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The Premium of Human Advice: What I Learned From an Uber Ride

I was late and pacing. I had finished a presentation on the impact of fintech and technology on the legal profession and was waiting for my Uber. With an adjacent meeting creeping up, I began to lose patience with the amount of time the driver was taking. Seeing him repeatedly drive by exacerbated the situation. My calls with directions were ignored but he eventually spotted my waving arms and pulled over. My greeting was curt: why have you been driving in circles? “The GPS said to go straight” he responded emphatically.

I was seething during the drive. I made it clear in repeated calls that the GPS was not accurate and that I would guide him. Yet despite my best efforts, the digital voice won.

This episode is a validation of a growing bias. In some respect, we have started to rely on technology to the detriment of common sense. We prefer computerized advice on the assumption that its processing ability dwarfs our own and therefore merits greater consideration.

And yet technology is not infallible. Stories of cars driving into bodies of water are common, invoking disbelief and ridicule. Unsurprisingly, most of us would likely fall prey to the same mistake, blindly following the GPS while failing to notice the receding pavement until soaked.

Though I am a technology evangelist, I admit that human advice cannot be discounted. Instead, it magnifies the relevance and affords it greater importance. Take my Uber “incident” again; if the automated voice admitted its shortcomings and suggested consulting a gas station attendant, the driver would likely have done so.

My point is that technology does not discredit human advice but compounds its value. Not only does it free us from trivial tasks, but it also places a premium on personal service.

Some lawyers are outsourcing mundane work like document review to artificial intelligence. Surprisingly, their earnings are flourishing as they focus on niche practices which allow them to charge higher hourly rates. With machines doing routine work, what’s left for humans carries greater prestige.

Financial institutions can benefit from this trade-off as well. Take robo-advisory services where algorithms recommend inexpensive portfolios based on a client assessment. The selling point is that the automated and low-cost service makes investing hands-off and accessible to a greater audience. The assessment can also be programmed to segment clients which would benefit from greater attention and human involvement, highlighting the benefit of a one on one consultation. That advice would likely be given greater weight, and may even cost more, due to the implicit trust we place in technology.

The mortgage industry presents another example. As John Siracusa explains on his Bank on It podcast, artificial intelligence won’t replace humans but compliment their services. Chatbots are great at engaging customers for simple inquiries. However, when the bot notices a change in tone from inquisitive to decision making, it can quickly prompt a mortgage officer to engage the client.

Technology should not be viewed as a threat. While it may lead to the elimination of some jobs, the human intervention that remains will carry a premium. The challenge for financial institutions will be to find the sweet spot for both.

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