The Possible issue 04: what can’t we afford to lose?

December 2018

Words by Tom Smith

The Possible Issue 4 - front cover and content page

As engineers and innovators, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make things work better. But the solutions often lead us to ask much bigger questions.

Take automation and artificial intelligence. We can now program robots to carry out many tasks that previously required human intervention — from analyzing CCTV footage to greeting passengers at airports. It’s often framed in terms of how soon they could replace humans completely. Perhaps a more interesting question is where we should concentrate our precious human resources for greatest benefit.

There are many areas where automation is the best solution for liberating us from repetitive, unfulfilling tasks. And there are others where only human ingenuity, insight, empathy — our ability to just pick up a pencil and conjure new worlds — will do. We will not solve challenges such as adapting to climate change or making much denser cities liveable by algorithmically perpetuating the same-old solutions faster.

Our challenge is to find the optimum balance between technology and the human element. We stand to gain so much, but what can’t we afford to lose?

Tom Smith is global director, property & buildings, at WSP

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