In an otherwise routine week, one of The Engineer’s colleagues approached with questions. Ordinarily nothing to worry about.
But the individual concerned is a salesman. The hairs on the back of The Engineer’s neck stood on end and his nervous twitch returned. This was only going one way… the pit of despair followed by beer.
You see, the salesman had questions about the capabilities of our products. Those of you who design and know intimately the real capabilities of your products will know that the bullshit fed to a customer or printed in literature often bares no resemblance. And salespersons are often the culprit.
Most of you may consider this to be par for the course, but The Engineer does not. The Engineer has integrity; this is tantamount to misrepresentation or lying.
Worse still, most buyers simply are not savvy enough to cut through the sales guff and understand a product or service for what it really is. They buy with a legitimate expectation of what they are receiving and find themselves underwhelmed.
Artificial Intelligence is a very prominent example in the consumer market. A consumer would be forgiven for believing the technology to be capable of acquiring, using knowledge and skills, exhibiting autonomous decision making and making intuitive leaps. This is after all the definition of intelligence.
But guess what, under the hood its just a bunch of ingeneous algorithms that process data to provide a desired result. Nerual networks and deep learning algorithms have been known about for a long time, but at the present state of the technology there is no real intelligence. It is simply the application of raw porcessing power made available in recent years to provide a better result than traditional alternatives. Smart assistants (e.g. Siri or Cortana) having undoubtedly become better with these modern methods, are perfect illustration. They tend to be novelties that quickly become underwhelming under scruitiny.
The capitalists amongst you will point out that in the consumer market, inflated claims are a part of differentiaiting your product, necessary as a result of competition which is proven to drive innovation. Correct but must we always walk so close to the line?
The Engineer recognises this mostly harmless but consider for a moment beyond to the world of industry (or IT, miliary, aviation etc for that matter), where many transactions are bespoke and unique. These are projects and services based on features and capabilities sold, not nessesarily pre existing equipment with track record.
The salesperson makes promises to a customer which the engineers are expected to keep. But what if they can’t be kept? The Engineer is reminded of a time when he was asked to violate conservation of energy!
Well, this is when you end up with failed products and systems, not fit for purpose, fulfilling the wrong function and legal proceedings. Suddenly a job bringing in money is losing it massively. And the funny thing? Its very easy to avoid, all it needs is technical and non technical staff to properly communicate and a willingness to be honest and open about your offering.
This doesn’t sound like too much to ask.
But then again, there’s another salesman approaching…