Microsoft: We still need humans!

By Stuart Sumner
20 May 2014 View Comments

Though technology is disrupting the workplace, and some jobs – including roles within IT departments – will become obsolete, humans will continue to be essential.

This reassuring view was given to Computing by Microsoft's chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin today, celebrating the launch of his new book The Rise of the Humans.

Further reading

Coplin was responding to claims made by ServiceNow CEO Frank Slootman recently, who said that the days of humans having any involvement in IT are numbered.

"The IT organisation in enterprise is overstaffed and under-automated, sometimes ridiculously so. Why is that? Why are there so many damn people and so little automation? You just haven't gotten around to it," Slootman said.

But while Coplin agrees that automation is on the rise, and some roles will disappear as a result, he disagrees that this will result in widespread redundancies.

"We paint this dystopian picture of what machines will do to the workforce, but we'll always need humans," he said.

"Technology will disrupt the workplace as it has done for hundreds if not thousands of years, but we shouldn't be retiring. It's like the stories you hear about lorries driving into low bridges, and the driver says the satnav made me do it."

He explained that although technology has the ability to perform certain functions better than humans, there will always be tasks at which people are far more capable.

"There are some cognitive tasks we think of as hard, such as multiplying very large numbers very quickly, but you can catch a ball, whereas a computer or a robot cannot," said Coplin. "A supercomputer can beat anyone in the world at chess, but it can't take the board out and set up the pieces," he argued.

While there are undoubtedly certain creative and physical functions better suited to humans, the question of whether those in charge recognise the different tasks their workforce could perform, or simply see greater automation as a way to slash the wage bill, comes down to the economic climate.

"It's the difference between being in recession and being out of recession," said Coplin. "In a recession you just want the money back [from the wage bill]. But out of recession [the board] will want to do more with people, and they'll realise if they want to survive they'll have to because otherwise their competition will be exploiting the workforce better, and they'll fall behind."

Watch the video below for the view from the delegates at Computing's Big Data Summit 2014.


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