AI mind-set for Leaders
23 November 2019
By Thilak Iyer
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digitization in general are some of the coolest topics of our time for brainstorming among like-minded friends and colleagues. In the last few weeks, I was engaged in various wonderful discussions about AI and Digitization in general with friends & colleagues who are consultants and pioneers in this field, over cup of coffee, breakfast and car trips. These discussions have enriched and encouraged me to put together this article. It is an amalgamation of thoughts from various angles for AI and its impact on corporations and humankind.
AI is here to stay. AI is defining the new world order. If not already, we will end up sharing our virtual office space with AI. It is going to disrupt our personal life style and corporate behaviours and culture. It is going to disrupt government, trade unions and wars (both cyber and physical).
The AI hype is real and we need to act on it. There is an increasing demand for knowledge about AI from executives across industries. While some have taken the next steps to learn about AI and the new world order defined by AI, most of them are still grappling with the idea of AI and how to leverage it in their space. It requires the development and leverage of a non-conventional leadership mind-set. The ones who have decided to take the next step are leveraging AI consultants to re-imagine their world with AI. This is an efficient way for executives to catch-up and ride up the
AI wave without de-focusing much from their business as usual.
Understanding and leverage AI systematically can be accomplished by understanding its possible impacts on your critical and key stakeholders:
Board members & investors
Besides the above, you have an obligation towards:
All these entities are going to be impacted or are going to impact you. Leaders leveraging AI have to be cognizant of these stakeholder impacts and think different, deeper and further than ever before.
AI and robotics together have the potential to bring about the highest global unemployment ever witnessed by humankind. It becomes each of our responsibility to create a just world that includes AI and still ensure that people are engaged, employed and/or taken care off.
It is not enough if we just think like Scientists, Engineers and Businessmen anymore. We also need to rise above our materialistic desires and see the impact of AI on humanity with a philosophical and humanitarian mind-set. AI can be catastrophic to mankind if it is not given the right importance and attention as it starts its journey with us as an infant does. We may be able to turn this potentially catastrophic event into one where AI will enable every human being to lead a better life with less work, more family time, reasonable health care, abundant food and security.
Leaders need to leverage a very unconventional mind-set when it comes to leveraging AI. A tool centric approach alone to define the new AI enabled organization may not yield results. A philosophical mind-set is essential, both from morale and an ethical point of view. The concerns of Elon Musk, Steven Hawking, UN and several AI researchers may very well lead to the creation of regulatory agencies akin to FDA. Also, it is important to be prepared for new global and/or local regulations and laws for AI usage.
The impact of AI on the existing employees is and will be high in terms of stress and fear. The fear of losing job is real. Many leaders have boldly rolled out their sleeves to put together the new vision and objectives aligned to AI and Digitization. It is important for leaders to address the needs and benefits for their clients, investors and board members. However, the more important aspect of ensuring that the employees are not threatened by the real or assumed powers of AI is often missing or inadequate in the strategy. A balanced and thought out change management from top down is absolutely essential. Executives and Managers must be sensitised when working with staff on the new AI aligned Organizational design and Organizational development initiatives.
The need for clarity of your objectives and expectations from a technology has never been so important. AI technology is available and can be leveraged in its various forms from low-tech to High tech, low intelligent to highly intelligent and low-cost to high-cost. AI is evolving at a very fast pace.
Cost cutting as the substantiation for AI implementation can be disastrous in most cases. Implementation of AI technology is not going to necessarily reduce your cost like a flip switch. Established RPA product & solution companies for logistics promise a quick ~3 month benefit realization period for their clients. But the reality on ground is around ~12 months to realize benefit. It takes time to sanitise and make the organization's tacit knowledge available to AI system. AI system is only as intelligent and well behaved as the people who teach them, provide them input and/or interact with them. The potential power of AI running amok and causing damages is a real possibility.
We definitely want to avoid these at all levels especially at the front end customer interaction level. This is exemplified by what Microsoft's AI "Tay" had gone through on her debut online and all the inappropriate words, phrases and ideas that she learned on day one, making her one of the most talked about AI girl on the internet. It takes time for organization to regulate what RPA system learns & its responses to unexpected questions from clients in its early phase. AI systems have a learning curve. And so does the other employees who interact or work with AI. Besides, the availability of more structured data collected by AI (like RPA) will require organizations to hire more skilled people to analyse and address the data and the information and take necessary action. So, the cost cut through layoff in this case is offset by the learning curve and the hiring of advanced skilled people. Eventually the day will come when these analysts role can be replicated by AI.
"Until then, increased revenue, increased productivity, High availability, Scalability etc. are reasonable objectives and reason for AI. Increased quality of life for employees and re-skilling of employees are nobler objectives that corporate could use to gain brand respect"
In most cases AI is a "no go" if the organization cannot articulate/document the nuances of their business at a fundamental level. AI systems may not be one black box where you throw in all the junk and expect miracle from it. Microsoft's Tay taught us that any junk thrown at it will be returned back in kind or exponentially. The junk thrown at an AI system from within the organization is more controllable than the one that is thrown from outside by clients.
Imagining the AI to be one black box that serves all the needs of your organization will be a disaster at this early stage when the leadership is still human. It is highly advisable for a consumer of AI system and AI solution providers to think off and design AI systems to be modular with their own specific capability, demeanours and emotional intelligence (EI). Yes, I meant EI and the technology is already here, thanks to IBM Watson's API for emotions. If the AI module is for your back office, then mostly EI doesn't matter. But a front end AI module dealing with human customers need EI. We are in the early phase of AI that is in the form of soft humanoids. So the division of roles in AI is essential to control AI behaviour at a role level and also to control the behaviour of human staff with that AI role. This enables legal compliances, regulatory compliances and corporate policy compliances at a role level.
The traditional objective needs to be re-looked rigorously in the context of AI. It is an opportunity to improve productivity and revenue but not by discounting humanity. It is an opportunity for organization to be more humane, by easing the work pressure and reducing the work hours by leveraging AI. Employment in an AI equipped organization may become a rarity. We all know what it means to humanity, governments and corporates if there are billions of unemployed people on the streets with no means to buy products and no purpose in life. Economy can collapse, governments can collapse and our corporate existence will become invalid or destroyed. This is the time for organizations and government to re-visit their mission and vision. This is the time for organizations to include humanitarian objectives that by passes their traditional profit margin driven objectives.
The day corporates cross the threshold of unreasonable selfish profiting from AI, will be the day when humanity starts bowing down to AI and accepting AI as our masters. The only chance we have is to strongly support and act on co-existence of our corporate world with all the human beings and AI.
A collective mind-set change among leaders and would be leaders is the key to our co-existence with AI for the future of our organizations and the future of humanity.