Joshua Rothman talks with Tyler Cohen about a number of topics from his new book, Average Is Over, like his contention that deep inequality between the technorati and the technots is an inescapable aspect of the postnormal. In this section, however, he talks about the skills that are likely to be needed in a world increasingly augmented by intelligent software:
One of the most interesting sections of the book is about “freestyle” chess competitions, in which humans and computers play on teams together—often the computers make the moves, but sometimes the humans intervene. How has chess software changed the “labor market” in chess players?
When humans team up with computers to play chess, the humans who do best are not necessarily the strongest players. They’re the ones who are modest, and who know when to listen to the computer. Often, what the human adds is knowledge of when the computer needs to look more deeply. If you’re a really good freestyle player, you consult a bunch of different programs, which have different properties, and you analyze the game position on all of them. You try to spot, very quickly, where the programs disagree, and you tell them to look more deeply there. They may disagree along a number of lines, and then you have to make some judgments. That’s hard—but the good humans do that better than computers do. Even very strong computers don’t have that meta-rational sense of when things are ambiguous. Today, the human-plus-machine teams are better than machines by themselves. It shows how there may always be room for a human element.
You believe that, in the future, the most well-compensated workers will be something like freestyle chess players.
Think in terms of this future middle-class job: You read medical scans, and you work alongside a computer. The computer does most of the judging, but there are some special or unusual scans where you say, “Hmm, that’s not quite right—I need a doctor to look at this again and study it more carefully.” You’ll need to know something about medicine, but it won’t be the same as being a doctor. You’ll need to know something about how these programs work, but it won’t be the same as being a programmer. You’ll need to be really good at judging, and being dispassionate, and you’ll have to have a sense of what computers can and cannot do. It’s about working with the machine: knowing when to hold back, when to intervene.
Again an example of loose connection — an individual working with intelligent machines instead of a traditional work ‘team’ — and a transition to a world in which our capacity for pattern matching and dissent play a strong role.