Michael Keaton, as Ray Kroc, looks straight into the camera in the beginning of the movie “The Founder” and makes a pitch for multi-spindle milkshake blenders. His pitch “increase supply and demand follows”. They allow a restaurant to make six thick shakes at a time. And he does it again and again. His pitch is met with cynical door shuts by restaurant owners who can barely justify a blender for one shake at a time.
Eventually, Kroc gets an order for six of the blenders. And when he calls to confirm, they increase the order to eight units. Amazed that someone would actually order so many, he drives cross-country 3,000 miles down Route 66 to California to check out the customer. He is introduced to Mac and Dick McDonald, and their innovative restaurant which brought factory concepts to the kitchen and delivered food in paper and plastic reducing need for seating space, barhops or dishwashers. Fascinated, he partners with them and eventually helps build the mighty empire which is today’s hamburger giant.
When I listen to Silicon Valley talk about AI, robotics and autonomous cars these days, I am reminded of the unsuccessful, huckster quote Keaton uses in the start of the movie. They try to sell six-spindle blenders with the promise that milk shake sales will take off. In their case, the pitch is “you will save by reducing your human workers”.
They are in love with their spindle technology. In a Twitter exchange about AI, Prof. Vivek Wadhwa who often writes and presents from a SV point of view tells me “You need to learn what exponential means, my friend. Multiple technologies are now advancing exponentially and converging.” and then he follows up with “You really don't seem to understand what exponential means. Things move slowly at first and then amaze because of curve up”
It’s all about the supply side. No mention of how much it will cost. No mention of payback. No real understanding of the customer. As I told Vivek “litmus test - call any one of 800 occupations BLS tracks and ask them when they will quit hiring humans and just use AI, robotics etc”
But instead we hear “trust us, things are so much better this time”. Sure, trust us — it’s only been 7 decades since Alan Turing defined his famous test to measure a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to that of a human.
All the SV hype is doing is causing people to panic about jobless societies. It is leading to poor automation decisions which annoys customers and resulting revenue loss.
The reality is societies gradually absorb automation as I wrote in this column “Slow-motion automation”. As I responded to Vivek “schools you are associated with still teach regression analysis don't they? apply it to last century of automation. Gradual adoption”
And when you discuss gradual adoption, the conversation moves to symbiotic man-machine arrangements. How machines can do 3D tasks – dull, dirty, dangerous and allow humans to do those that require creativity, social skills, dexterity and so many other things our amazing bodies and minds are capable of and that customers continue to appreciate in products and services. It allows enterprises to develop “super-workers”. In my presentations, I point out that aided by telematics, UPS drivers on average get into less than one accident per million miles driven. Amazon data center employees have managed to deliver over 50 price cuts over a decade. In China, Foxconn employees working alongside bots and precision equipment have delivered billions of high-quality electronic devices to Apple and other customers.
Frankly, SV should do what Kroc did. Get in a car and drive in reverse out of CA and spend time with UPS, Amazon and others. Use their learning to help others learn how to develop their own version of “superworkers”. Quit focusing on the technology and how it is growing in speeds and feeds and look at the much bigger opportunity like Kroc did. Growth via delighted customers and super-efficient workers.
Cross Posted at Medium