Computers Don’t Do Nuance

I’ve noticed that as a species, we seem to give a lot of credit to computers and technology for all of their marvelous capabilities.  Often we do this without realizing that humans are responsible for all the design, development, and programming.

In reality, computers really only do what we tell them to do.  And even more importantly, computers don’t do nuance.  Basically, a computers can do anything, as long as it’s able to be translated into the computer’s language.  Essentially, everything must be distilled down to a binary decision: Yes/No, True/False, 0/1, A/B, black/white, etc.

I consider this factor often when doing backend system design for clients.  In order for technology to take over for a human (e.g. by automating a process), all of the decision points must be simplified to computer language.  This can be tricky when a particular process contains too many factors, or “gray areas”, to result in a binary decision point.  For example, consider a college application.  The computer would be able to make decisions based on GPA and test scores, but evaluating the candidate based on other, more nuanced factors, such as extracurricular activities or the essay portion, must be handled by a human.

Another area where computers lag behind humans is in facial recognition.  Overall humans are able to identify the same person in photos or video more reliably and accurately than computers can.  Although computers have improved in this area and can accomplish some pretty amazing things in terms of auto-classifying photos, they still have a long way to go.  The other day a friend of mine was showing me some of his childhood pictures.  I’ve only known him for less than a year, but I was immediately able to pick him out of his primary school class photos.  I doubt a computer would be able to do that yet.

A lot of advances have been made in AI (Artificial Intelligence) lately that may one day allow computers to think outside of their programming and to better anticipate our needs.  However, based on how poorly the prediction and auto correct works with my text messages, I’d say they still have a long way to go.  So while we’re eager to give computers (and technology) a lot of credit for all the amazing things they can, and will, do, there’s still a place for human brains.


2 comments for “Computers Don’t Do Nuance

  1. Kat
    6 December 2016 at 09:52

    Well said 🙂

  2. Anonymous
    6 December 2016 at 10:18

    agree, nothing replaces the human brain; very interesting blog

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