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Dissecting the human/machine test conundrum

T Ashok @ash_thiru


It is common to see testing discussions veer into a dichotomy of “manual vs automated testing” and how the latter is indeed the order of day today. Sadly I find the discussed seriously flawed. In this article I dissect these the way we test as being human-powered and machine-assisted and outline an interesting way as to how the role of power of human and machine assistance is paramount to do testing smartly, rapidly and super efficiently.


The way we test has been trivialised into two buckets of manual and automated test by general milieu. Firstly the phrase “manual testing” seems to connote a menial job, intensely labour oriented which it is not and therefore the phrase highly incorrect. Secondly the notion of automated testing seems to connote writing scripts and running it frequently to detect issues. What is forgotten is that once a test script uncovers an issue which when fixed makes this script as a health ascertainer rather than a ‘bug finder’ and that test cases/strategy needs to be constantly updated to newer more ubiquitous issues.

Human-Machine testing NOT Manual-Automated testing

The more appropriate word would be HUMAN testing , as it connotes a combination of BODY-ily activity wth INTELECTual thinking powered by MIND. MACHINE as term is probably more appropriate in signifying an aid to test in a holistic manner rather than AUTOMATED testing, which seems to to connote only build and execute.

HUMAN Testing = intellect+body+mind

Philosophically human is seen a composition of Body, Mind and Intellect. Using the same idea context of testing, I see the act of physically observing, hearing, doing, feeling BODY-ily activity while INTELLECTual activity powers some of the key activities of testing while MIND enables appropriate thinking.

Human Based Testing = INTELLECT + BODY + MIND

The backdrop to dissection

To dissect the various the activities and understand what needs to be done HUMAN and what can be by a MACHINE, I am going to use the Test Activity list that outlines key activities in the lifecycle of testing:

  • Understanding the System under test
  • Strategising and planning the test
  • Designing test scenarios, cases, data sets
  • Executing tests including automation
  • Reporting – issues, progress
  • Analyse – issues, test progress, learnings

Now we will analyse the various HUMAN-powered and MACHINE-assisted activities for each key activity.


The complete HUMAN-MACHINE conundrum dissected here:

Note that this is not be intended to be comprehensive filled with all tool aids, nor all the human activities as this map would lose its utility then! Use this as as aid to understand the HUMAN-MACHINE test conundrum and for heaven’s sake STOP USING the phrases “MANUAL and AUTOMATED testing”.

“It is time we recognised that it takes smart HUMANs assisted by MACHINES (really tools/tech) to test less, test rapidly and accomplish more”