpret unstructured data — for example, the meaning of a poem or whether an image is of a good neighborhood or a bad one. They have the cognitive breadth to simultaneously do a lot of different things well. The judgment and flexibility that come with these basic advantages will continue to be the basis of any enterprise’s ability to innovate, delight customers, and prevail in competitive markets — where, soon enough, cognitive technologies will be ubiquitous.

Clearly, smart machines are advancing at the things they do well at a much faster rate than we humans are. And granted, many workers will need to call on and cultivate different capabilities than the ones they have relied on in the past. But for the foreseeable future, there are still unlimited ways for humans to contribute tremendous value. To the extent that wise managers leverage their talents with advanced technology, we can all stop dreading the rise of smart machines. 

Reproduced from MIT Sloan Managed Review                                           Go to Page !