Let humans be humans

Glyn Britton, Chief Strategy Officer at KBS Albion 

There’s a lot of hype around AI and automation destroying jobs, but the first evidence we’ve seen is that it’s enabling humans to stop doing the work of robots, and is freeing us to be more human.

My friend Kate is an accountant. She trained at and used to work at Deloitte. Since returning to work after having children though, she’s been self-employed. Most of her business has been helping local businesses with their accounts and especially their tax returns. So why then is she setting them all up on Xero so they can do these tasks themselves?

One answer is because it’s cheaper for her clients to do it that way, and she cares more about her long-term reputation than she does about her short-term earnings. The other answer is because it frees her up to play a different role for them.

Liberated from the sheer bloody-minded grunt work of collecting and processing data, she can add value to her clients in a different, more valuable, more human way. She’s become more like a freelance finance director to her clients. She’s always had the ability to do that, and her clients have always had the need for it, but the bookkeeping got in the way. Now with the bookkeeping automated, she can finally offer them the strategic advice that can help them grow.

At KBS Albion our work in the health space has seen something similar happen.

At first GPs were afeared that “AI” apps would take away their jobs. Because what the job of the GP had become, in large part, was recalling facts stored away from a long and expensive education (or increasingly querying desktop databases on behalf of patients).

But this work is better done by robots — in our case the Ada app — that are radically better at spotting patterns, interrogating datasets, and calculating probabilities.

Apps like Ada means that instead of turning up to a GP appointment with a sheaf of printouts from quack websites, patients can now arrive with a scientifically valid pre-diagnosis, meaning the doctor is freed to focus the appointment on the things that humans are great at, and robots never will be — intuition and empathy.

We’re also now working with a business that is over 200 years old, in a market that’s all about scarcity and premium.

It turns out that the core of their business is their category experts, and the relationships they cultivate over decades with potential customers.

But these experts have increasingly been distracted from those human endeavours of building trust and understanding taste by the distinctly robotic tasks of logistics management (which they’re also pretty bad at).

So, yet again, we’re going to use technology to liberate them to be more human.

And in finance, who wants to have a call centre worker do the work of a robot, asking you a series of questions, and then typing the answer into a computer on your behalf? Not the customer, nor the agent.

And yet people still have a strong desire to talk to an expert before they commit to buying a finance product, just so they can check if it feels right, to be reassured.

So what if we turn the narrative around? Look at AI and automation as an opportunity to repair, strengthen and deepen the exclusively human disciplines of empathy, intuition, judgement and creativity?

To replace the machine-like busywork that we’ve mistaken for productivity for the last 30 years, with something that is both more fulfilling and defensible against the coming robot army?

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