In every disaster movie, there’s a doubter. Someone who stands in the way of salvation. An unflinching ideologue; a creativity vacuum fuelled by personal ambition; a scaredy cat. It doesn’t matter who they are. We all know they’re unlikely to make it to the end of the film.
Yet in the unfolding disaster movie of climate change, it feels like doubters are winning.
As horror after horror manifests itself as water – too much of it in the form of floods, too little in the form of drought, famine, fire – is the water industry’s reputation for caution going to be the world’s undoing?
The reason I ask is because, for all the sector’s advances in innovation, technology and digital smart networks, we still seem to be doing the same things and expecting different results.
Systems must adapt to innovation
It’s not individuals who are at fault. We all want to be heroes: the flawed risk-takers who make mistakes, roll with the punches and get up fighting. If we didn’t, the cinema would be a very different experience.
The problem is that the dice are loaded against individuals because inflexible systems of custom, company procedure, commercial contract and regulation don’t allow for creative failure.
This needs to change. If we can’t ask questions without fear of losing our livelihoods, or sinking our careers, technology will never fulfil its promise to save the planet.
Most of the heroes I meet work in innovation. This isn’t because they’re fundamentally better people. Almost none of them wear a cape. It’s because in innovation failure is an accepted part of the process.
Humans have nothing to fear from AI
Now, I’m not suggesting you throw caution to the wind. But I am saying that innovation will not work without a commitment to change control that empowers considered experimentation and honest dialogue from the top of the organisation to the bottom.
Take AI. At street level, it’s perfectly rational to fear for the repercussions of artificial intelligence if you’ve not been part of the journey.
In fact, artificial intelligence is a bad name. Yes, it takes quite a brain to write an algorithm that can make thousands upon thousands of super-accurate decisions based on a mind-bending amount of minute data.
But in terms of intelligence it’s barely climbed out of the primordial soup when you compare it to the sheer brilliance of a human for making complex connections. It’s a tool. It will never replace people.
Jobs change, they don’t disappear
For instance, FIDO AI is the best tool for detecting leaks. It analyses 1,000s of acoustic files to over 92% accuracy in same time it would take a human to do 12 and get about 7 of them right.
It even does things humans can’t do, like analyse sounds outside the threshold of hearing and tell you leak size. Now, at the click of a button you know where your large leaks are. You send your engineers to them. You cut the run time short and save more precious water for the planet. Then, you make a cup of tea and still have your day ahead of you to do other important stuff.
The key thing is that the job changes, but it doesn’t go away. It focusses on other challenges where humans add value and AI is hopeless. That’s everything from strategic decisions to digging holes.
We must address change control
Humans used to roll heavy stones around on tree trunks. It was the best idea we had at that time. But since discovering the wheel we’ve never looked back. We have reached that point with new technology.
The listening stick was an elegant solution. But we can’t hold onto it just because AI doesn’t fit exactly into a listening stick shaped hole (even though ours does, by the way). Climate change won’t wait.
The safe old water industry is on the front line and we need to ask ourselves: Are we going to be doubters or heroes?
I say be a hero. Move fast. Break things. Save the planet with change control.