What Makes People Different than Machines


Great Blizzard of 1888
I remember the first time we had a big now storm; I was six years old. We dug tunnels for our short selves and soon we had a labyrinth. Was it cold? We could not feel it all bundled up, busy digging and smoothing the white surface, the three of us for once working as a unit, each doing her share.

A memory that came back to me as the photo above was being shared on Twitter yesterday. Cities faced difficult logistics of where to put the snow when clearing streets even then. What a bonanza for us! It kept us busy for hours and out of mother’s way. Respite and joy at seeing us so happy.

This is what characterizes humans — the ability to create something, an adventure, a story, a machine, out of the materials at hand.

With the advances made in technology and artificial intelligence, many conversations are taking place on humans and machines. As part of a debate on the future of work, Esko Kilpi# says:

[… ] The thing is that people can only accomplish their work in the necessarily uncertain and ambiguous conditions through ongoing conversations with each other. Work is negotiation.

Conversation is a tool to negotiate meaning, and interact with others. We interact by necessity, because alone we cannot do it all. As we move more and more toward complexity in business, we get back to basics on what drew us together and gave birth to the corporation: the act of making promises together, as a collective.

Kilpi says:

An enterprise that is conceptualized as a social business, should (1) serve the purposes, the will, of all its constituents. It should (2) enable its parts to participate in the selection of both the ends and the means that are relevant to them personally. If the parts of a system are (3) treated as purposeful, they must (4) have the freedom to choose and to act, not independently, but interdependently. This is because the basic unit of work is (5) interaction between interdependent people.

This means that the defining characteristic of a social business is the increased, non-algorithmic, variety of behaviors that is available. It is not necessarily about common goals or shared purposes any more. It is a common movement of thought that always surprises us.

I am following closely the work and thinking of Bud Caddell and the NOBL Collective for two main reasons: a) it is a manifestation of this new model; b) it seeks to address complexity through network knowledge and experience.

We do need to rethink the value of human effort. At Ignite Austin in 2011 I captured this sentiment in relation to the question of women in tech in 2021:

OF COURSE there are women in tech, and their agenda is precisely the same as men. 

The shift will occur when instead of thinking — and talking about — the inherently sexist idea of women (or men) in tech, we focus instead on the co-creation aspects. Think of that as the creative spirit, which traditionally is expressed in feminine poetic terms.

THAT is what we need. Balanced humanism is what we need as active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. That is what technology wants.

What makes people different than machines, says Kolpi:

The way our organizations are conceptualized has a great effect on what people do, and what they do affects the way organizations are conceptualized. Enterprises have always consisted of people who have ideas, intentions and a will of their own. Now it really matters. All people can be creators. All people are creators!

So we are.

[image via]


Conversation Agent – Valeria Maltoni