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Engineers must think like Picasso, says futurologist

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Computers can provide answers but it is up to engineers to ask the right questions, futurologist Dave Coplin told attendees of New Civil Engineer’s TechFest.

It is not “humans versus machines, it is humans and machines” the chief executive of The Envisioners added, and encouraged businesses consider “how you can use technology to change the built environment and people’s lives.”

In the keynote speech at the festival of innovation and technology today at Hilton Bankside hotel in central London, Coplin quoted Picasso and told a room full of engineers “computers are useless, they can only give you answers”, but what engineers need to do is ask the right questions.

Coplin, who has written two books about the need to rethink the use of technology in the modern world, said humans can “take the technology and do something that it cannot do, it can’t tell me if people are happy or sad, and what that might mean. It’s not to replace us.”

He questioned the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ and said that it is neither artificial or intelligent but is instead a case of automation, and it is what humans do with the technology that is important.

Data should be used to predict the future rather than reflect on outcomes he said, and asked “how would you run your business in a world where you could predict what will happen?”

The author of ‘Rise of the Humans’ added that companies need to digitise and plan for the future rather than just engineer for the present.

He said companies should focus on the outcome not the process and consider whether sticking to traditional methods may prevent change and innovation, saying “you have got to get outside of your company and industry and bring it back to your project”.

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