As Article 50 is triggered and the UK faces a future outside the EU, businesses will be experiencing a mix of emotions, not least of which is concern about the uncertain times ahead.
Thanks to the recent budget, the promise of the digital economy looks promising. It was good to hear the government outline the investment behind its industrial strategy including a £270 million investment to kick-start the introduction of disruptive technologies such as AI and robotics into areas like off-shore energy and deep mining.
There’s also £90 million earmarked to support 850 new PhD places in STEM disciplines as well as a £740 million investment in digital infrastructure including a £16 million investment in a national 5G mobile network. It’s all geared to enable a culture of experimentation and learning to prepare for the changes introduced by AI and the digital revolution. This will be a top priority for the UK, as we enter a post-Brexit world.
>See also: What does 2017 hold for the digital economy?
Now that the government has unveiled both its strategy for the next phase of technological growth and its investment in the emerging tech that will drive it, how can business leaders translate this vision into how we operate? The goal is to build the kind of future capability into businesses that will allow us to recognise and take advantage of opportunities in the age of AI. There are three priorities.
First, and most importantly, leaders need to think how their employees will work alongside machines as their colleagues. There has been a lot of talk about how AI will make great swathes of the population redundant (Citi and Oxford University estimate that 57% of jobs across OECD countries could be transferred to machines). Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s comment that we are all liable to be turned into ‘house cats’, is provocatively memorable.
It is true AI will learn and automate ever more complex tasks. A decade ago a driverless car or truck was still fantasy. Today that future is here.
The human brain is uniquely placed to handle tasks that require judgement and empathy. Freed from the need to do simple and repetitive tasks, people can now do more of what is innately human – applying empathy and judgement to decisions that would otherwise be made with a solely rational, number-crunching view.
Accenture identifies three types of what it calls ‘judgement work’ that it predicts will emerge as machines take over: data interpretation, idea development, and the application of context and history to the decision-making process.
Data interpretation has many applications. To take one small but significant example, machines don’t really do humour. This is a significant drawback both when it comes to relating to human colleagues but also in terms of a growing need to make chatbots and conversational UI more personable.
To this end, Google has hired writers from Pixar and satirical website The Onion to pep up the tone of its new Assistant AI service, recognising that only a human brain can dream up the type of humour that is culturally relevant.
Alongside all the training we need to give people to ensure they can work seamlessly with the AI technology of tomorrow, we also need to encourage employees to develop their judgement and interpersonal skills, and start think about prioritising this in our recruitment strategies.
Second, we should be using skills in judgement to place our business processes under the microscope. For AI to reach its potential we to figure out how best to integrate it with humans.
What is the optimal blend of machine and human and how can each interact with the other? My vision of the potential of AI is about supporting and enhancing what humans can create, rather than replacing us.
Pointing to the way that AI chess engines have helped evolve whole new ways of playing chess, Brian Johnson, CEO of neuroprosthesis agency Kernel maintains that the combination of AI and HI (human intelligence), offers the greatest potential in human history to advance human capabilities in thinking, creativity and intelligence.
In practical terms in the office or factory, this translates into setting up new ways of working that include using AI systems to analyse vast swathes of data, spotting patterns. Humans will then be responsible for how to act on this data – hence that need for good judgement.
One of the new ways of working will be to invert the traditional, hierarchical approach to decision-making which is reserved for management or the board.
In the future, AI-enabled world, decisions will need to be made faster, pushed out to the edges of the company, and new frameworks and tools will need to be developed to empower people nearest the action to make decisions that are fast, transparent and good for the company and for each other.
Finally, this new corporate culture where machines and humans each play to their strengths, needs to be supported by the right physical space which directly facilitates the people skills, processes and values that each business wants to encourage.
Airbnb’s European headquarters in Dublin, for example, was designed to incorporate elements of the ‘hospitality’ that is central to the brand’s DNA. The open plan office features parts of an Irish pub, local phone boxes and meeting rooms inspired by the company’s listings around the world.
Architecture and interior design have a strong role to play, not just in the physical sense of where people sit, who they sit next to and whether there is a quiet space to think. The look and feel of our workspaces can also have a direct impact on culture in the tone of light and openness that they set.
Added together, the three elements of people, processes and place could transform the culture of companies aspiring to be digitally innovative.
As business leaders, our mission is to continue to evolve our operational models and our culture and to involve our staff in embracing the huge opportunity that AI represents, or be left behind by those who are bold enough to act.
Sourced by Tom McQueen, managing director of digital innovation consultancy Futurice