Home / Intuition



Sunday, October 26, 2014

I have thought some more about the how the role of intuition plays into scientific discoveries. The computer will always be able to calculate faster and more accurately than you can, it can handle vastly more data than you can, and pretty soon, it will be able to sense the environment better than you can. It will be stronger and faster than you and it will certainly be indefatigable and won’t complain about the hours or pay.

But it probably can’t make the gestalt leap and come up with new inventions or insight, like the DNA helix structure or Facebook. At least, I don’t think it can.

But you probably won’t be able to make the gestalt leap or have great intuition unless you put in the time and effort to master the skills. You need to be so familiar that those skills are “in your bones” such that it just is…you just know…

The problem is computers are also deskilling us, unless we make a conscious effort to learn the skills.

Right now I’m reading a book titled The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr. He’s a very good writer and I’ve read another book of his,  The Shallows, which was kind of frightening description of how we are “dumbing” ourselves when we use the Internet so much. “Dumbing” may the wrong choice of word but I think it reflects a shallower thinking.

In The Glass Cage he writes about the deskilling effect that automation is having on our work. Initially, when new technology takes over the manual part of the work, your skill level has to increase in order to use the new technology. But as time goes on, the technology takes over more and more of the work so that you end up just monitoring the machine, pushing buttons, and providing inputs that the machine requests. But all of the decision-making and actions are done by the machine. That’s basically the route that happened in manufacturing and Nicholas Carr says the same thing happened in the airline industry and is now happening in the medical industry.

As a matter of fact, all elite professional work is undergoing an onslaught of automation: corporate auditors, all finance professionals, and junior lawyers. “The overriding goal of brokerage and investment banking firms is ‘automating the system and getting rid of the traders.’ ” The computers do a lot of computation, sifting of data, and analysis so much better than humans, BUT, they are not infallible as the flash crashes show. Computers currently can only make statistical predictions based upon the data they have on hand and the predictions are only as good as the data. Also, the past is not always the prologue to the future. Here is where human intuition comes into play…that indefinable sense that something is just not right. That intuition can be develop only by doing the hard work over time such that you master the subject. Unfortunately, we are losing the skills because the computers are doing it for us.

Businesses have to start thinking that automation is just a tool to support and can’t supplant human skill because only humans can bring the intuition into play to make sense of when something is wrong or to come up with an innovative new solution. Businesses need to have some jobs for humans. So engineers need to actually be in manufacturing plants making stuff so that they become familiar with the equipment, materials and processes. Nothing new will come out unless engineers are THERE. Businesses need to have some finance people actually doing the work otherwise, they will never have an intimate feel for how the numbers flow.

As for us, we are probably on our own in developing the skills; most companies will continue to automate without realizing the consequences. You will have to find the time to develop the skills because most likely companies will not have the entry-level jobs for you to start developing your skills. This self-development will take time and focus. You will need to make hard choices as to where you will spend your time: on Facebook or practicing; on social media or working on your project; watching TV or developing your skills. You need to do it in order to develop the intuitions of the master because the computer can do all of the calculations and parsing of data better than you can. But the computer can’t do the intuitive gestalt leap into the new.