Don’t confuse automation and augmentation

Don’t confuse automation and augmentation

Don’t confuse automation and augmentation

The most common questions I am asked today are about automation in one form or another. Closely followed by questions about whether I have a crystal ball, or if I can share next week’s lottery numbers.

As with jokes about my name, everyone thinks they’re the first to make them.

What’s clear is that there is huge confusion about areas of business that can be automated — robots directly replacing people — and those where augmentation can play a huge role, expanding human capabilities without affecting overall employment.

Bionic business

Augmentation is about expanding the capabilities of individuals. Sometimes this will mean these individuals can do the work of many. Here the lines between automation and augmentation blur: you can argue that all automation is, in fact, augmentation, since there are usually people remaining in the business and those that remain benefit from operating at an improved profit margin since — at least in theory — productivity rises and costs fall.

But other times, augmentation can make individuals better at their jobs, taking their capabilities beyond the human to the superhuman. All without affecting the employment of their colleagues.

Where things get really confusing is where the augmentation saves time: surely that’s the same as replacing people?

Back to the Three Cs

Not necessarily. Over the last few weeks I’ve been examining the future of PR for CCGroup, a successful B2B technology PR agency based in London. This — PR — is a business that fits as closely into the three Cs as any I have looked at.

If you’re not familiar with the three Cs, its a concept I developed with the Institute of Chartered Accountants as part of a programme looking at the future of education. We were trying to understand what future employers would want from school and university leavers and I quickly realised that the recipe is pretty similar for those human jobs that will be defensible from automation.

The three Cs are ‘Curation’, ‘Creation’ and ‘Communication’.

  • Curation is the ability to discover and qualify information: despite the fake news scandal, humans generally still retain a better nose for what’s useful and valid — certainly as generalists vs more specialised machines.
  • Creation is the ability to synthesise something new from what you have learned — again something that machines can only do (for now) within specified parameters.
  • Communication is the ability to sell that new idea to colleagues or customers.

The ability to discover influencers for a given community, create content to share with those influencers, and build relationships with them, are the fundamentals of PR. And yet, digging into the business, you quickly find that a huge proportion of a PR’s time is spent managing the workflow between these core actions, and monitoring their impact.

The workflow can be automated: no-one should need to manually pass a draft document from one person to another via email. It should be written and appear in the workflow of the person who needs to approve it. No-one should need to monitor impact when every targeted influencer is providing a searchable electronic feed of their output.

But the core work of the PR is not something that can easily be shared across people. Understanding of a market and its influencers can be documented and shared. But it is only developed to the instinctual level of the best PRs by consistent exposure. Creating content for that market is again best done by someone with long and deep exposure. And that person will be best at communicating it when they have built personal relationships.

Augmentation and automation

If you augment the capabilities of this mythical super-PR, with discovery tools, writing aids, and solid communications management platforms, then you will augment their capabilities. They will achieve more than one ‘pure’ human normally could. But you are not really replacing other people because their work cannot easily be shared across multiple individuals, unless those individuals are operating at the same level in the same market with the same influencers.

This, for me, is the key difference between automation and augmentation. I think it is, to date, not well defined or understood.

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Future of Business series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Business page.

Tom Cheesewright

Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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