We're out of time

In his 1950 paper entitled Computing Machinery and Intelligence, computer scientist Alan Turing opens with the words: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’”

Sixty years on, the idea of intelligent computers seems a little less ridiculous.

Technology catapults forward year-by-year with ever greater processing powers, bigger clouds, faster internet connections, sleeker interfaces and cleverer self-learning algorithms.

Are computers getting closer to human intelligence by being able to make value judgements, understand concepts and process a world that is not just black and white?

While the question of whether computers will ever truly be ‘thinking beings’ is still one reserved for the realms of science fiction and metaphysics, the speeds at which they are moving raises a more pressing question for CIOs — can humans keep up?

The timescale for computers has been accelerating for years now — what we could do in days 50 years ago now takes a few seconds — but the timescale for us humans has stayed much the same.

Our life expectancy may have nudged up a bit through advances in medicine, but it won’t double any time soon. It still takes four hours to drive from London to Manchester and nine hours to get to Washington.

We humans still need recharging on a daily basis, and some things can only be done face-to-face.

Despite mobile phones, the internet and videoconferencing, the peculiarities of the clever ape mean that the business world only really functions with face-to-face meetings — to negotiate a deal with your biggest suppliers, discuss your career with your boss or deal with a crisis, there is nothing like communicating in person.

World events such as the global recession and euro crisis, are like earthquakes caused by two tectonic plates moving at different speeds while rubbing against one other.

The first plate, technology, is moving faster every day while the second one, the human plate, is barely moving at all. When the next quake is coming can only be guessed.

This constant flow of data and capital is consistently chipping away at the boundaries of nations as we know them.

The financial crisis was international, so the solution must be international.

If humans create inefficiency in businesses, it’s nothing compared to the inefficiencies we create in diplomacy, as we’ve seen at Davos.

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