The history of human society has largely been about replacing human work with tools and machines. From the plough to the spinning jenny to the computer, people have stopped doing tasks because machines can do them better. In most cases we are getting rid of things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing anyway, and it’s hard to take pride in doing work that can be done by a machine. In a way, humanity can be defined by what it is that humans can do that machines can’t do. That boundary is continually being pushed further, and in coming years we will need to move to increasingly complex and imaginative tasks of synthesis and creativity that computers cannot do.
Philip Parker, a professor at INSEAD, is probably doing more than anyone else to push this boundary. An article in the New York Times titled He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work) describes how he has automated the process of creating books and econometric reports, and has built a solid book business on top of this. A YouTube video by Parker (see below) reviews his patent on automated content creation, and describes in detail how this kind of report is automatically generated. It also shows how Parker is automating video and game creation, for example creating educational programs and interactive language teaching tools, which appear at first glance to be very good.
Part of the implication of this is that, if so much content creation can be automated, what will people need to do to create value moving forward? In Parker’s example, an industry forecast report of 250 pages is created in 13 minutes. He sells these kinds of reports for good money, and does well out of it. In many cases the market is too small to justify a person writing the report. However there is no question that a significant part of an analyst’s work can be automated. The boundaries of human value are being pushed further, and this is just the beginning.