Big Data: How Man + Machine Improves Decisions

Posted by Sarah Anderson on Thu, Apr 04, 2013

Man + Machine ChessHere at Opera Solutions, we eat, drink, and breathe the concept of Man + Machine. But its implications hold power in any organization that’s trying to leverage its data to improve its bottom line. In medicine, trading, and many other domains, humans can achieve extraordinary (possibly even super-human) results when partnered with a machine. This is because people and machines each play an important role in extracting meaning from Big Data flows.

Machines can quickly discern complex patterns from massive and diverse data sets — something that the human brain is not equipped to do. Moreover, machines can remove human bias and prejudices, instead presenting the world as an algorithmically map-able and predictable set of events and behaviors. When machines remove bias, reveal patterns, and serve up information and “best next action” recommendations, people’s decision making dramatically improves.

Man, Machine, and Chess

Our CEO, Arnab Gupta, plays a lot of chess. He often uses this example to explain how humans and machines, when working together, can beat out humans or machines working alone:

“These advanced machines can now beat any human — a world champion, grandmaster, whoever. But what few people know is that an average chess player with a chess machine that they know how to use will beat any world champion or grandmaster on a consistent basis.”

But machines can only go so far. Humans are needed to incorporate machine-generated patterns with their own insights to bring decision making to the next level through a combination of human insight, intuition, and judgment. Humans supply the missing pieces, think creatively, bring in their experience, use data, and find analogies when scenarios and situations are cloudy and uncertain. Machines cannot perform these uniquely human functions.

Bringing Man + Machine to the Business World

It is important to understand that successful Big Data systems neither constrain workers to blindly take specific actions, nor swamp them with vast amounts of data. Either can quickly stifle creative and intuitive thinking. Rather, the best Man + Machine approaches provide high levels of interactivity that enable workers to gain insight by interacting with machine output.

Machine learning is then, in turn, enhanced through interaction with human intuition, taking the traditional reports and charts of IT to a whole new level. The result is a virtuous “help me help you” cycle — an ongoing synergy that beats the best of either human intuition or machine intelligence alone. Employee effectiveness, management visibility, and overall company understanding all dramatically improve when man and machine work together in an intelligence technology model.

In the business world, this means you can integrate the “machine” into the company workflow, letting the machine process data, run analytics models, and return directed actions to the decision makers. This approach is more affordable in the long run, but it also results in better outcomes than relying solely on humans. This is true for three primary reasons:

1. The machine can evaluate 100% of your data (and can incorporate data from outside your organization, too, when appropriate), whereas humans, even if you hire many of them, can’t look at — let alone process — all of the data.

2. Using algorithmic machine learning, machines learn and modify their output each time a machine learning model is applied. This makes for not just better decisions but constantly improving recommendations and directed actions.

3. The machine isn’t acting alone. Because the Man + Machine philosophy includes humans, the final decisions come from the analysis of all the available information plus previous human insight plus the added insight from the current decision maker, exponentially increasing the likelihood that the final decision is the absolute best one.

When man-machine pairing becomes the norm, intelligence technology not only distributes business intelligence throughout an organization, but it also elevates workers to a higher order of thinking, one in which they have the advantage of machine learning insight that is relevant to their individual roles. As machines make it easier for people to exercise their uniquely human thinking and judgment, the most talented employees continue to improve their performance, often by taking even further advantage of machine intelligence, thereby unleashing an ongoing cycle of improvement.

If you'd like to learn more about Man + Machine, click below to download our whitepaper.


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Portions of this blog post were taken from our whitepaper “Intelligence Technology: Harnessing the Value in Big Data.”


Topics: Machine Learning, Arnab Gupta