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People-Based Vs. System-Based Solutions

By Ludvig Brisby Jeppsson
Business Columnist

With the upcoming presidential election, the media has been full of details and interviews about the presidential candidates. But the political system that the new president will work within has not been discussed nearly as much.

Part of the explanation is probably due to the fact that governmental politics is affected and relies heavily upon the people within it. Even though there are legal and constitutional structures, politics, when viewed as an industry, offers a people-based solution to the problem how a nation should be governed. Why else would it matter so much who is elected?

On other fronts, though, society seems to be moving in a different direction, solving problems through system-based solutions rather than with people-based systems. The job market is becoming more and more automated, and in the future it is likely that many of the jobs today will be replaced with systems and computers.

Cars are getting closer to becoming self-driven every day. Internally, companies in every field are using software systems to capture, keep track of, and use the increasing amount of data available. Even when it comes to individuals, digitalization has made it easy to use apps for systematic approaches for losing weight, controlling sleep or studying.

The phenomenon is not something new. Digitalization might have sped up the process lately but ever since the Industrial Revolution, machines and systems have affected the way companies work. The speed, stability and repeatability of machines often outcompete human production, making these more efficient and chapter solutions than labor by hand.

People, however, have qualities that machines have not had in the past, including flexibility, ability to learn, complex problem-solving skills, communication and creativity—all important qualities when it comes down to decision-making. But what is happening now is the artificial intelligence is moving forward, starting to mimic these human qualities.

The most used example of computer intelligence is often playing chess. The ability to plan, be logical and strategic were thought to be typical human qualities, until a computer beat the world’s best chess player. Interestingly, though, when a human uses a computer to play against another computer the human wins, even though the computer the human is using has less computational power.

Therefore, the term human-computer cooperation is trending, suggesting that a symbiosis between people and systems is the way forward. And in some ways it’s already here. When a pilot files an airplane today, it is  mostly a monitoring and controlling task, intervening when human decisions have to be made.

So it doesn’t seem like cost, speed and efficiency are the only reasons for using systems instead of people. There are qualities those systems offer that humans don’t, for example, handing a lot of data and not having to deal with the impact of human error and irrational behavior. For instance, train crashes can be avoided with automatic breaking systems.

In politics, though, where decision-making is the core, we will naturally continue to rely upon the people we elect. But maybe even the current system of politics and how it could be improved by systems should be debated. The technology of today could make it possible to retrieve the public opinion instantly, opening for using more direct democracy. Then comes the question about how much decisive power there should be. In order to be part of a solution, the value that a person adds through flexibility and dealing with new situations has to outweigh the cost of the unpredictability and irrationality brought into the system by humans.

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