Machines are taking over, but we still need people

Jon Cudby

My other half is pretty smart.

You might argue every example of her wisdom is simply down to the law of averages and she is still making up for the monumental stupidity she displayed in one key decision many years ago.

You might be right. Whatever, she is prone to regular bursts of insight when considering all sorts of issues, big and small.

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Her advice on New Year’s resolutions – “don’t give something up; take something up” – is a rule I still try to live by. This approach not only makes people who follow it automatically more interesting and interested, it also saves the crushing disappointment failure to stick to puritanical abstention brings just a day or two into every January.

As a psychologist, her parenting is solely responsible for my children both being reasonable human beings, despite my best efforts to send them feral.

And most pertinently, Mrs Cudby refuses to use satnav or spellcheck. She argues these tools, designed to make our lives easier, are actually making us all worse as people. We can’t spell or find our way around anymore, she argues (probably rightly, as usual) because we have machines that do it for us.

The speed with which we have come to rely on these machines is matched by the speed with which we have forgotten how to perform simple tasks for ourselves.

It is not just younger generations who can not spell; older people are also forgetting how to, because we have computers to clean up after us. And we are always focusing on the quickest way rather than looking around for any interesting or rewarding deviations.

Someone cleverer than either me or my other half once said: “life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” But we don’t stop and look around. We are oblivious to the road less travelled, instead barely looking up from our phones as we trudge the fastest route from A to B.

And as with so many trends in life, this over-reliance on technology is finding its way into financial services. It is happening most notably with the relentless rise of robo-advice, which is still enjoying attention wildly disproportionate to the size of its client base. And now the FCA has decided it needs a special task force to police it.

As I have written before, I have no problem with robo-advice. There is a market for which it should work well. But, as we keep pointing out, it is not really advice.

Lots of existing advisers (you know? Proper advisers. The ones who deal in actual advice) are now trying to branch out into robo offerings. This is fine, but at some point, if we in the industry do not make the distinction, punters won’t either.