In their groundbreaking book Race Against The Machine, MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee talk about digital techologies as the key drivers of our productivity and growth. At the same time, they warned that computers are now doing much of the work that people once performed. The pace of change is rapid, and the impacts not well understood.
They call it “a Great Restructuring,” a time in which “technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind.”
“We ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to technology’s impact on the labor force,” McAfee predicted when he spoke at TEDxBoston this past summer.
But data mining expert Shyam Sankar of Palantir Technologies has turned McAfee and Brynjolfsoon’s paradigm on its head. He says that the key to the future lies not trying somehow to keep pace with computer technology but in learning how to solve problems by cooperating with it.
In his 2012 TEDGlobal talk, Sankar asserts that “The interface between man and machine…is more important than the power of man or the power of machine in determining overall capability.”
Sankar envisions the rise of problem-solving systems that will leverage both the strengths of machines (memory, computational speed, and pattern recognition) and the strengths of the self-organizing human mind (creativity, intuition) — in short, what we call crowd computing. In his TED talk, he hearkens back to the theories of computer pioneer J.C.R. Linklider, one of the first advocates of human-machine symbiosis, and gave examples of such cooperative endeavors being used to design the 9/11 Memorial and visualize protein folding.