Augmenting humans with technology


Gartner has just released it’s 2013 “Hype Cycle” in which the over-riding theme is “the evolving relationship between humans and machines”.

Gartner believes that there are three main trends which will enable enterprises to improve productivity, transform the citizen and customer experience, and underpin competitive advantage. These are:

  1. augmenting humans with technology — we are seeing the beginnings of this with Google Glass and the emerging concept of “wearable computing”;
  2. machines replacing humans — we already have the beginnings of this with “Siri” and other digital “virtual assistants”; and
  3. humans and machines working alongside each other — we are seeing this in mobile robots and other systems.

Gartner sees these trends as being built upon three synergistic relationships between humans and machines:

  • Machines better understanding humans and the environment;
  • Humans better understanding machines – the prime example is IBM’s “Watson” and MIT’s “Kismet”; and
  • Machines and humans becoming smarter – facilitated by big data analytics and cognitive computing approaches such as predictive analytics.

What we are seeing is the manifestation of the “social machine” and it’s great that these technologies, which have been developing over so many years in the labs I have visited during my time working with Xerox and Microsoft (in particular) are now beginning to prove their worth.

From the Web Science point of view, it is also a pivotal time to bring together the variety of disciplines (see explanation and reference to diagram developed by Nigel Shadbolt) that are required to more fully understand the implications of these socio-technical systems and the need to take a mature approach to what sorts of societies we want to live in.

In a recent article Jane Wakefield of the BBC explores the evolving interaction between people and the cities they live in, and this is just the beginning.

Exciting times, but also ones in which we should take time to ask the really important questions of not just who we are, but who we want to be.