Why A True Supply Management Professional Still Will Not Be Replaced by Technology

Algorithms still don’t sense, still can’t read the majority of non-verbal cues (as even the best mood detection algorithms can barely differentiate between “happy”, “indifferent”, and “sad” … even when the people it is analyzing have big smiles, flat lips, and big frowns), take calculated risks that go outside the programmed parameters, or form common bonds. They don’t feel, and they are not intelligent. And while their predictive capabilities are now getting scary in some respects, they are not infallible, and as we discussed in our last post, when they fail, they fail in a big, big way.

As first noted in our original post five years on Why a True Supply Management Professional will Never be Replaced by Technology, not only do algorithms not feel, but they are als incapable of accurately predicting how a person will respond to a suggestion that has any emotional impact whatsoever. Especially in today’s individualistic society where the message is what is interpreted by the recipient and only someone with a shared understanding will be able to comprehend what that is and react accordingly. As a result, an algorithm cannot negotiate (unless it is negotiating with another algorithm — but that’s not the best of ideas. When two algorithms negotiate, they develop their own undecipherable shorthand [as evidenced in multiple studies and real world occurrences, which includes two creepy Facebook bots talking to each other in a secret language], and we won’t be able to figure out what they did or why. (Was it to optimize the best win-win situation or was it to advance the plans for building SkyNet. We don’t know.)]

Secondly, as pointed out in our previous posts, successful negotiation depends on more than a first party transmitting a message to a second party that the second party can accept, but understanding all of the possible messages which might be accepted, their likelihood, and which are the most preferable to each organization and selecting the best one for the situation at hand. And while an algorithm can compute which options are likely given certain assumptions, and which of these options are the least distance from optimal according to some metric, it cannot determine what assumptions to make. Only a person who can feel, and feel what the other party is feeling, can be the judge of what good assumptions are. And, secondly, algorithms cannot sense. They don’t feel, and they don’t have instinct —- because that requires real intelligence!

Thirdly, as described above, they can’t accurately read non-verbal cues. Even if someone is stating that they may be agreeable to an offer, the reality might be that they may have no intention of ever accepting the offer, and are only indicating the contrary either because it’s the culturally polite thing to do or they want to stall for more time while they figure out their position. It’s often the case that such a person is not as good at masking their demeanor as they are at masking their words. It might be the case that their non-verbal cues give more away than they would like, but only a trained negotiator with years of experience and instinct could be an accurate judge of this.

But, even more importantly, they still typically can’t detect patterns in unrelated data, as it’s typically the case they can only process specified data in a specified set of ways. And a fixed data pool never tells the whole story. A fixed algorithm might not know that a fire today will impact resource availability in six months, that your main competitor is likely to go out of business due to a massive loss in a patent infringement lawsuit, or that a new technology is going to make the current technology obsolete in 18 months, with prices and demand starting to plummet in six months. As a result, in each of these instances, the algorithm would buy (today) (at a much) higher (price) than it needs to.

In short, the proper application of good, assistive intelligence, technology will make you two, ten, and maybe even one hundred times more productive (depending on the metric), but it cannot replace you. No matter what a vendor may claim. So don’t be scared of new technology for your supply chain —- embrace it. But don’t trust it blindly. Verify. Then you’ll have the best of both worlds — efficiency, with reliability — provided not by the system, but by your intelligent brain.