The “centaur approach” to technology

Nick IngramStrategy0 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately and how it’s going to impact humans at work. One client of mine is undertaking a strategic look at the future of work (and wondering about the future effects of AI on people and work); at the same time I’m preparing for a workshop in Palo Alto with a tech company that works directly on the interface of humans and machines.

The future seems to be cast in almost Manichean terms. Either the humans will win or the machines will win – but there won’t be space for both. In its most benign versions you end up with Keynes’ view of a leisure society (just 50 years later than he predicted) with everyone living on a universal wage while the machines run the world. We seem to think that technology will replace us – and that the future of work is technological, not human.

But I wonder about that.

What if the future worker is a centaur? That is, not a person on their own. And not a horse (the technology) on its own. But rather a combined living breathing beast – half person, half horse. What if the best worker in the future is not simply a human being, or simply an AI, but rather the human and the AI deeply working together?

If you look, you start seeing hints of this.

Already, the most formidable chess player on the planet is not a computer, and it’s not a human – rather it’s a human using an AI. Both using strengths that complement each other. These pieces on “cyborg chess” and “centaur chess” are worth a read (and yes, that’s where I got the metaphor – but for an old D&D player how could I go past it?)

And I saw another hint this week in this “centaur direction”. In response to reports that Apple is stepping back from its car project, Benedict Evans tweeted a series of very insightful observations:

And that’s what I’m wondering. Is the winning strategy for work a “new UI” or really a whole new user experience – AIs and people very closely working together? The centaur gets to run again.

I’ll be in the US on business for the next ten days – I’ll try to post from there each Sunday but timings may shift. I’ll certainly be trying to get a sense of what it’s like over there the week before the election. As always, if you’re enjoying this blog drop me a line and I’ll pop you on the email distribution list (email me at nick@clearthinking.co).

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