AI & Our Collective Future
As with many families, education, the future of jobs, technology and continuous learning are major topics of conversation around our home these days. With two high-school seniors about to start their college application process, a wife in the middle of graduate school and my required continuous education across the latest and greatest in technology, our dining room table is frequently covered in books, laptops and research papers. With my professional responsibilities including the use of emerging technologies, AI is usually at the center of our conversations. We debate the widespread fear that robots and AI will eliminate jobs in the near future and alter career opportunities for college graduates and senior executives alike.
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study1 asking almost 1,900 experts about the impact of emerging technologies, half of the experts interviewed (48 percent) envisioned a future in which robots and AI will have displaced large numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers. Their feedback went on to express concern that these changes will also lead to massive income inequality, masses of “unemployable” people and breakdown in our social order. Although this report is now a few years old, numerous other more recent studies highlight the very uncertain future jobs market and paint a dystopian future. So, should my teenage sons be concerned about their future opportunity? After 25 years in the technology industry, should I?
I choose to take an optimistic view of the future. I believe AI and other similar technologies will create new opportunities (albeit very different opportunities) that will only enhance the human experience. “Human-centered AI” is all about unlocking the full potential for human and machine interaction and driving a future in which economic opportunities are expanded.
In the terrific book Human+Machine, authors Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson argue that there are certain activities, such as leadership and judgement, that will remain human-only. On the other hand, activities such as prediction or repetitive transaction management are ideal for machine-only. The real power, and our collective future opportunity, comes from those activities that bridge the two silos, which the authors call “human-machine alliances.” Activities in this space are driven by humans enabling machines and machines augmenting humans. In both cases, new economic opportunities are created.
A perfect example of this human-machine alliance is GE’s digital twin implementation. In this example, power plant workers converse with AI agents to determine the required maintenance activities for a plant’s turbines. Because the workers wear AI headsets, the computer can show the human exactly where damage repair or maintenance is required. The AI can also suggest next-best actions for resolving the issues in real time.
So, should my sons and I be worried about the future? I believe the cup is half full. Those of us currently in organizational leadership roles should be fostering organizational cultures of creativity, collaboration and competency to capture the exponential power that is possible through AI. In most cases, this will require re-skilling and continuous learning, but this is the opportunity of the experienced workforce. Organizational leadership should be strengthening the alliances between humans and machines now, so that when the next generation of employees finish college, including my sons, they face a job market and a future filled with growth.
1 Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson, “AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs,” Pew Research Center, August 6, 2014.