Updated: Jan 9, 2019
In a thought provoking interview for BBC’s Today Programme, Leading Technologist and Theoretical Neuroscientist Dr Vivienne Ming unpacked the fears surrounding AI and challenged us to think about the potential and threats presented by it differently.
Why are we afraid of AI?
There are many legitimate fears surrounding the use of AI that greatly concern leaders in this area. The principle fear, Dr Ming suggests, is actually founded upon a fear of humans themselves and the chaos we could create by unleashing this machine power. The use of AI as a destructive force, by autocracies, or in weaponry for example, should rightly keep leaders in this area up at night. Whereas other fears, such as the fear of AI taking autonomously taking over the world, may be overstated. AI, whilst undeniably sophisticated and powerful, is not today, smarter than humans, and nor is it likely to be in the near future, assures Dr Ming.
AI – the hammer not the building
Rather than seeing AI as the end product, Dr Ming explains that it should be seen as a tool, a hammer, that can be used to create things. In Dr Ming’s view it is not AI (the tool) itself that matters, but rather what you build with it. The real concern therefore, lies in the fact that we have entrusted the use (often extremely profound) of this tool to developers, who have no real life experience of solving the problems the AI is claiming to fix. Think about it for a moment. Developers with a pure focus on technology are making tools that will make decisions on issues that involve a complex mix of ethical, political and social implications such as biases, border placements, law. These developers are interested in the tool itself and not what it will ultimately build, and that is the real danger.
This is all to easily translatable to our world of business and their systems. Too many businesses are installing software as a solution in and of itself, when in fact, it is simply a tool that will help to achieve the final design. The problem is, businesses are skipping the design and have no clear idea on what they are trying to build or why. The technology and or AI will therefore never be a success, particularly if led by technology and technologists.
Replacing or enhancing humans?
The technical definition of AI, is “any autonomous judgement made under uncertainty”. Dr Ming goes further. In her view, AI is “any brief, expert human judgement made faster and better than a human could make it”. This of course has real implications for the future of humans, particularly in the workplace.
In the interview, she illustrates her point with an example from a study at Columbia University, where human lawyers and AI’s were told to analyse contracts for legal loopholes. The difference in the number of loopholes found was marginal. 95% to the AI and 88% to the Human. This is to be expected, after all, humans programmed the AI. The real difference comes in the speed with which they found them. 90 minutes (per contract) for the human lawyers verses an incredible 20 seconds for the AI. With margins like that it won’t be long before CFO’s are questioning the number of people on their payroll. But is there not also a positive impact for those in these roles?
If the Lawyers, Doctors, take your pick, who could so easily have large areas of their daily work taken over by AI could win back that time, what could be achieved? Just imagine. If that lawyer can save 90 minutes per contract, knowing it’s AI is successfully finding all the loopholes, what could be gained in time and earnings? This could mean more meaningful time with clients, more time to plan and build strategies, more time to research and push thinking in this area, and, more time to enjoy a life outside of work (hurrah!). The money generated would be the same if not more, and if those funds are fairly distributed across the businesses, with less meangingless time required from those working in it, surely there are positive impacts to be had?
Augmenting the potential of humans, through AI
It’s here that Dr Ming makes her most interesting argument. Rather than thinking about replacing humans through AI ( a rather fruitless and unlikely outcome), she argues that we should be focused on augmenting humans through AI. Strictly speaking AI will never “be smarter” than a human, because it does not think as we do. AI is simply an algorithm interpreting vast amounts of data at speed to make a decision. It has no understanding of the content it is dealing with. Leveraging this machine power to enhance human decision making and potential is where the real opportunity lies. How can we use AI to augment our own abilities? To challenge and push us to be better humans and achieve more?
Augmented Intelligence in Business – your challenge
Businesses across the country are looking to use AI to improve returns in their businesses, but may not be approaching with the best understanding. Rather than seeing technology as the solution, it is time to see your HR and Finance systems as a means for enhancing your team’s ability to achieve their strategic objectives. Where can you minimise the manual time spent assessing or auditing information and free your team to focus on strategy and experience? How can you use technology to optimise processes that have been intelligently designed by the best in your business? In every business there will be multiple opportunities to use AI to make gains. The challenge, is ensuring you are leveraging this machine power to enhance the most effective practices and people in your business to achieve towards a clear and useful goal. AI, is the easy party. Augmented intelligence is where the challenge really lies.
Are you ready?
For a free workshop or an informal coffee to find out how Automation & AI could be augmented with your HR team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org