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AFTF 2019

The superhumans in business’ future

The robots aren’t coming – they have already arrived. They are among us, says Sean Gourley, CEO and founder of Primer. Artificial intelligence is making us better at what we do, he says - and more able to cope with the increasing pace of business change.

There is evidence for this across industries. HR professionals no longer have to spend time on menial tasks such as chasing sick-leave forms and filing annual-leave requests. They now focus on tasks of higher importance, often at a strategic level, helping to drive an organisation forward.


"The role of the human is conductor instead of pianist, elevated instead of menial, strategic instead of functional. The human is made superhuman by the machine.”

-Sean Gourley

Accountants have left behind menial tasks such as shuffling through paper receipts and are now business advisers for their clients. The increased capability offered by technology has allowed governments to implement more efficient tax and superannuation management systems, such as single-touch payroll.

Service staff offer customers entirely new levels of personalisation, meaning large organisations can provide the type of individualisation previously exclusive to small businesses.

Best of all, Gourley says, we’re using technology in our personal lives to do more of what we love and less of the rest.

Consider, he says, not so long ago if we wanted to hear piano music, a human had to play for us. Today, things are very different.

“Computers know how to play piano,” Gourley tells ANZ Institutional at the ANZ Finance and Treasury Forum 2019 in Singapore.

“If you want piano you just tee the computer up, it’ll play you piano. Right? And so you say, well, I want this sample and they have access to every sample, and now my job is to mix the samples together.”


The role of the human is conductor instead of pianist, elevated instead of menial, strategic instead of functional. The human is made superhuman by the machine.

This freedom that results – to do the work we are most passionate about – makes entire workforces more effective and, at the same time, more human.

For a business there are a lot of benefits. One is freeing staff from the tedious tasks that sap energy, satisfaction and engagement.

“If your task is to record risks for an audit, maybe that’s automated,” Gourley says. “But the ‘So what?’ for those risks, maybe that becomes something you spend a lot more of your time with.”

Best process wins

The most successful organisations will be those that develop the best processes between humans and machines.

Gourley refers to Kasparov’s Law, which refers to the fact the best human/machine process will always beat superior technology or superior human expertise. Kasparov’s Law emerged from a game known as ‘freestyle chess’, in which a human and a machine in partnership competed against other human/machine pairs.

“What they learned from this was really fascinating,” Gourley says. “It wasn’t the best machine. It wasn’t the best human chess player. What actually mattered was the best process - the best combination of how they work together.”

“There was a mid-level chess player with a consumer-grade chess engine that won the tournament. They beat the supercomputers, they beat the grandmasters. They won because they had better process.”

“I think when we look at the integration of machines into businesses, we really want to think about process.”


ANZ Finance & Treasury Forum 2019

At the ANZ Finance and Treasury Forum in October, Gourley was among a host of international though leaders who discussed the challenges of doing business in a global environment, as well as the opportunities.

ANZ’s forum brought together business, political and industry leaders to share their perspectives on trends shaping the region and the practical implications they will have on finance professionals.

The forum showcased practical experiences, transformation journeys and successes shared through real-life case studies which brought new technologies, business models and solutions to life.

ANZ Institutional will be bringing you highlights of the event over the coming weeks.



What exactly does this mean for business? The answer will be different for every business and every industry, but leaders must consider what levels of decisions machines should be making, then figure out when a human should be allowed to challenge a machine’s decision.

“When does the human update that data? Who is allowed to update that data? And so it goes on. The processes is the thing that matters here,” Gourley says.

From there, every step of the process must be analysed to figure out what a machine can be trusted to do, and how a human can add value.

“It's not as sexy as the algorithms. It’s not as sexy as the geniuses. It’s process!” he says. “But at the end of the day, processes build businesses.”

“The reality here is that we are going to be taking parts of us and parts of machines and becoming a combination of both.”

Gourley thinks the important question is which parts of the human and which parts of the machine are utilised.

“Hopefully it’s the good parts of the human and the good parts of the machine,” he says.

Chris Sheedy is a contributor at ANZ Institutional

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