Gini Dietrich

How Will You Adapt to Technology Replacing Humans?

By: Gini Dietrich | September 24, 2012 | 

My entrepreneurial brain is in fast-forward right now, trying to figure out what happens to human beings as computers replace models, actors, writersHR departments, and maybe even teachers.

I realize this happened to manufacturing many years ago and humans have adapted, which is why it makes me think about how we’ll adapt and whether or not there is a business I can start that will help us get there.

A Few Examples

A company here in Chicago, Narrative Science, has created algorithms that tell stories human beings don’t tell. For instance, the play-by-play of Little League games or the financial reporting of the Fortune 500 that Forbes and Fortune don’t report, typically the companies at the bottom of the list.

Augmented reality is creating the opportunity for models to be computer-generated in catalogs and print ads, cutting down on labor costs and time associated with getting the exact, right shot.

Companies, such as Xerox, are leaving call center hiring decisions to software because it uses big data to determine whether or not a person will stay in the job long enough for the company to recoup its training investment…and it’s all based on personality, not skill set.

And now computerized tutors are popping up for math and science students…the type of learning that is easily computerized because it is data-driven.

But what does all of this mean to those of us working in the fields where, until today, have required human interaction, eye contact, and a way with words?

Forward Thinking

Right now, Arment Dietrich is dependent on human interaction and client service. A second business we’re getting ready to launch, Spin Sucks Pro, teaches people about our human, client service-oriented profession via computer-generated content.

While that second business has pretty big projections because it’s easier to scale than a business reliant on people, we don’t know whether or not it’ll succeed. We think it will, based on the trend of computers replacing people, but are humans really ready for that? Will computers ever totally replace humans? Will we still need in-person interaction?

What do you do in your job every day? Do you face the risk of being replaced by an algorithm? How are you preparing for a future where your cognitive skills may no longer be needed?

A version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Jeffswildside

    @ginidietrich Olduvai Gorge an it’s ancient inhabitants played the tech game first n we’ve evermore moved forward. 2 late 2 try n stop it

    • ginidietrich

      @Jeffswildside I agree…that’s why I want to get people talking about how they’ll adapt.

      • Jeffswildside

        @ginidietrich C that Cheetah sitting on that Safari vehicle? Want 1

  • Of course you used Robert Downey, Jr. as the image in the post. Of course. 

  • maryhruth

    Sure, robots can do lots of things, but can they truly be creative? The actor, the writer, the teacher are most valuable in their quirky creativity, which I don’t think machines can match. Am I wrong about that?

    •  @maryhruth No, I don’t think you’re wrong. It pains me a computer could replace me, as a writer. I would have to go back to writing in my journals, just to get the words out of my head. But it’s happening. I mean, movies are being created without actors and catalogs are being printed without models.

  • I wish computers and robots could do half the stuff I do. That would free me to think more about the big picture items and strategy.
    And it would give me more time with the cats, which is most important.

    •  @JayDolan The cats really do need more time with you.

  • It’s a fine line. Technology has made a lot of things easier for us and the concept of it replacing humans is far from new. But it is something we need to watch. Where is the line between helpful and creepy? Sometimes very hard to tell.

    •  @katskrieger I have a feeling the industrial revolution faced this very question.

  • Did you see today’s Wall Street Journal? A huge pull-out about driverless cars!! No, really. The auto critic sat in the driver’s seat heading down the race track and careening around the curves in a BMW that was driving itself. He had no control over pedals or the wheel. 
    The app in London that hails you a taxi with smartphone…one of the biggest downloads since sliced bread…imagine taking the human interaction out of hailing a cab in Chicago? Can you visualize Michigan Ave where guys on the street are just looking at a smartphone and a yellow cab pulls up and the guy hops in? 
    But driverless cars…how would the teenagers learn how to drive?

    •  @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Oh we do that here – no more hailing a cab. You just tell your phone what you need and it shows up. On time even. I love that, especially in winter.
      I’m also VERY intrigued about driverless cars. VERY!

  • For Spin Sucks Pro, is the content computer “generated”? Or aggregated and distributed? Some human will have done the creative part, right?

    Computers are low-wage competition. Either we can fret that we can’t compete with them for tasks that are easily standardized and replicated, or we incorporate what they can do for us, raise the bar on the value we can add.

    • rdopping

      @barrettrossie what he said……beeyatch. Architecture is a prime example of that statement. Here’s to raising the bar (and a beer).

    • belllindsay

       @barrettrossie Thanks Barrett – I was starting to worry about my future at Spin Sucks a little bit…. 😉 

    •  @barrettrossie It’s definitely created by us, but it’s much more scalable because it’s not reliant on human beings to grow, like the Arment Dietrich side is. It’s hard to scale a business that uses humans as the service. Very hard.

      • @ginidietrich 🙂 Glad to have that clarified!

        I’ll tell you the same thing I told Jayme Soulati on her blog this morning: I should never comment with the ipad, while lying in bed, before coffee.

  • I can’t read this yet because I am still looking at that fine picture of my boyfriend. 

    • rdopping

      @RebeccaTodd snort.

    • I thought you had a crush on Charles Arment. 

    •  @RebeccaTodd He’s MY boyfriend. I will fight you!

      • belllindsay

         @ginidietrich  @RebeccaTodd Girls. As I am older, I think it’s safe to say that he was MY boyfriend FIRST. 

        •  @belllindsay  @RebeccaTodd Look. I’m super laid back about most things, but you will not win this fight. 

        • belllindsay

           @ginidietrich  @RebeccaTodd Last in, first out. #rules

        •  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich I thought somehow she had seen our private convo, G…

        •  @ginidietrich  @belllindsay  @RebeccaTodd Cage match!

  • rdopping

    Architecture is becoming increasingly complex and the methods for construction are also evolving but at a much slower pace. At through small scale (homes for instance) or for buildings such as warehouses there are factory ready parts and components but for architecture in general the creative is not yet possible without a human. Technology plays a big role in documenting the process for construction and I can see that evolving eventually but as far as creating design whether in architecture, industrial or graphic design I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

    •  @rdopping This makes me think of the McMansions that all look the same and go up in about two months. There is no creativity required there and it can all be created without humans. But then we run the risk of everything looking the same and that sounds like an icky world.

      • belllindsay

         @ginidietrich  @rdopping I hate those McMansions. 

        •  @belllindsay  @rdopping Me too. I love my house that was built in 1892. But not everyone likes “character.”

        • belllindsay

           @ginidietrich  @rdopping Give me Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater *any day* over a hideous McMansion. 

        •  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich  @rdopping Indeed! My house is 111 years old. The floors may not be level, but I sleep in a turret! 

        • belllindsay

           @RebeccaTodd  @ginidietrich  @rdopping Nothing is level in my house either. 😀 But I really wish I had a turret. 

        •  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich  @rdopping I’m growing my hair out Rapunzel style, just in case…

        • rdopping

           @RebeccaTodd  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich What? Do you ascend on a circular stair as well there Rapunzel?

        •  @rdopping  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich It’s kind of more square with three landings, but the general effect is the same. 

  • I would like to think commercial insurance and the complexities around risk management will always require human interaction, but as buyers become more and more sophisticated, who knows? The purchase of insurance can certainly be automated, but at best, that’s only 50% of the equation for the larger accounts with a lot more moving parts involved. 
    At least in my industry I think real people will always have a place; how we get paid however might evolve into something different though. 
    You will always buy insurance, always; somebody has to be on the back end of that to make sure it goes like it is supposed to, right? 
    How was da Bears game; everybody luvin’ Cutler again? 

    • @bdorman264 a lot to love about that 186 yds and interception… Lots to love

    •  @bdorman264 I don’t know if I agree. Of course, I’m not in your business every day, but I do buy insurance for the business and there certainly is a lot our broker does that I think a computer can do much more efficiently (and wouldn’t require me to sit in endless boring meetings about it). 
      Poor Cutler. I’m not a fan, but he really has no offensive line. It was like watching a JV game until halftime yesterday. Jeez.

      •  @ginidietrich For businesses your size, most of the policies are somewhat standardized, so it would be very easy to automate that transaction. And yes, you wouldn’t have to listen to blah, blah, blah. However, you wouldn’t get to see my smiling face, and that has to be worth at least a dollar three eighty seven. 
        In the event of a claim, you might need some human involvement but there is probably a way to automate that as well w/ pictures, vids & statements. 
        On the larger accounts we assist with a lot more than just policy placement and just like a business could do what you do in-house if they allocated the resources to it; sometimes it’s best they just stick to what they do best and out-source risk management, safety & insurance. 

        •  @bdorman264 What are you saying? You’re too good for my business?!? As if.

  • suddenlyjamie

    Such an interesting question, Gini. 
    I am all for efficient automation to handle repetitive and administrative tasks. In fact, I wish I had a personal robot who could handle those for me right now – today! 🙂 
    I don’t think what I do will be replaced by an algorithm any time soon, but perhaps that’s my own conceit. I think that humans still have am uncontested dominion over the creative arts – be they “fine” arts (like music, painting, sculpture, etc) or the more “workaday” arts (like what I do – creative marketing strategies and copy). I have vague recollections of articles that talk about robotic artists creating the first non-human works of art, but I don’t count those as true art. Art comes from the soul, from the heart. It comes from dreams and desires. Robots and machines don’t have souls or hearts. They do not dream or have desires. Therefore, they cannot create art … either fine or workaday. 
    There are a lot of moral and ethical questions tied up around how deeply technology becomes ingrained in our lives. I think the key is keeping eyes wide open and asking questions all the way. We don’t want to wake up one day in the Matrix, but we also want to take advantage of all the ways technology can help free up our time for the human pursuit of creation. 

    •  @suddenlyjamie I agree there are things a computer can never do, just as you’ve described here. It’s one of the things we’ve talked about, over and over again, with companies such as Narrative Science. They can great scripts that allow computers to write stories for data-driven articles. But can those scripts eventually get so sophisticated that it no longer takes a person to write anything?

    •  @suddenlyjamie P.S. Happy Birthday!

      • suddenlyjamie

         @ginidietrich I don’t believe a machine can be programmed to create the kind of writing I’D like to read. Certain types of content will lend themselves to a “production process” that can be automated, but more analytical/strategic/creative types of writing will always – in my humble opinion – need to have the human element. PS – Tks for the b’day wishes! 🙂 

  • What are you trying to do to me, Gini? Just when I thought I had a handle on myself you shoved a robot in front of me … with his silicon tongue wagging in my face. Meanie!
    You know, we have no idea, really, how we’ll adapt. But adaptation is our strength as a species. We’ll do whatever it takes whenever the necessity arises. It’s good and fun to speculate but we really don’t know what’s around the corner and what ideas we’ll come up with in those moments. I just know we always have and if we ever stop, well … we won’t.
    After all, we’re the ones creating those robots, aren’t we? I think we can keep up. 😉

    •  @Carmelo I go back and forth on that very issue – do I need to, as a business owner, create a company (or revenue stream) that takes advantage now or do I wait and see where it all goes? I don’t know.

      •  @ginidietrich Yeah, I know. The answer is probably in testing and adapting. One thing at a time.

  • CHopeMurray

    At the end of the day any algorithm is following a script, do this to x, that to y and then do it z times over, with innumerable variations.  Scripts are useful and can relieve humans from drudgery and toil, and we have increasingly used them over the years.  We will, of course, continue to do so for the foreseeable future, improving them where and when we can for greater relief and more efficient use of resources.  In general it is a good thing if we can accurately and effectively replace human effort with algorithms because that task, whatever it is, can only be repetitive and unlikely to change, 
    However life is never static and we have to deal with entropy, the force that demands change and reaction.  And yes there are algorithms that do this too, as the investment world knows only too well.  This is the grey area and one that demands vigilant supervision, as relinquishing authorship of new algorithms and scripts to cyber-control can have the opposite of the intended effect, burdening humankind instead of assisting it.  That doesn’t mean don’t go there, it just suggests that when we take that path we have the knowledge and available resources to prevent and recover from any mishaps on the way.

    •  @CHopeMurray Great analysis. Thank you. How do you think this will continue to evolve the professions that, right now, require a human being? For instance, do you think a computer could ever comment on blog posts, as you and I are doing now?

      • CHopeMurray

         @ginidietrich great question, and I am not sure I have a good answer; for the blog case you suggest we are still a long way from being able to write the algorithms to effectively analyze such content, and more importantly the context in which that content exists.  We have gained some mastery of textual analysis, are beginning to find our feet on sentiment analysis based on  early understanding of semantic (surface meaning) and synaptic (proximity relationship).  Yet we are still unable to accurately or easily break down signs and symbols (semiotics) ideas and thoughts (memetics), all of which are needed for a thorough understanding of any given post. And not to pour too much cold water on the potential, we still have to deal with the Humpty Dumpty syndrome – “I say what I mean and I mean what I say”, or to put it another way the challenge of personal language, vocabulary and definition.  And we thought Electronic Data Exchange (EDI) was far from easy, and conceptually it was – now we have millions of parameters to deal with.
        I am always amazed at how quickly technology can progress, and I suspect many of these requirements will be satisfied to some degree in the next decade, maybe not all but enough of them to satisfy an adequate result.  My fear is that we know more and understand less, we accumulate information, but skimp on knowledge and then eschew wisdom, so the surface analysis is as far as we go.

        •  @CHopeMurray Ohhhh. I like having you around. This is very good information! 
          I’m with you – the pace at which technology changes is incredible, but I also fear we’re missing things such as critical thinking because we’re hit with so many messages throughout our days. Technology has made this possible.

    • @ginidietrich, I nominate @CHopeMurray for comment of the week.

      • CHopeMurray

         @barrettrossie   Appreciate the thought, but it’s the question that deserves the applause.  It really demands us each to think deeply on how we can contribute and participate on levels unreachable by computer algorithms.  Computers can help us understand the cycles of thought and effort that algorithms can replace . They can also direct us to information, and provide synthesis and analysis from which we can generate and evolve new ideas and thoughts.  We cannot sit back idly and allow computer intelligence to be our surrogate, we have to be aware of the risks and the opportunities and constantly raise the bar on our own capabilities.

  • No computer could have the patience that I display on a daily basis… Oh wait, they’re emotionless, so they would have even more patience than me. For now, I can only hope 🙂 But I like the general direction that you are headed. Once my kids’ generation gets put into positions of power, look out, we’ll see things we never dreamt of!

    •  @SociallyGenius Darn. I was going to say what your second sentence said. Carry on.

  • Alright- comment, edit 27- Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It has a lot to say on the subject. The end. 

    •  @RebeccaTodd You. Kill. Me.

      •  @ginidietrich I started waxing poetic about rechargeable batteries and reined myself in. 

  • AnneReuss

    @CHopeMurray Colin! I have not seen you on the chat circuit. How the heck are you?

    • CHopeMurray

      @AnneReuss I need to get back to a few – focused on #SWchat but will return to #bizforum #influencechat #hbrchat soon – how bout you?

      • AnneReuss

        @CHopeMurray I haven’t gone to these. I’ll have to follow you soon. I’m a regular at #mobilechat and #mediachat and you’d like #awetalk

        • CHopeMurray

          @AnneReuss Thanks for pointers – just got my 1st Android so #mobilechat seems a must, as does #awetalk – catch up with you at one or t’other

        • MarketingMusing

          @CHopeMurray Hi Colin. #MobileChat is every Wed at 9pm ET. Our guest this week is @QuickMobile. cc @AnneReuss

        • RedeApp

          @chopemurray @AnneReuss #mobilechat is, indeed, a must. We look forward to having you! Every Wed, 9pmET. Details:

        • CHopeMurray

          @MarketingMusing @redeaApp @AnneReuss how could I forego such welcoming invitations? – I’ll be there on #mobilechat at 9pm ET Wed

        • MarketingMusing

          @CHopeMurray Coolio! #MobileChat / @RedeApp @annereuss

  • People can’t be sized up by beeps, bells and whistles. Those personality tests still miss things and the filters can’t catch it all. You can’t get around some stuff that comes with being a person that only another person would catch.

    •  @thejoshuawilner Which I agree with, but the fact still remains that it’s happening. I mean, movies are being created without actors. That’s just insane.

  • kmueller62

    @belllindsay you’re human?

    • belllindsay

      @kmueller62 HA! Some might argue that, but I appear to be.

  • geoffliving

    Damn you, Gini!  Now I have to link to this in my post about marketing automation tomorrow. I hate that when that happens. LOL.

  • I remember taking my younger son to se Steven Speilberg’s “AI” some years ago and being brought almost to tears by the issues faced in the movie that related to automation vs. humanity. After the movie we waked away and I told myself, uneasily, that it had only been a movie. Uh huh.
    In the intervening years it has only gotten harder to dismiss the ethical and practical concerns raised by increasing automation. Not gonna get any easier, either.We argue (some of us until we are blue in the face) about the use of automated tools in our digital lives. Yet, with every new expansion, tool and genius idea, those questions are posed again. For all of us. For any of us who are paying attention.
    I find it unsettling. I rely on and celebrate certain aspects of automation today. Yet I am uneasy with the direction things can go and may go. Again (such is my fate) sitting squarely in the middle. And wondering (and, like many, getting ready to pack a knapsack and head for the hills).

    •  @allenmireles Should we head for the hills of Italy? I’m game for that!

  • Max_Daddy_DC

    @geoffliving “When this circuit learns your job, what are you going to do?”
    –Marshall McLuhan, 1967 #SAHD #DadsTalking @ginidietrich

  • I have one word for this: WALL-E
    If you remember the humans in that movie. There you go.

  • There’s several ways this could play out, and several of the scenarios depend on where we are as a global community. If we still have this idea of poor people as deadbeats, affluent people will be ruthlessly displaced by robotics as they become part of the disenfranchised.

    If we have moved far enough towards treating with some base level of dignity, we’ll have what I think of as the Star Trek future, where robots like adapts work alongside humans. There might still be a class issue as some jobs will be seen as more robot-suited, but Indont think it will be pronounced. And I think it could generate as many jobs as it displaces but in different fields. For example, there are no more secretary pools and few fax machines. But there are a lot more help desk and call center jobs, plus desktop printers.

    In the near future or the far, it will be our personalities and how we treat each other that make the biggest difference.

    As for a business to start – I don’t know. I think I’ll land on the side of being an investor.

    •  @Tinu Will you invest in my ideas, then??

      •  @ginidietrich But of course. I can safely assume that it won’t suck, will be well-researched and not hurt anyone. So yes. 

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  • maryhruth

    Heh. Did you catch LZ’s take on this subject today?

  • Technology can only make what I do better, it can never create art, so my job (and profession) is safe 🙂

    •  @danperezfilms Except now Buddy can’t star in the film…it’ll be a computer-generated dog instead.

  • TacomaLynette

    @leaderswest how’s the Midwest treating you? Cooler weather yet? Indian summer around here. Amazing!

    • leaderswest

      @TacomaLynette Sadly, it is warmer in W. Washington than here. My love for Cincinnati is quickly changing from dating love to married love.

      • TacomaLynette

        @leaderswest Yeah, it was practically balmy this morning! At least married love is comfortable, and constant!

        • leaderswest

          @TacomaLynette hmm, when you frame it like that I may have to reconsider if Cincinnati does that for me? 🙂

        • TacomaLynette

          @leaderswest Lol!

  • It’s a bit scary thinking about computers taking over but it’s inevitable. 
    I think humans will always be useful for artistic input.

    •  @Tubeblogr I think so, too. It’ll be kind of cool (and a little scary) to see how our jobs change in the next few years.

  • datamodel

    @nigelcameron @TedRubin @ginidietrich by getting welfare and unemployment checks.

  • IAMGeoffKnight

    @TedRubin @ginidietrich hire a human to figure it out

  • WillSennett

    @TedRubin @ginidietrich Like in WallE? In reality I hope it forces us to learn to do new and exciting things

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