I am seldom blown away by a speaker but Luis von Ahn Ph.D., professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, has done it. I recently had the opportunity to hear him speak on the subject of human computation. His session resonated with me because it really speaks to the future of work.
Part of Luis’ claim to fame is the development of CAPTCHAs. If you’ve never spent time understanding the purpose of CAPTCHAs, I’d suggest doing so. CAPTCHAs are those words we type in at the end of a web form to identify us as a real person (versus a spammer.) Many blogs use them for reader comments. Technically speaking, a CAPTCHA is defined as a program that generates a test people can pass. More importantly, computers cannot pass CAPTCHAs.
Now, think beyond CAPTCHAs as an anti-spam device. We could use them in very productive ways because – what are you doing when you enter a CAPTCHA? Passing a test…right? Luis uses an example of how CAPTCHAs are being used to digitize books. Yep, that’s right. Every time we enter a CAPTCHA word, we’re helping to digitize a book (check out his video to see how this works). It’s simply ingenious to think something we all view as a pain in the ass procedure to prove we’re human could be doing something remarkable.
This takes the conversation about the relationship between technology and humans from a ‘either/or’ to a ‘both/and’. It’s not about either a computer does the work or a human does the work. It’s about how humans and computers can use their capabilities together to make things happen.
But in order to fully capitalize on this concept, organizations will have to change the way they view work. For example:
- Managers have to change their mentality from a “can’t do” environment to a “can do”. If we only view a CAPTCHA as a filter for negative comments, then we never see its true potential.
- Companies need to shift their thinking about technology. If we only view computers as a means to replace humans, then we run the risk of not seeing them as partners to solving the world’s problems.
As people responsible for creating work and preparing businesses for what the future of work looks like, I hope I’ve peaked your interest in seeing this session for yourself. And lucky for you, there are snippets of Luis’ presentations on YouTube. Trust me . . it will be some of the best time you’ll spend thinking about the future of work.0