Managers and Machines – The Future of Supply Chain

March 17th, 2011 5:28 pm Category: Optimization, Supply Chain Improvement, by: Alan Kosansky

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Just this week, IBM’s “Watson” computer showed off its impressive language processing capability by handily beating the best humans at the game Jeopardy!. This was of interest because Jeopardy is filled with tricky language such as puns, slang and wordplay; and Watson was able to process it all, figure out the context, and take it to the humans in winning handily. You can read about Ken Jenning’s firsthand account at

This story reminds me of the 1997 chess competition between Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov. I was fortunate to hear Kasparov speak at a supply chain conference just days after he had lost to Deep Blue. Despite the fact that he was deeply upset about having lost, Kasparov was able to share important insights that were relevant to the supply chain industry and business in general. What he pointed out was that the competition missed the real point. He described how machines were better at certain kinds of tasks (memorization of massive data, fast processing through the data, etc..), and humans were better at other tasks (certain kinds of inferences and relationships), and that in the future he would hope to see man-machine teams compete against one another to see who could create the best combination of person and machine to be the best at Chess.

Clearly this was an insightful comment to a room filled with supply chain experts. It is our job, every day, to make the best possible decisions in the face of an overwhelming amount of data in front of us. We know for sure, that we cannot rely completely on technology to make these decisions. We know equally well that experience and business savvy are not enough in today’s world to consistently make the best decisions for our business. So our challenge is the one of which we are once again reminded: how best to combine human ingenuity, experience and insight with the power of modern technology to make our business and supply chain be the best they can be. At Profit Point, this is our passion.

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