Computers cannot replace human ingenuity, say business bosses

Fears that machines will encroach on human skills in the workforce are greatly exaggerated, a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit claims

Fears that machines will encroach on human skills in the workforce are greatly exaggerated, a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit claims.

Rather than facing a world dominated by robots, technology is freeing up humans to focus on more productive tasks, said the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The study, based on a survey of over 400 business executives worldwide and interviews with technology specialists, acknowledges a growing unease with automation.

Automatic writing

In the US, for example, Narrative Science has developed technology to write reports of US baseball games without a journalist.

Taxi drivers have expressed concerns that Google’s driverless car project could put them out of business in ten years. And IBM’s Watson computer has been put to work in medical diagnosis.

“If you look at Google there is a fear that machines are taking over, ” said Denis McCauley, editor of the study.

Augmenting human skills

Europe less optimistic about technology that USA

  • Business leaders in Asia (64%) and North America (52%) are more optimistic about the creative benefits of technology than those in Europe, where 52% said creativity had grown over the past decade.
  • Europeans were also less positive about whether technology helps them make good decisions, with 40% saying that was the case, compared to 50% in Asia and 52% in North America.
  • On the positive side, 72% of Europeans were confident that technology has helped them drive more open debate and discussion within their organisations, compared to 59% in North America and 68% in Asia.

However, business executives and technology specialists claim technology is enhancing human skills, rather than taking them over.

“A lot of people were telling us that, on the contrary, they were more creative and their employees were more creative than they were ten years ago,” said McCauley.

Nearly 3 in 4 of the executives surveyed disputed the idea that technology is making it more difficult for people to be creative and imaginative.

Most said they had help from technology in arriving at their most important decisions, but said human intuition was at the core of their reasoning.

“A workplace where decisions are made entirely by computers or robots isn’t forecast by global readers just yet,” said Carsten Bruhn, executive vice-president  of Ricoh Europe, which sponsored the research.

Biggest technology challenges

Business leaders listed their top technology challenge as integrating systems that are not connected to each other, followed by concerns that technology is moving more quickly than the ability of businesses to support it.

Technology in isolation – without a well thought out process to use it – brings little value, the study warns.

In particular, business leaders raised concerns that employees are spending a greater proportion of their time on email, taking up time that could be spent on more innovative and creative tasks.

Some 50% saying that email volumes had increased substantially over the past two years.

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