More voices in artificial intelligence debate are heard


Yes, you and I have covered this messy man vs machine battleground before, most recently while having coffee over my latest post on this issue, "No room for marketers' instincts in Era Of Big Data? Yes there is!" Even so, it is validating and heartening to see others coming to the same conclusions in similar discussions.

One such example is Gil Press' recent post in Forbes wherein he quotes a number of experts on both sides of this argument. I encourage you to read the whole post, but here are a few selected comments from it in the meantime:

"Tom Davenport argues on the HBR Blog, that 'intuition has an important role to play… Neither an all-intuition nor an all-analytics approach will get you to the promised land.'"

"Jeffrey Heer (University of Washington and Trifacta) is a bit more assertive: 'Human judgment is at the center of successful data analysis.'"

"To 'facilitate human involvement' across 'all stages of data analysis' [John Tukey's words] is a grand challenge for our age."

"Kate Crawford warned us last year: 'Numbers can't speak for themselves, and data sets--no matter their scale--are still objects of human design… Biases and blind spots exist in big data as much as they do in individual perceptions and experiences.'"

There's more in that post. Alas, yours truly wasn't quoted there. But that's ok because the discussion is bigger than any one person. Indeed, as Press points out in his post, other people have been saying this very same thing for many years and yet often remain unheard.

"For anything beyond shifting gears, however, why remove humans from the decision-making process? As a matter of fact, you can't and you shouldn't (as Meehl was very eager to repeat for more than 40 years)," writes Press.

But for the record, I shall reiterate that statements made by most knowledgeable data professionals pertaining to the role of human intuition and human decisions in big data are not emotionally based. This is no universal cry to please, please keep we poor, measly humans in the picture somewhere. It is instead a reality-based assessment of the limitations in computing as we know it now.

If and when artificial intelligence ever reaches the point that it equals or exceeds the abilities uniquely found in the human mind, then these professional assessments will no doubt change. But we are not there yet.

For more:
- see the Forbes post
- see the Harvard blog post

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