Tag Archive: product

Welcome to the Machine

“I kind of felt powerless… I do have extensive experience in terms of playing the game of Go, but there was never a case as this as such that I felt this amount of pressure.” (Lee Sedol, after playing against AlphaGo in March, 2016)

McAffee and Brynjolfsson (2017) describe phase two of the second machine age as the time “when science fiction technologies – the stuff of movies, books, and the controlled environments of elite research labs – started to appear in the real world”: winning at Go, diagnosing disease, interacting with people, engaging in creative work. The authors envision three great trends that are reshaping the business world:



including AI, boosted by:

      1. Moore’s law
      2. Cloud computing has opened relatively inexpensive computing power required to execute a machine learning project.
      3. An endless supply of data (and GPU‘s to process it). Machine learning systems need to be exposed to many examples in order to perform and improve in their tasks.
Human Mind
According to Kahneman and Egan (2011):

  • System 1: Evolutionary ancient, fast, automatic, intuitive
  • System 2: Evolutionary recent, slow, conscious, and a lot of work

“System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.” [Kahneman, D. and Egan, P. (2011) Thinking, fast and slow (Vol. 1), New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.]

that people use to access a product or service, like Uber or AirBnB, but don’t actually produce anything or provide the service to the end customer.
Products and Services
For example, the big gains of electrification (one of the most disruptive technologies ever) came not from simple substitution of steam engines, but from the redesign of the production process itself. The process lens typically reveals many tasks that can be eliminated, or as Hammer and Champy (1993) put it, obliterated. According to Grant (2010) a firm increases attention to process innovation as it seeks to reduce costs and improve product reliability. The tendency over time for product life cycles has become compressed (p. 275).
The Crowd
e.g. GE’s FirstBuild, a “co-creation community that is changing the way products come to market”.
Organisational Capabilities
Prahalad and Hamel (1990) coined the term “core competences” to distiguish those capabilities fundamental to a firm’s strategy and performance. They also criticised U.S. companies for emphasizing product management over competence management.

Now where does all this leave us? As Haidt (2006) argues, “judgment and justification are two separate processes” of the mind. Judging, performed by System 1, happens almost instantaneously. It is then justified in rational and plausible arguments delivered by System 2:

“This finding, that people will readily fabricate reasons to explain their own behavior, is called ‘confabulation’. Confabulation is so frequent in work with split-brain patients and other people suffering brain damage that Gazzinga refers to the language centers on the left side of the brain as the interpreter module, whose job is to give a running commentary on whatever the self is doing, even though the interpreter module has no access to the real causes or motives of the self’s behavior. For example, if the word ‘walk’ is flashed to the right hemisphere, the patient might stand up and walk away. When asked why he is getting up, he might say, ‘I’m going to get a Coke’. The interpreter module is good at making up explanations, but not at knowing that it has done so.”
[Haidt, J. (2006) The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom, Basic Books]

At Microsoft, the acronym HiPPO (“Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion”) was created to summarise the dominant decision-making style at most companies.It illustrates the example given above of System 1 and 2 at work. HiPPOs too often destroy value. In a decades-long assessment Tetlock (1984) found that “humanity barely bests chimp” at predicting possible outcomes of politics, economics, and international affair. Today, machine learning – the science of building systems that can detect patterns and formulate winning strategies after shown many examples – is starting to accomplish interesting results. The “science fiction stuff” is just starting now…

Understanding Technology

There are various meanings that help to analyse technology. In modern common usage, the word ‘technology’ essentially means ‘kit’, which is to say technology as artefact (product). This refers to made objects, and also to what they do (examples in table below). This usage of the word is quite recent. Dictionaries – which tend to lag behind common usage – almost all define technology as a body of knowledge and practice, for example “a particular practical or industrial art” (Oxford English Dictionary). Past definitions have distinguished other categories, namely technology as knowledge and technology as mode of enquiry and action. These meanings are different ways of understanding technology. They can be conceptualised as a dependent series: There can be no artefact without action, no technological action without knowledge, and no knowledge without enquiry. This implies that two sets can create meaningful combinations, such as “application knowledge”, or “product mode of enquiry” (Fowles, 2005).

Artefact Knowledge Mode of enquiry and action
Application Formulation, symptom relief Diagnostic indications Clinic trials
Writing electronically Observing office work Prototyping, software development
Product Bio-active ingredients, systemic effects Molecular structure Systematic search for and analysis of medical plants
Word processor Convert keyboard keys to strings Developing software modules for communication
Production Fermentation and fermenters Drug testing and approval system Process improvement
Compilers, assemblers Software engineering Understanding software development and quality standards

Table 1: Meanings of technology and examples for medicine and IT

Knowledge is not easy to picture: Although knowledge is sometimes written down, very often it resides only in people (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995). Let’s consider the assembly line in a car fabric: It implies product knowledge of the design of car bodies – such as the arrangement of parts, the suitability of materials etc. It also implies production knowledge of the organisation of an assembly line and the manner and sequence in which parts are fitted. Some of these were important subjects at certain points in the technology’s life cycle. We can imagine business conditions, such as a high rate of change and degree of complexity, where production knowledge creation, using a “continuous improvement” method such as ‘Kaizen’ (Imai, 1986), would be an essential part of an organisation’s technology strategy as product performance.

The mode of enquiry and action refers to technological method. It is what develops a technology as time passes. R&D is a prime example. More generally, it is a way of doing things that is concerned with observation, problem solving, inventing, improving, management of change, etc. Here are some guidelines on categorisation (Fowles, 2005):

  • Application mode of enquiry and action might be trial and error to see how a technology is best used, sited, etc.
  • Application knowledge would include knowledge of use, siting, maintenance…
  • Application artefacts comprise the framework within which a technology is ultimately used. The framework might include ancillary mechanisms to improve performance, such as guidance for users.
  • Product mode of enquiry and action might be a particular approach to R&D.
  • Product knowledge is about architecture and design, e.g. the arrangement of components in a successful working entity.
  • Product artefacts include the product as delivered and component technologies within it, and the effects they have.
  • The production mode of inquiry and action might be a particular approach to process improvement.
  • Production knowledge is about the systems of operation and control, craft practices etc.
  • Production artefacts are the organisations, structures and tools that enact these systems and practices, and the effects they have.