Thursday, August 13, 2015

Engineering and the Power of People Skils

From a book review by Tyler Cowen of Humans are Underrated by Geoff Colvin:
"The future of the American economy will prize people skills above all else. Mark Zuckerberg was a psychology major; Steve Jobs also had a liberal arts background, which he drew upon to make Apple products attractive and compelling.
I wonder, however, if manipulation shouldn’t be added to the list of what one group of humans feels compelled to do to another. Precisely because we are able to identify what others are feeling, we can use that knowledge to influence their behavior. So the future of human employment isn’t just about the caring doctor, it is also about the marketer, the nudger, the data collector and the advertising executive. Think “Mad Men” with a vengeance. Don’t forget that the supposed empathy of the doctor, the sales representative or the military commander, to cite a few of the book’s examples, is often self-interested and directed toward bending our will, and not always in ways we would accept if they were made transparent to us.
Colvin presents the interesting hypothesis that today, empathy seems to be declining and narcissism rising, possibly because we are obsessed with the superficial use of social networks. But is this so? Contemporary America just put its stamp of approval on same-sex marriage, even though a strong majority of people are not gay.
My favorite parts of the book are about the military, an area where most other popular authors on automation and smart software have hesitated to tread. In this book you can read about how much of America’s military prowess comes from superior human performance and not just from technology. Future gains will result from how combat participants are trained, motivated, and taught to work together and trust each other, and from better after-action performance reviews. Militaries are inevitably hierarchical, but when they process and admit their mistakes, they can become rapidly more efficient."

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