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The artisan and the algorithm.

Yuval Harari has a view that in only a few decades the work we do will be determined by algorithms. That sounds plausible for most of it, after all as we obsess with reducing work to measurable process we do the work necessary to clear the way for that. Right now, for many people the work they do makes them a meat based algorithm. Process, measurement and data make it so.

There is work where we should welcome algorithms. For areas from traffic control to sales, many areas of sccountancy and law and anywhere that relies on interpretation of the complicated, algorithms seem likely to do a great job. Fast, efficient, reliable, with no holidays or stress problems.

For others however, algortithms won’t even come close. When it comes to being human, and our relationship with others, from each other, to the natural world, to the divine, algorithms aren’t in the game. They may do complicated, even really really complicated, but when we get to the complex stuff of being human, then it’s no.

Which raises the question – how do we think about our relationship with the work we do? If Harari is right, it will affect those of us now in our thirties and for those of us, like me, for whom that is a fond memory, it will affect our children and grandchildren. This is our business.

“We are all the seventh generation. We are shaped by the three generations before us, and shaping the world for the three generations who will follow us”

Iroquios Federation

I think algorithms are a gift. If they feel like a threat to the work we do, then I suggest there is better work we could be doing that exercises not just our intellect, but our humanity. We have time, but not long to make the change to more human work.

Over the last couple of decades, we have developed phenomenal, life altering technologies and have also become besotted with them. We are using them I think in some areas just because we can, with a short term view to profit rather than thought or reflection on the implications.

We have got humanity and technology out balance, and that balance will restore – whether we like it or not. That doesn’t mean not using technology, but rather vacating the spaces where it works better than humans do. and occupying the areas that will improve the human condition, and which only humans can do. This will be difficult for many, requiring skills we have forgotten. A rebalancing of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) beloved of the Government education establishment and towards the four “C”s Andrew Hill in the FT cited – Compassion, Clarity, Connection and Collaboration. Human qualities we sense as much as technical qualities we can measure. From math to polymath

The work of artisans is part of the infinite game. A game played to human rules. The work of art, of caring for each other and the planet and of discovery has been going in since the beginning of humanity, and will go on till we are no more – hopefully, and with care, later rather than sooner.

Algorithms, at least for now, play finite games. They are designed to win within the finite boundaries of financial performance scorecards and short time frames. They will inexorably take the jobs of those humans who for the last couple of hundred years made livings doing the same. Algorithms are just better at it.

In our search for perpetual growth through an obsession with efficiency and performance, we have submerged the power of our essential humanity. It’s time to surface it again.

We cannot move from technical mindsets to artistic mindsets overnight, and we do not want to overdo it – it requires balance, not dominance. It will be gradual but accelerating path and is, with effort easily within our grasp. The key lies on collaboration.

That’s for next week.

Have a great weekend.

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