Wednesday 22 February 2017 10:31 am

Bring on the robots: We should welcome the demise of the human machine

In decades to come, people will reflect on the present day with bewilderment and say: “they had humans doing what?”

In the blizzard of noise around a looming acceleration in technological unemployment we need to balance our fears of the rise of the robots with excitement around the impending demise of the human machine.

The era of asking people to perform deterministic, repetitive, and mundane jobs better suited for machines is nearly over, and this might hold more promise than threat. It seems paradoxical but in essence we may need to learn to love artificial intelligence to restore and embrace our humanity.

The fears we have around machines taking our jobs are really fears of abandonment. We are going to create these incredible technologies and then they are going to leave us. Experiments with living wages and universal basic income are great ways to insure against human redundancy. They don’t, however, mean we need to go all-in against our remarkable abilities to adapt, reinvent ourselves, and innovate our way out of trouble.


The transformation to a life in which we make the most out of both people and machines is going to be a bumpy and frequently wild ride. It is going to need to involve wholesale shifts in cultural consciousness alongside more instrumental transformations in organisational structures, job design, and methods of innovation. The decisions and directions we take today are the over-turning of earth that will determine the landscape when the dust settles on this smart machine revolution.

Our FuturaCorp research on AI in the workplace at Goldsmiths, in collaboration with IPSoft, considers the current and projected impact of these transformations. One question that comes up over and over is: what are humans going to do in this brave new world of machine learning and AI? Our findings suggest three kinds of roles in the work of this near-future economy.


Machines will do over 80 per cent of the deterministic, or repetitive and process-oriented jobs that take human discretion, nuance, and imagination out of the mix and rely on flowcharts and decision-trees. Humans have only been doing these jobs in a holding pattern while waiting for machines to be able to learn and understand how to do them better.


Probabilistic jobs will be done through deep 50/50 collaboration between people and smart machines. There is reciprocity here as machines reveal the probabilities and underlying data trends for humans, and humans translate the complexity and mess of the real world for machines. The core skill for humans in these problem-solving roles is computational thinking or the thought processes needed to interact with machines.


Humans will do over 80 per cent of the cross-functional jobs involving sensemaking, social and emotional intelligence, critical, lateral and novel thinking, empathy, creativity, imagination, and cultural awareness. These are qualities at the essence of our humanity. Machines will support us as sources of inspiration and muses.

We all have something unique to offer this future economy. We just need to be open to the experience and see the gradual structural changes in job and organisational design as a catalyst for the kind of radical socioeconomic transformations promised by the smart machine revolution.

Dr Chris Brauer is director of innovation in the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.The FuturaCorp report can be accessed here.