The Augmented Age: An Accelerated Path


In a post from the summer of 2019, I explored the notion of an Augmented Age: a future where our natural human capabilities are radically augmented in three ways: Computational systems will help us think. Robotic systems will help us make. And a digital nervous system will connect us to the world far beyond what our natural nervous system can offer. Fast-forward to a world altered by COVID-19: Are we on an accelerated path to augmentation and automation? This recent Forbes Article takes an interesting look at the question from the perspective of lights out factories.

As is the case with almost everything these days, author Nathan Linder sees the conversation about automation picking up as a result of the pandemic. Reimagining StructureHe sees expanding budgets and more venture funding going to automation start-ups. But, unlike what you might expect from a discussion on the topic, Mr. Linder sees the topic through an augmentation lens. His view is driven by past failures of lights out factories, rooted in two primary causes: manufacturing work is complex and automation is inflexible. To get automation right, Mr. Linder believes we must evolve how we work. Although now seven years old, this post on Structural Change came at this issue the same way: we must reimagine the structures that form the foundation of business and society. Digitizing these structures – built for a different era – accomplishes very little.

In the context of eliminating human labor, our author believes it is driven by a faulty assumption: if automation is more efficient and less error-prone than humans, then more automation will lead to greater efficiency. But he argues that at the heart of human error isn’t human mistakes, it’s a product of bad system design. He states:

“In a summary of years of research into human performance, system design, and workplace errors, the Department of Energy came to a surprising conclusion. The group found that as much as 70% of human errors are really attributed to “organizational weaknesses.” In other words, humans make mistakes because complex or badly designed workflows set them up to fail.” 

Let’s apply this to the autonomous vehicle scenario. As I reported in this Post on the subject, human error is the cause of 93% of car crashes. So while this structural change and augmentation works in the case of factories, removing humans from the driving equation would seem to be the answer there. So, augmented versus automated is likely to take multiple paths. Engineering humans completely out of the factory may be a mistake. But the question I asked in the Augmented Age post will remain front and center: will the augmented age ultimately lead to the human replacement age?

Explore more about COVID-19 via these earlier posts.

FEATUREDA Post Pandemic Society

11 thoughts on “The Augmented Age: An Accelerated Path

  1. How refreshing to read thoughts so similar to mine. We so often feel alone or solo. We think maybe no one feels the same. We are wrong. All of us want the same things. The future will unfold and it is entirely our choice to embrace it or den7y it. I think that AI will be the big game-changer along with 3d PRINTING. it is inevitable that our world is changing yet again.
    Having lived from the end of the agro age, the industrial age, and now the techno age.It is scary and exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

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