Artificial Intelligence. Pause. What does this title make you feel? For many, it’s fear. Fear of losing jobs, fear of being replaced in the grander sense of the word, and perhaps, fear of having to report to a robot that devalues our humanism. On the other hand, for some, it’s exciting. How could spending less on reliable and collaborative intelligence be anything except exciting? Clearly, your response to the above question might have something to do with whether you’re in the hiring position, or in the position of being replaced by a robot.

Fortunately though, with correct procedures, recent data suggests that there is a way to merge this technology while maintaining the human value. In this article, we will examine this data and how realistic it is in the face of this rapidly developing technology.

First, let’s look at the root of the issue. While AI is relatively new, there has always existed a fear of the “other.” Both advocates and promoters of AI suggest that there has always been an “other,” a group that will work harder for less compensation. They say, “A hungry worker learns fast” and to invest time and energy into independently expanding our knowledge and the value we provide. However, AI is the first “other” that is not human, and is truly beyond our competitive reach.  

A seemingly mixed emotional response to this growing issue has been perpetualized by fear-driven (and click-seeking) headlines. While a lot of companies believe in the benefits of, and plan to incorporate AI into one or several existing systems, many are unable to take the associated risk and are not confident of the benefits. Two for employees – zero for employers. But wait, why the separation in attitude?

Four years ago, an Oxford University study predicted 47% of jobs could be automated by 2033. Even the near-term outlook has been quite negative: A 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said 9% of jobs in the 21 countries that make up its membership could be automated. And in January 2017, McKinsey’s research arm estimated AI-driven job losses at 5%. [1]

A slightly more positive view from Deloitte suggests that AI will make it possible to reconceptualize work as a collaborative problem-solving effort where humans define the problems, machines help find the solutions, and humans verify the acceptability of those solutions. [2]

Whether optimistic or pessimistic, business adoption of AI is at a very early stage: There is a disparity between expectation and action. Although four in five executives agree that AI is a strategic opportunity for their organization, only about one in five has incorporated it.

Even in industries with extensive histories of integrating new technologies and managing data, barriers to AI adoption can be difficult to overcome. In financial services, for example, Simon Smiles, chief investment officer, states: “The potential for larger-scale financial institutions to leverage technology more actively, including artificial intelligence, is huge. The question there is whether these traditional institutions will actually grab the opportunity.” [3]

While it’s soothing to hear there might be some delay in seeing AI in the workplace, it’s an industry that is by no means slowing down to ease the transition. For a dose of perspective, this robot just landed a backflip. Boston Dynamics, the MIT offshoot company now owned by Japanese tech giant SoftBank, boasted the latest iteration of their bipedal, 4 foot 9 inch, approximately 165-pound hydraulic, absolutely mind-blowing, Atlas Robot.

It seems the more human-like qualities and abilities robots learn, the farther away we as humans are to defining what it is to be human.

The American Humanism Association defines humanism as a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives.  

The Oxford Dictionary, on the other hand, defines Artificial Intelligence as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

So what’s the difference? Autonomy? Perhaps in the stark contrast to a robot, what it means to be human will shine brighter than it has in the past. However, what good will that be if, in the meantime, technological unemployment skyrockets to an all-time high?

Elon Musk sees proactive government regulation as the answer to this technological arms race, but every new technology creates an early American environment about as civilized as a land-grab in the Wild West. Technical companies are in a race against each other and against the government making sense of it all. That is, if they haven’t made sense of it and been bought out already.

Another exceedingly optimistic viewpoint comes from Forbes, “The bottom line is that AI is providing opportunities for career growth that will only accelerate in the future. Those that seize the chance to learn and earn more will end up having AI removing the mundane tasks from their jobs, leaving more time for the most challenging and rewarding work.” [4]

How realistic is this, though? The overwhelming, and often overlooked, trait of Artificial Intelligence is that it is actively and independently learning. How can a reporter from Forbes, or anyone for that matter, assume they know how mundane these tasks will be, and for how long? Many technology companies say they’ll push AI into the marketplace slowly to give us more time to learn, but the reality is that it is in fact the products that are learning about us at the same time. As we learn how to integrate AI equipment like Siri, and Alexa, into our homes, the creators of Siri and Alexa are learning from us, its users, at each phase and update of technological release. This “slow roll-out” language is a convenient truth, and creates a false safety net around products that are also so convenient. When we buy these products, we’re buying into this false safety wholeheartedly and in fact training the technology that may later take our jobs from us.   

So what can we do? Where is the solution? Autonomy, it seems is at an all time low when it comes to influencing the masses with fun technological gear. Autonomy must be valued and persevered, to pave the way for another very human element, integrity. In the face of this rapidly changing technology and challenge to our own humanism, we must call upon what it is to be human and engage each other on this level more now than ever before. While companies will always be tempted to streamline, they must consider the threats and challenges that impact this dramatic technological shift.         

For 17 years, Executives Unlimited has been committed to responsibility, integrity and leadership in helping our clients bridge the gaps in their strategic executive workforce planning, and we’d be happy to help you with your changing needs. For information about our services, call us at (866) 957-4466 or contact us online today.

 

References

[1] Harvard Business Review: How companies are already using AI

[2] Deloitte: Reconstructing work: Automation, artificial intelligence, and the essential role of humans

[3] Reshaping Business With Artificial Intelligence: Closing the Gap Between Ambition and Action

[4] Forbes: How Artificial Intelligence Is Revolutionizing Business In 2017

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