cogs of the machine

Las Máquinas

So here is what I Googled: “what is ‘the machines’ in Spanish?” and the answer I received instantly was: “The machines – Las máquinas”.  And just below that, was a preview of a translation service website: “The new machine helps us do the work much faster.  La nueva máquina nos ayuda a hacer el trabajo mucho más rápido.”

I am probably giving away my age a bit if I tell you that when I was at school, leading-edge technology for personal use by students was the slide rule and when pocket calculators came along just before I left school, there were all sorts of rules about how they could or could not be used for schoolwork.  I learnt Latin and French, but not Spanish.  You wanted to translate a word into French, you might in certain circumstances be allowed to look it up in your French/English dictionary, but if you had to translate a phrase or sentence, you needed to have paid attention in your French class!  I was in the workplace for about 10 years before desktop and “portable” computers started to become accepted as personal work tools.  An early, (but not the first), computer I used at work was a state-of-the-art personal desktop computer that had 40MB of disk storage space.  It was the envy of the office. Today, my phone has 800 times as much storage space as that computer.  Talking of phones, not so long ago they used to be used for talking to someone over a fixed line….

La nueva máquina nos ayuda a hacer el trabajo mucho más rápido.  We were also told that automation would mean less drudgery and more time to spend on leisure.  Change and disruption have always been with us and manual tasks have been obvious targets for automation since the industrial revolution.  But what may be different today is the rate of acceleration of that change and the fact that it has spread to industries, professions and occupations where just a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine possible.  We hear a lot about driverless cars and trucks, cloud-driven centralized tax systems, digital disruption threatening taxi industries and traditional hospitality providers alike – to name but a few.  Today, you might be hard pressed to understand where the latest technology is leading us and certainly, much of the drudgery has been and continues to be automated.  But perhaps some of that promised leisure time may be coming to the unwary.

And that’s just automation.  At another level, there is the possibility of artificial intelligence.  There seems to be disagreement on whether or not artificial intelligence exists or can exist and definitions vary.  But we are told that machines have, apparently learnt to lie in order to negotiate an advantage and that fits some definitions of artificial intelligence.  Either way, the one thing we can be sure of is that intelligent programming and the creation of ever more sophisticated algorithms render the debate about the existence of artificial intelligence somewhat irrelevant.  Whilst there are calls to ban certain forms of robotic, artificially intelligent weapons of war from being developed, no-one is calling for other forms of automation or intelligence to be halted.  Perhaps it is seen as inevitable – a King Canute thing.

So when was the last time you thought strategically about the technology impacting or about to impact the industry your business is part of?  What are the opportunities and how do you deal with the threats?  Will you be left with few options but to seek regulatory protection or other central support or will you get on the front foot and have a robust strategic response well before the tide comes in?  The machines are coming…

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