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If we cast AI as humanity’s technological companion rather than competitor, AI will enable us to refocus again on human strengths and, perhaps even establish a more efficient, sustainable, and human-centric workplace, Sonali Fenner writes.
The AI revolution is underway. Machine learning and large language models, computer vision, synthetic data and natural language processing are top of mind for businesses regardless of size, industry, or location.
Why? AI has the potential to create great disruption in business: dramatically reshaping how we operate, learn, and innovate.
Some critics speak of how AI will completely replace human employees; that it will be the ultimate showdown of survival between humans and machines.
While it is true that this emerging technology is capable of taking over some human tasks, it could also create new industries, reshape existing ones, and ultimately widen the scope of jobs available to many.
Thoughtful implementation, with a critical eye on ethical considerations, and ongoing workforce training will enable businesses to adapt and embrace AI rather than fear it – creating opportunity and growth from what is possibly the most notable technology transformation in recent history.
But are we thinking about the impact of AI in the right ways?
AI needs humans, too
Much has been made of the efficiency and process automation capabilities of AI. It can be deployed to assist in research tasks, to analyse vast amounts of data, to code, debug, predict and problem solve, as well as to create original content.
This potential to automate non-routine tasks stands AI apart from previous technical advances and is one of the main reasons it is considered by some to be a danger to the future of the workforce.
However, companies that use AI to automate their operations solely to reduce employee numbers will only achieve short-term productivity gains.
Focusing only on efficiency, businesses diminish the long-term possibilities for true AI-enabled differentiation and disruption — and let’s not forget AI needs humans too.
On the whole, the successes of AI to date have been activity or task-based, not necessarily job-based.
Generative AI needs coaching from humans to optimise output — validating accuracy, providing leadership and judgement, enhancing creative thinking, removing bias or guarding against irresponsible use.
An ongoing transformation process is at hand
A great example of how AI and humans can work together to improve effectiveness is illustrated in a study by Harvard Medical School that found medical-imaging AI was 92% accurate, and a trained human pathologist was 96% accurate — in combination they were 99.5% accurate.
The benefits of this combinatory approach and the handshake between humans and AI are leading to a proliferation of job listings in areas such as AI prompt engineering and AI ethics.
To get the most out of AI, companies need to re-look at their business processes based on what needs improvement.
Is it their operational flexibility, speed, or scalability, their decision making or the acceleration of their innovation pipeline?
Once this is defined, a strategy for improvement can be created and AI’s role in enabling the required change can be agreed on.
Businesses must also consider the training and upskilling of their employees as an ongoing transformation process that evolves as the capabilities, challenges and risks of AI itself continue to evolve.
How should business leaders approach AI?
While the upsides of artificial intelligence and its role within the economy are limitless, there are notable challenges for business leaders to consider — these should also be the cornerstone of any ongoing workforce education program.
Mitigating the risks of artificial intelligence starts by understanding its capabilities. The vast amount of data generated by large language models means that identifying and controlling data is one of the most vital aspects of using AI tools correctly.
Similarly, those in positions of corporate responsibility and security must ensure they’re not using AI tools in conjunction with confidential information, as this may invalidate or endanger their work.
Ethical consequences should also be taken into consideration. Natural language processing and AI tools require safeguards to ensure they behave responsibly.
Similarly to the moderation of algorithm biases on social media, AI tools can make flawed assumptions based on human biases, and these must be accounted for if businesses and the workforce are to use tools effectively and ethically.
The AI genie is out of the bottle. Like previous evolutions, this technology will boost productivity and significantly impact the workforce of the future.
If we cast AI as humanity’s technological companion rather than competitor, AI will enable us to refocus again on human strengths such as leadership, strategic thinking and creativity and, perhaps even establish a more efficient, sustainable, and human-centric workplace.
_Sonali Fenner is Managing Director at Slalom, a global business and technology consulting company.
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