Keeping the human touch

Keeping the human touch

The recent tragic crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 jet has brought into focus the subject of over-reliance on automated systems at the cost of basic human interventional approaches. Flight safety and aviation experts, while upholding the importance and inevitability of technology, have also emphasised that the human element must not be ignored and training must focus equally on human skills to handle complex flight safety issues.

This point about human skills versus machine intelligence reminds me of an incident that happened about a decade ago. Complaining about severe pain in the lower left half of her body, my mother consulted a reputed senior neurosurgeon. I was a witness to what happened in the doctor’s chamber. After examining her, the surgeon announced that the sixth vertebral disc was slightly displaced and pressing against the soft tissue pad containing the nerves in between this disc and the one below, causing the severe pain.

Surprised at the instantaneous diagnosis, without the mandatory scans et al, I asked the surgeon how he could so precisely pinpoint the particular disc. His words bear repetition here. “We have been trained to use our hands, eyes and ears to the maximum to gather information. I do not deride modern medical technology which has enabled great strides in medical science. But basic human diagnostic ability must come first and only then must be supplanted by advanced technology.” A later pre-operative scan confirmed exactly what the surgeon had said.

In another instance, a friend of mine who was learning classical music decided to explore a new raga. He referred to a standard treatise that mentioned the ascending and descending scales of this raga. After practising its delineation, he felt he was confident to participate in a competition. Not realising that there was another raga with exactly the same scale, but with a very small but critical difference of oscillating a particular note, he proceeded with its exposition, dwelling on modulating that note for effect. Needless to say, not only did he not qualify he was also advised by the examiners to learn from a teacher the subtle nuances which no text could provide.

And lastly, a case with yours truly. Deciding to teach a lesson to my better half for smirking at my attempts to cook, I set off to show my culinary skills without seeking her advice. I decided to prepare a sweet dish using pounded rice. My good friend YouTube gave me all the information needed. Or so I thought. Using raw rice instead of rice soaked overnight, dried in the shade and then pounded coarsely, the result, in my wife’s words “could be donated to the local post office to be used as glue which they usually just keep on a piece of waste paper”. A case of ‘pride’ but honestly, no ‘prejudice’.

Technologies may come and then become obsolete, but ignoring basic human skills can only imperil mankind.