I had the opportunity to attend a conference last week on big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence that brought back images from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, gave a rousing keynote speech on how well the Commonwealth of Virginia is doing in autonomous vehicles, cybersecurity, vineyards, and even microbreweries. Then, the panelists came out and clanged the proverbial bell much like the knight, shouting, “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead,” waiting for the humans to be thrown on the back of the cart.
As one man was being carried over the shoulders of another, he said, “I’m not dead, I’m getting better.” The reply given to the knight was: “Yes, he is,” and then the man told the one he was carrying, “Oh, don’t be such a baby!”
This is the role that human judgment is being put in. They want us to believe that the robots have won. They want us to stop trusting our instincts, ignore our knowledge and wisdom, and just trust the damn algorithms.
A Time to Thrive
Look, I don’t want to be the “Debbie Downer” at the party, but I want to remind you who wrote those algorithms — humans. I’ll be the first to agree that more data, better data, and “big data” can be extremely beneficial to decision-making, but it is not sufficient by itself. Big data can help inform the problem statement or decision goal, it can help shape decision criteria, and it can uncover alternatives that you didn’t even know existed. However, the role of human judgment will remain essential to decision-making because we set the goals, we weight the decision criteria, we place a value on the data – and we write the algorithms. With more data available than ever before, the value of human judgment is going to increase, not decrease. It is not going to die, but rather, it will thrive.
Do you want your doctor to be better informed with big data and then use his/her judgment, or do you want a machine to diagnose you and determine your treatment? Do you want your financial advisor to have access to the best data available and then use his/her judgment on which investments to make, or do you want their system to use the past to predict future performance? Do you want your autonomous car to react to an empty plastic bag like it would to a toddler crossing the street, or would you prefer to have some computer assistance while using your own judgment? Do you want your politicians to be selected based on the polling, or would you prefer to vote?
Let’s remember that this country built the world’s greatest economy in 200 years with American ingenuity and know-how, fueled by business instinct and entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s not throw the human on the cart; he’s not dead!
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John Sammarco has thirty-five years of experience leading, managing, and consulting to top public and private sector organizations, and has over twenty years of experience in facilitating complex group decisions. John founded Definitive Business Solutions in 2003, which provides world-class group decision-making solutions to increase efficiency, boost ROI, and reduce risk associated with business and technology investments. In 2016, John developed Definitive Pro™, which helps groups build consensus and make multi-criteria decisions.