Auto Service World
News   October 22, 2019   by Allan Janssen

Commentary: Standing in the Gap

How technicians will become even more important in the coming knowledge economy.

By Allan Janssen

In 2016, computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton declared that, with the rise of artificial intelligence, radiologists would soon find themselves out of a job.

In fact, he gave them five or 10 useful years remaining. His call to the medical community? Stop training them right now! He caused quite a stir in radiology departments around the world.

We’ll have to wait a few years yet to see if his prediction is coming true, but Eric Topol, for one, isn’t buying it.

Topol is a renowned cardiologist, and one of top 10 most-cited medical researchers in the world. More to the point, he is the author of several books, including most recently Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Health Care Human Again.

He would admit that the idea of putting medical A.I. to work in hospitals makes sense given the brute power and speed of its calculations. But computers are not perfect, and they are unable to understand or imitate basic human sensitivities.

“Radiologists are still needed to provide oversight because you don’t want to trust an algorithm before undergoing a major operation,” Topol said in recent interview. “Or consider a diagnosis of cancer. You need to have that looked at. Algorithms can have a glitch. They can have malware. They need somebody – especially when it’s an important call – to oversee it.”

The radiologist, he says, is a gatekeeper against unnecessary tests and unlikely diagnoses. They see things a machine can’t see, possess context the computer can’t grasp, and can talk directly to patients, offering much needed perspective and personal interaction.

“They have a lot of wisdom to impart,” he says.

Now, before you start looking to see if you’ve picked up the wrong magazine by mistake, let me explain why this observation is pertinent to the automotive repair world.

Much is made of the new – and seemingly miraculous – capabilities of modern vehicles, with their sensors, modules, datalinks, and software. Increasing telematic options are enabling new communication and over-the-air updates. We are headed to a world of diagnostic transparency.

Does that spell the end of the road for technicians? I don’t believe it will.

With hundreds of millions of drivers in North America, all of them clinging to the notion of personal mobility, I believe technicians will become even more critical.

We have known for years that the most successful technicians are those who keep abreast of rapidly advancing vehicle technology. Troubleshooting diagnosticians have an incredible skill that transcends the brute force of computing.

Even if we get to the point where artificial intelligence can scan vehicles in the blink of an eye, perform exhaustive tests, and review data with great precision, we will need the technician to start the process, direct the investigation, plug the right connectors into the correct data ports, and explain the problem to an anxious driver. The ones who can stand in the growing gap between carmakers and car drivers will be increasingly valuable.

Far from being sidelined by technology, I believe technicians will see their roles altered and enhanced.


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