Technology to a point
By Carmel Fisher, Managing Director
09 December, 2016
You will have read the claims that artificial intelligence and robots are poised to replace a good chunk of today's workforce.
However most mainstream professionals — doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects — believe they will continue to be needed, in their human form, for at least some aspects of their roles.
Perhaps it is a case of wishful thinking, but there is some evidence to suggest human experts will always be needed for the complicated stuff that calls for judgement, creativity and empathy.
Most practitioners concede machines are going to play an increasing role in our lives, acknowledging benefits in using technology for routine and process-based tasks. If professional knowledge and expertise is systemised and made available online, it arguably frees up human talent to focus on non-routine and more complicated work that requires reasoning and thinking.
Already we are seeing a blurring of technology use and human professional interaction.
There are more monthly visits to the WebMD network — a collection of health websites — than to all the doctors in the United States.
In the world of disputes (which is big in the US) some 60 million disagreements among eBay traders are resolved annually using online dispute resolution rather than lawyers and judges. This is three times the number of lawsuits filed each year in the entire US court system.
In 2014 the US tax department received electronic tax returns from almost 50 million people who chose to rely on online tax preparation software rather than human tax professionals.
Within professional firms, technology is increasingly moving away from tailored, unique solutions for clients or patients, in favour of standardised mass market service offerings.
But humans still have the edge; in some professions at least.
A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine showed doctors are twice as effective as symptom checking apps in providing an accurate diagnosis.
When doctors in the study were armed with the medical history and symptoms of 45 patients ranging from high acuity (potentially life threatening) to low acuity, they arrived at the correct diagnosis 72% of the time, as opposed to 34% for online symptom checkers.
It turned out the doctors provided the correct diagnosis not only more often, but with greater accuracy for more complex and uncommon diagnoses. The symptom checkers were better at picking up on the more common and less serious diagnoses, but when faced with a complicated set of signs and symptoms, the doctors came out ahead.
Dr Sajit Bhusri, attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York explained the results: "As the trusty stethoscope meets the hypersonic ultrasound device, it is important to remember that technology will never bring the single most important aspect to medical care: the human touch. The idea that one of their own is there holding their hand, guiding them through their treatment and discussing all available options is something technology will never create.
"This is the 'art' of medicine. The 'science' can be replicated, but the humanity of one life impacting another will never be matched."
Perhaps this is why other professions feel confident they won't be replaced by robots.
Whether it's a medical diagnosis, a court hearing, a financial plan or the valuation of your business, most people want the best tools available, as long as they're accompanied by the human touch.