June 12, 2007

Sapience In The Age Of Automation

Posted by Ben Simo

Society has unwittingly fallen into a machine-centered orientation to life, one that emphasizes the needs of technology over those of people, thereby forcing people into a supporting role, one for which we are most unsuited. Worse, the machine-centered viewpoint compares people to machines and finds us wanting, incapable of precise, repetitive, accurate actions. Although this is a natural comparison, and one that pervades society, it is also a most inappropriate view of people. It emphasizes tasks and activities that we should not be performing and ignores our primary skills and attributes -- activities that are done poorly, if at all, by machines. When we take the machine-centered point of view, we judge things on artificial, mechanical merits. The result is continuing estrangement between humans and machines, continuing and growing frustration with technology and with the pace ans stress of a technologically centered life.

- Donald A. Norman
Things That Make Us Smart:
Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine

In his book, Things That Made Us Smart, Donald Norman argues that the technology that has made us smarter by allowing us to manage the artifacts of cognition needs to be made to conform to people instead of the more common practice of people conforming to technology.

Society often heralds the benefits of machines and overlooks the wonders of the human mind. This seems to be especially true in software development and testing. Many people talk about automating all tests with the assumption that the traits of the machine are better than those of human testers.
In any activity done by a human, there is the human aspect (not practically mechanizable), a physical aspect involving translation or transformation of matter and energy (mechanizable in principle), and a problem-solving aspect (sometimes transformed by mechanization, sometimes not affected).
- James Bach, Sapient Processes
If we limit our definition and practice of testing to the strengths of the machine, we are not really testing: we are overlooking the insight, intelligence, and wisdom that sets us human beings apart from the machines we create.
(noun) sapience ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight
In his Blog post Sapient Processes, James Bach applies the term sapience to processes that require skilled human beings. Sapient processes cannot be fully automated. Testing is a sapient process.

Automation can be a useful tool to help us manage the artifacts of cognition during testing. However, no automation on its own is sapient. Therefore, no automation on its own is testing.

Don't anthropomorphise the machines. Doing so requires stepping down to the level of machines.

The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb.
- Marshall McLuhan


1 Comment:

August 21, 2007  
Sarath Chander wrote:

Automation in Software has never been a threat to Sapience. It only aids the most innovative phases both in Process as well as Testing as far as Software QA is concerned. Contrary notions are spread by brand marketing blitz of Big Test tool vendors, willingly swallowed by 'Visionary' Middle management Executives and Corporate leaders; who spent a good part of their lives on the shore re-engineering a ship sailing in the sea!!