Today people are implementing technology into every aspect of their lives and businesses, from smartphones to the soon-to-be-ubiquitous monitoring and communication devices of the internet of things (IoT). While these technologies have simplified many things, people have greatly overlooked the human element and the need for commonsense risk control protocols to protect our resources when conducting affairs online. Individuals fail to fully consider the abilities, expectations and personalities of their coworkers, colleagues and friends.

We are hearing more about machine learning and artificial intelligence. It can only be assumed that our computers and devices will become more powerful, but will they become wiser? While some may argue that computers are becoming smarter, there is a point where artificial intelligence is purely artificial. That is where the human element comes in. We will atrophy if we adopt machine-to-machine (M2M) and autonomous machine learning as our ultimate goal. (For more on the human-technology relationship, see 5 Weird Ways Technology Is Changing Our Behavior.)

Over-Confidence in Technology?

As of late we have seen numerous high-profile examples of what can and will go wrong when we let technology take the lead (i.e. Target and Sony hacks, both of which were the result of over-confidence). This didn’t have to happen. Simply put, computers are not a panacea. They can’t fix problems they don’t know about, which means the human element is indispensable. Regardless of how strong or powerful our computers become, humans in leadership and operational positions will always be necessary to tell the computers what to do, what to look for, when and how to respond.

I don’t believe that by giving machines more control we are inevitably going to end up in a war against the machines as in the movie, “The Terminator.” However, who is it that we really want to empower, machines or people? (To learn more about the growth of artificial intelligence, see Don’t Look Back, Here They Come! The Advance of Artificial Intelligence.)

Data Empowering People and Machines

As human beings, we have inputted and stored more data in the past few years than in all of history. We did this with the help of interconnected computers utilizing complicated algorithms, giving birth to big data and all its benefits. Big data has the potential to help all mankind in myriad ways. Diseases can be cured, global warming can be exposed more readily, extinction of animals can be reduced and the world’s water supply may be increased. Humans are closer to solving almost every world problem as a result of big data, cloud computing and human leadership in the form of command, control and coordination.

Just as this data is enlightening us, it is also making our computers more useful, yet computers learn from reoccurring inputs and it is our responsibility not to become lackadaisical towards our interaction with them. Computers find patterns, analyze them and auto-populate predictions.

For example, a patient goes to see his doctor. The doctor assumes that his new digital medical records system is completely accurate and doesn’t bother to ask the patient about any new medications or supplements he may be taking. The doctor prescribes a new medication and this new medicine has an interaction with a medication that isn’t listed on the patient’s electronic medical record. The patient has a terrible interaction and ends up in the hospital. Cases just like this are now occurring daily and are just the tip of the iceberg.

Human Supervision Still Necessary

While data and networks are making our lives easier, we still need the human element to double check the computer. We need to keep our head in the game and this comes down to following policies, procedures and processes each and every time.

As an experienced risk manager, I am amazed how careless individuals are when they venture into cyberspace. People are willing to search, share and shop without any thought to who might be watching or lurking. “Out of sight, out of mind” seems loosen people’s resolve as they offer up data to anyone that may be lurking in the shadows of the net without any worry. Not only do we point and click with ease, giving away information and creating misinformation daily, we further complicate our cyber lives through complacency.

Policy, procedure, process, check lists et al. exist to keep us focused during complex operations and/or times of stress so that we can successfully accomplish the task at hand. As we move forward, it is essential to remain engaged, as the alternative reality is that we are all just one click away from being humbled, or worse.