99 & 1

I had the opportunity last week to meet with Scott Klososky from TriCorps and our own Matthew Bertram to talk about technology at Kimray. Machine Intelligence will continue to have significant impact on our lives both at and away from work. We will get used to hearing words like robotics, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, machine learning, deep learning, recommendation engine, predictive analytics and when several of these are combined, cognitive computing. We can effectively use Machine Intelligence to do jobs that are dangerous for people, to make decisions that require access to large amounts of ever-changing data, to perform work that requires extreme precision, and to solve complex problems at faster speeds and greater effectiveness.

We already have a form of cognitive computing at Kimray. In territory 8 we have robots which handle parts, artificial intelligence and machine learning interfaced into the machines to monitor and make decisions based on a host of variables, and predictive analytics to determine when tools will wear out, just to name a few. When people tour territory 8, I tell them the robots are the obvious and visually exciting part of what is going on, but the integrated systems that are doing all the other things are the real stars of the show.

We can and will go a lot farther down this road. I don’t think it is ethical to say we care about people and then constrain them to old ways of doing things that require repetitive and potentially dangerous work on their part. If we care about our people, we should be taking the load of repetitive tasks off of them and free them to do systems level and problem-solving work.

There are too many places we could utilize Machine Intelligence to count. Many of them will free a person from doing low level repetitive work so they can focus on making decisions on the variable processes. We will also see an increase in throughput which will allow us to continue to compete, remain profitable and provide even better wages and benefits. I am excited about this future and fully committed to pursuing these advantages.

During the presentation last week, Scott shared a video of Google Assistant making a haircut appointment. This is a case of Artificial Intelligence (AI) acting where before a human would have. This could be great, or it could be problematic. In cases where some form of AI replaces a human interacting with data, or parts, or a dangerous environment, it can be a great benefit to people. However, some interactions, though repetitive and often minor, should be handled by people.

Let’s look at a couple possibilities.

There are several processes at Kimray where a person takes a piece of paper (real or virtual) and either looks at it to match it with other data or enters the information from it into another system. AI can easily do this for most of the instances and can inform a person when it cannot match or interpret the incoming content. This is a process we should work to automate.

There are also many times a day when a person calls to ask a question. Many of these calls are for the same information, like team members calling to ask questions about our benefits. While AI could be used to process these requests efficiently and quickly, something would be missing. When someone calls People and Culture to ask about our benefits or insurance, it sometimes means something is wrong. By having a person answering these questions over and over, we have the opportunity to sense when someone needs more than just a simple answer to a benefits question. I am not sure AI is a good solution for this process.

We need to be careful that we use technology wisely. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. If we keep our mission and core values in front of us, we will be able to discern when we should automate something and when we shouldn’t. Human interactions are important, and we should be careful about replacing those interactions with AI.

Individual people have value and should be treated with respect. Interestingly, Jesus saw the individual as valuable even as he worked to save the whole world. He even talked about what this looked like in a parable about a shepherd and his sheep. In this story, a shepherd has 100 sheep and one gets lost. The shepherd leaves the 99 behind and goes looking for the lost sheep. The 1 is as valuable as 99. I can hear Scott tell me that with technology the sheep wouldn’t have gotten lost in the first place. To Jesus, shepherding is not a task that can be automated.

We are supposed to live in community and interact with one another. We are supposed to care for and take care of one another. While we could potentially “outsource” much of this to AI, we will do so at great peril.

I am excited about the future of automation at Kimray. There are so many things we can accomplish—probably more than 99. Let’s just not lose the one in the process.