I woke at 7 AM with a text from Delta saying my flight had been changed. Before I could even focus my eyes on the message I marveled at how efficient the airlines had become, or had they? After my sleepiness ebbed thanks to a cup of steaming coffee, I realized my now four hour flight had turned into a fourteen hour ordeal. Between outsourcing and robotic algorithms I started to wonder if humans were even necessary anymore.
We all enjoy the benefits of having Siri as our personal assistant or Pandora picking our favorite songs. We have self-checkout kiosks and the next great wave of technology will include self-driving cars and advances in artificial intelligence. So where is the human element to this information age? Machines outperforming humans is a tale as old as the industrial revolution. However, the one thing computers don’t have is a brain or common sense.
That’s where Linda comes in. When I realized I would be sitting in New York for seven hours on a layover and getting into Rochester at midnight instead of 4:30 PM, I picked up the phone and called the airlines. Hoping to get a human, I was grateful to hear “Thanks for calling Delta, this is Linda, how may I assist you today Ms. Cross.” I had already done some research and found three other options for flights getting in within 15-30 minutes of my original time. I offered up the information and flight numbers and within a few minutes I was rebooked and all set to go with little to no inconvenience. I asked Linda why they re-routed me with a seven hour layover and she told me that algorithms pick the options and their automated system rebooks customers and notify them. What the computer didn’t know is that my elderly parents would be unable to drive to the airport at midnight to pick me up, nor was I willing to sit around all day.
This is where humans are essential, algorithms use statistical patterns in data while computers learn to improve the efficiency of many different work processes such as customer care, flight rebooking’s or toll collection on the highways for example. But do we want them babysitting our kids, making life decisions or assessing our medical condition? As this type of machine learning and technology continues to advance many employees will struggle to keep their jobs. While I understand efficiencies and bringing more dollars to the bottom line we should all be cautious that we don’t let technology remove our humanity all together.
Jodi Cross is a marketing strategist, speaker and writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.