Friday, 6 January 2017
Time and Motion
There is much fear and fervid chatter just lately, over the rise of artificial intelligence and the future of the workforce, especially that part of the workforce that doesn’t show much evidence of innate human intelligence. For the supposedly alpha evolvers of the planet we are particularly poor, en-masse, at demonstrating why we deserve to occupy such a pre-eminent position on the pyramid. But, to be fair, we’ve come a long way in keeping people in work, no matter how hard they try to avoid it.
For example, as much as dyslexia is undoubtedly a genuine suite of impairments to communication in the written form it is an unavoidable fact, for the time being at least, that reading and writing are essential skills in the general world of work. But is it really fair on the others when students flourishing a statement furnished by somebody else with a vested interest in justifying their own expertise are given extra assistance to attain the same qualifications? Do we then provide readers and extra time on every job they do where reading is required?
Should we be concerned when people who may have taken ten attempts to pass their driving test are allowed to freely utilise our crowded motorways? There used to be a requirement that electricians pass a colour blindness test, but that’s now seen as discriminatory, so they are no longer tested. But hey, how hard can it be: red to red, black to black... blue to bits. What’s next, a ninety metre head start for 100m runners who are a bit tardy? Multi-guess final practical assessments for neuro surgeons? Astronauts with acute travel sickness? Maybe it’s time we re-thought the whole notion of access for all and just let the machines take over where they can?
Of course, we will always need human intervention where machines, as non-sentient assemblies of electro-mechanical components, cannot make subtle decisions based on judgements and real human experience. Satnav, for instance, can’t see the actual road ahead and the hugely expensive weather forecasting computer models require meteorologists to study the prognosis and say no, do it again. Machines aren’t perfect, yet, but it’s not so long ago that attempts were made in industry to treat human workers as if they were mere automata, an era from which I bring this cautionary tale.
At the Time and Motion Academy’s annual conference an expert concluded his keynote lecture with the advice not to adopt the techniques too readily in the home. He was asked why and went on to explain: “I watched my wife's routine at breakfast for many years,” he said “and I saw that she made many unnecessary trips between the fridge, the cooker, the table and the cupboards, often carrying a single item at a time. One day I demonstrated to her how she could be so much more efficient by rearranging the kitchen and considering carrying more than one thing on each trip.” An audience member asked “Did it save time?" And the expert replied “Actually, yes. It used to take her over twenty minutes to make breakfast... Now I do it in under ten.”