The future of humans


A few years ago the greatest Jeopardy champions challenged the Watson supercomputer. Engineers gave Watson a disadvantage. They slowed the relay time for the computer to push the response button because thumbs don’t move at the speed of light. Watson still won.

Computers are better at storing information. They solve more difficult mathematical problems faster than humans can. Thanks to sophisticated facial recognition technology computers are even able to read emotions better that we humans. They do legal research better than lawyers. They diagnose disease better than doc-tors. Before long they will drive cars better too.

Geoff Colvin discusses the future of humans in a supercomputer world in “Humans are Underrated.”

You’d think the way to stay ahead is to get better at STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math). Computers are already better at STEM than human beings ever will be.

Computers will always be better at transactions, things that can be reduced to a math problem. But a computer cannot know what to do with the data, how to interact with a human being or know what the information means.

The computer may be better at diagnosis, but you still need your doctor to explain, comfort or guide you.

My wife and I had dinner recently at a favorite restaurant. There was a touch screen computer on our table. The very nice waitress started to explain how to order from the computer. I refused even to look at the thing. When the time came to pay the bill, our nice waitress told me I could swipe my card on my table’s computer. I was perplexed and bothered. She was nice enough to let me pay my bill the old fashioned way. I gave her a big tip.

Going out to dinner is a human interaction, not a transaction. Successful people will be good at the interaction skills — empathy, listening, compassion, art and creativity. If what you do can be reduced to a math problem, sooner or later you won’t be needed.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.