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Apr 28, 2017: Racing with Machines

By Rebecca Callahan

Driving into work this morning, I was listening to a Ted Radio Hour podcast called The Digital Industrial Revolution. It was all about how the rapid expansion of technology is impacting people and businesses and whether this was a good or bad thing. The first segment was an interview with and TED Talk snippets from Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research who, among other things, discussed what happened when a Chess Grand Master played against a supercomputer. Spoiler alert: the Grand Master lost. This shook a lot of people. How far along are we in building computers that are smarter than us? Flashes of The Matrix and Terminator came to mind. I got nervous – are we building technology that will one day enslave humanity? Should we be developing technology at the exponential rate we are? Should we slow down to ensure our own survival? Should we be racing against the machines?

Sure, it’s possible. It’s a ‘glass half empty’ approach, but it is possible. There are certainly reasons why people would be hesitant to embrace this kind of change and progress. As a marketing professional, I know there are robots who are being touted as better digital marketers than people because they can digest analytics faster, without human error and with quicker reactions than a human. And, yes, perhaps that should make me a little nervous when I think about long term job security.

But, there’s another side to it, one that is really exciting to think about. Mr. Brynjolfsson is proposing we race with machines. He told the story of when a Chess Grand Master teamed up with a supercomputer instead of fighting against it. Spoiler alert: neither computer nor human could beat the team. His perspective is that we, working together with technology, can do more with less. He argues that technology makes nations and individuals richer overall. With the added efficiency provided by technology, we can accomplish more during our workday than without. Who wouldn’t want to work less and be more productive? Who wouldn’t want additional money lining our pockets because we’re able to accomplish more each day?

I won’t spoil any more, as I think it’s worth listening to the TEDtalk in its entirety, but it got me thinking about what we’re doing with Water Sage. Our product is improving, via technology, the way people perform their jobs. What used to take hours and days of (wo)man-hour research can now be done in a matter of minutes. The platform increases efficiency, transparency and usability for a broad range of stakeholders. We consistently receive feedback like, “I wish I had this platform years ago,” and “this product has improved how responsive I am to my customers!” These customers embraced racing with machines and are benefiting enormously from it. Banks are able to lend more money because they can identify water assets on land, engineers are able to answer client questions on the fly, increasing their clients’ confidence in their expertise, and utilities are able to more quickly solve water resource issues for their growing populations. These customers do not see new technology as a threat to their business or livelihood but rather an opportunity to do more with less.

I saw technology revolutionize another world in my previous career in travel.  At the advent of the internet, the entire travel industry went through a paradigm shift. No longer were consumers required to rely on and pay for travel agents to book their travel. No longer were suppliers (air, car, hotel, tour operators) reliant on antiquated distribution systems to sell inventory. Consumers now have all the tools needed to research, purchase and talk about a trip. The result is an improved consumer experience, lower costs to companies and significantly more visibility on both sides. For the suppliers, providers and travel agents who could pivot and embrace new technology, this changed their business for the better. They could do more with less and generate more revenue - just in a different manner than how things had always been done. They raced with the machines and came out on top.

It always surprises me when new technology that improves business workflows isn’t embraced wholeheartedly. I’m certainly not an early adopter as a consumer, but as a marketing professional, I love when I can find a new tool or product that helps me ingest the vast amount of information available to me. It helps me make better marketing decisions for my company and alleviates monotonous pieces of my day.

We are a long way from technology taking over decision-making jobs. While technology can help provide data to answer questions, human expertise is still paramount to good decision making. Technology like Water Sage simply helps people get to that decision making quicker. By racing with the machines instead of against, everyone wins: users and their customers. And, in the west where water is liquid gold, quick and accurate decision making is truly essential for survival.

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UPCOMING EVENTS

  • Water Sage will be at the Montana/Idaho REALTORS Joint Annual Business Convention in Big Sky, MT on September 13-14.
  • Water Sage will be at the Montana Association of Counties Annual Conference in Bozeman, MT on September 17-21.
  • Water Sage will be at the Montana League of Cities & Towns Annual Conference in Great Falls, MT on September 27-29.
  • Water Sage will be at the Montana American Water Resources Association in Helena, MT on October 19-20.
  • Water Sage will be at the South Platte Forum in Loveland, CO on October 25-26.
  • Water Sage will be speaking at the 2017 AWRA Annual Conference in Portland, OR on November 5-9.
  • Water Sage will be at the Montana Association of Conservation Districts Annual Conference in Bozeman, MT on November 12-14.
  • Water Sage will be at the ACWA 2017 Fall Conference & Exhibition in Anaheim, CA on November 28 - December 1.

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