Back to the Future of Business

Go is the oldest game in the world. I used to play it when I was younger, and I was intrigued when I was told the greatest Go masters were more deft than a computer, because Go was as much an art as a discipline. When Garry Kasparov lost to Deep Blue in a 1996 chess match in which Kasparov had no ability to psych out his opponent, the supremacy of machine over man was seen as a watershed moment. Still, no computer had beaten a Go champion.

Twenty years later, one of the world's greatest Go players, Lee Sodol, was beaten by AlphaGo, a Google creation. Also in 2016, ROSS, the world's first Artificially Intelligent lawyer, powered by the same Watson technology that fueled Kasparov's defeat, as well as that of Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings, began its auspicious debut at one law firm, and mushroomed within months to 10 firms. And while artificial intelligence is pretty mind-blowing, I'm really intrigued by Machine Learning--giving machines the ability to learn. Because Google is already having its computers teach themselves things like encryption. The learning curve for these machines will hockey stick upwards in no time. 

On Long Island and even in New York City, it's easy to forget that technological automation is progressing at a breakneck speed. Uber hardly registers a blip on the Island, and it's not self-driving in New York as it has been in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. But autopilot is alive and well in those Teslas I see on the road. And human replacement may be associated with autonomous cars right now, but its growth is evident in self-checkout at Target and Home Depot and "Internet of Things" devices in our homes. It is not so hard to imagine most of our work will be obviated by technology sooner than we think.

Almost 20 years ago, my mind broadened in a way I had not anticipated when I read futurist Ray Kurzweil's "Age of Intelligent Machines" and "Age of Spiritual Machines." More recently, within the past decade, I watched "Transcendent Man" on Netflix and ran out and bought Kurzweil's book "Transcendent." He posits a time when we will all be part technology. Synthetic organs, titanium bone replacements, and swallowable nanobot pills will be commonplace methods of having us live longer in a technological age. And we will continue to interact with technology in decidedly human ways, as my children do with the Amazon Echo, "whom" they treat as a highly intelligent pet named "Alexa."

I now lease (rather than finance and own) cars because I don't know when I will be making the radical shift to electric or self-driving. I now expect computer analysis in most learned professional fields to be more accurate than the most astute human within years, not decades. And, serving people who build business from brilliant and creative ideas, I find myself talking to them about preparing for a day when a robot or computer could do a lot of the work they do now.

But I have one hope for humans in the workplace: the human touch. The inefficient and emotional mind, a warm hand providing compassionate assurance, the blinking and flawed eyes prone to water in the most poignant moments. I have faith that more of the human touch in business transactions will remain in high demand and at a premium for a long time to come. At least until we can no longer distinguish human from machine.