Relationship Between Humans, Machines Must Evolve: Gartner

The relationship between humans and machines is being redefined through emerging technologies, narrowing the divide between humans and machines, analysts say.

Due to the increased hype around smart machines, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things, Gartner has made the evolving relationship between humans and machines the key theme in its Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report for 2013. That the relationship is being redefined through emerging technologies, narrowing the divide between humans and machines, analysts believe.

The IT research firm's report provides strategists and planners with an assessment of the maturity, business benefit and future direction of more than 2,000 technologies, grouped into 98 areas, including content and social analytics, embedded software and systems, consumer market research and open banking.

Technologies make it possible to augment human performance in physical, emotional and cognitive areas, and the report recommends enterprises interested in these technologies should look to bioacoustic sensing, quantified self, 3D bioprinting, brain-computer interface, human augmentation, speech-to-speech translation, neurobusiness, wearable user interfaces, augmented reality and gesture control.

"We encourage enterprises to look beyond the narrow perspective that only sees a future in which machines and computers replace humans. In fact, by observing how early adopters use emerging technologies, there are actually three main trends at work," Vice President and Gartner Fellow Jackie Fenn said in a statement. "These are augmenting humans with technology—for example, an employee with a wearable computing device; machines replacing humans—for example, a cognitive virtual assistant acting as an automated customer representative; and humans and machines working alongside each other—for example, a mobile robot working with a warehouse employee to move many boxes."

According to the report, there are three trends that will change the workforce and the everyday lives of humans in the future, enabled by a set of technologies that help machines and humans better understand each other: machines better understanding humans and the environment, humans better understanding machines, and humans and machines both becoming smarter.

"Enterprises of the future will use a combination of these three trends to improve productivity, transform citizen and customer experience, and to seek competitive advantage," Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement. "These three major trends are made possible by three areas that facilitate and support the relationship between human and machine. Machines are becoming better at understanding humans and the environment—for example, recognizing the emotion in a person's voice—and humans are becoming better at understanding machines—for example, through the Internet of Things. At the same time, machines and humans are getting smarter by working together."

For the last trend, the surge in big data, analytics and cognitive computing approaches will provide decision support and automation to humans, and awareness and intelligence to machines, the report noted. These technologies can be used to make both humans and things smarter. However, as machines get smarter and start automating more human tasks, humans will need to trust the machines and feel safe.

Researchers are currently developing technologies that help humanize machines, including a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has been working on Kismet, a robot that senses social cues from visual and auditory sensors, and responds with facial expressions that demonstrate understanding.