Cognitive Diversity and Tomorrow’s Business


We normally look at future as a logical extension of the past. Our surmises are often based on incremental changes in technology. But with the profound impact of exponential and combinatorial innovations, the future could be a lot different from what we see on the drawing board today. The core of most of these changes can be looked at through the prism of Moore’s Law – a concept from the ’70s which simply suggested that the processing speed of a computer chip that we can buy for $1000 roughly doubles every 18–24 months. And it is not just engineering technology but even biological sciences experience these effects – the dramatic cost decline in human genome sequencing from a whopping $10 million in 2008 to around $800 today. At the helm of these exponential changes are two important themes – Combinatorial and Recursive.

The latest analytics help us cull out information in formats which are cognitively easier to grasp

Combinatorial Innovation

Most innovations today are more combined and integrated than ever before. Seemingly engineering concepts like machine learning, deep learning and IoT are combining with genomics to produce impressive capabilities in gene editing. Innovations today cause changes across a variety of sectors. The same advanced human gene editing technologies like CRISPR – Cas9 can help us make breakthroughs in healthcare offering cure to diseases like cancer.

Recursive Innovation

It is the ability to self-amplify, observe and course-correct. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cognitive Computing are helping robots to reprogram and upgrade themselves. A lot of scientists believe that the future is near where these AI systems will be able to out learn and out-think human beings. Futurist Ray Kurzweil calls this Singularity, the moment when computers finally win and surpass human grey matter capabilities. So are we playing God? Craig Venter, the genius behind some seminal genomics work, quips: ‘‘Well, somebody has to!’’ And now we are considering the controversial concept of ectogenesis, idea of growing the baby outside a woman’s body in an artificial womb!

With the surfeit of devices comes the vast troves of data which cover every facet of life – Anthropological to Physiological to Metaphysical. The latest analytics help us cull out information in formats which are cognitively easier to grasp. These tools also influence us in such a way that they help shape us and perhaps reinvent us. Even technologies can help one to surf the world sitting on an armchair – Samsung VR, Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens can help you hike the Himalayas or swim with the piranhas in the Amazon. Most of these are about the process of automatically converting unstructured information into actionable knowledge.

But in all these changes and shifts, human happiness and collective prosperity will come only by bringing several ideas together which, at the core, is about having a more embellished human existence. But increasing amount of AI applications is not relegating mankind to low wage drudgery or forced idleness and unemployment. The best cognitive jobs are not disappearing. It is the mundane repetitive tasks which are getting phased out. What will be exciting to see is the cognitive diversity which it will usher in with the best minds and best AI tools working on problems and exploring synergy together and without being pitted against each other in the competitive space. AI can prepare detailed backup intelligence which will enable us to take better strategic decisions. The best employers of the future will have human resources and AI working side by side to leverage combinatorial innovation and recursive dynamics.

(The author is Associate Partner – Markets, South India, EY)