A robot is going to steal your job. AI is only a handful of years away from being smarter than you. The bot uprising is coming to enslave or kill us all. Deep learning is creating code that we can’t understand. The great digital divide is coming.


Or maybe there’s another path forward. Our love of hyperbole and fear-mongering has pushed many people to think about the emerging robotics and AI movements as a split in the history of our world. Our combative nature has pitted us against our own creation before it has even fully gestated. Yet, if we could dislodge our craniums from our posteriors for long enough to see things clearly, we might consider another way forward: the centaur.

As much as I’d love to be writing an article about mythical horse-men for work, the type of centaur I’m referring to is the hybrid human-computer system for approaching tasks. This pairing boosts the intuition and creativity of the human mind with the precision and brute-force of a machine.

A brief history lesson: The term “centaur” was coined after Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion at the time, was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue. Kasparov argued that in a “freestyle” or “advanced” match of chess (no holds barred), a human player should be given the same access to a database of moves as a computer has. Far from being a wacky thought exercise, the idea was embraced by the chess community, and the current freestyle world champion is no longer Deep Blue but, in fact, a centaur team called Intagrand.

Embracing the Centaur

So why is it that, in other facets of life, we put up such opposition to the robotic and AI movements? Why would we not accept, embrace and work with these systems? In reality, most of us  have alreadybeen doing just that without knowing it – anytime we’ve ignored our GPS’s instructions and skipped an off-ramp. Computer systems can be effective, but human intuition often wins out. The challenge is to design systems for integrated action, and train people on how to work collaboratively with AI and robotics.

The range of this collaboration is broad, and where you fall on the spectrum can be dictated by your own comfort level around technology and humanity. On the one hand, we could view centaur teams as two independent agents – much like co-workers – collaborating on a task, building upon each other’s thinking, and challenging each other to push further, faster. On the other hand, we could go full Kurzweil and integrate technology directly into our bodies and minds, enabling a new form of superhuman cyborg that can leverage the precision and scale of a machine atop its own capabilities in a post-singularity world. Regardless of which future you prefer, done properly, the potential benefits are undeniable.

It’s All in the Design

So are the robots coming to take our jobs? Only if we design them that way. If instead, we look to AI and robotic design with collaboration in mind, we can enable an entirely new form of human-machine collaboration. This will require humans to learn new skills and adapt, and in doing so, we will not only maintain relevance in an increasingly automated and digitized world, but we will also potentially expand our own personal capabilities to levels never before imagined.

Do not simply ask what the people or machines of tomorrow will look like. Holding these two concepts independently perpetuates the divide and anxiety we have over the future. Instead, dream about what a world could look like with engaging, fun and challenging human-machine collaboration.

Idea Couture, a Cognizant Digital Business Company

Shane Saunderson

Shane Saunderson

Shane Saunderson is the Vice-President of IC/things at Idea Couture, a Cognizant company. A veteran of the startup space, Shane also has... Read more