The potential of artificial intelligence to improve the performance of modern businesses is difficult to estimate – although recently Accenture did just that. The management consultants argued that AI could double economic growth in developing countries in the next two decades (with all the usual caveats around execution.)  AI will have a huge impact on areas such as process management, safety and environment inside companies, and also in terms of customer outreach, experience and service.

But here’s an interesting and often unexplored side effect. Andrew Moore, author of “Predicting a Future Where the Future Is Routinely Predicted” makes the point that while AI can analyse millions of data points a second, or alternative diagnose a million problems in the time it takes a human to diagnose one, this very fact will lead to hundreds if not thousands of false alarms.

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Moore notes: “But that capability includes a terrible dilemma: the multiple hypotheses problem. If you sound an alarm whenever something is anomalous at a 99 per cent confidence level, and you check millions of things an hour, then you will receive hundreds of alarms every minute.”

People are very good at holistically managing complex situations, filtering out the unimportant and reacting to the important. Sure we’re not perfect but we are very good. Moore’s work has a very strong alignment with the current thinking around Safety Differently or Safety II. The ability to free up humans from the mundane and enable them to use their higher processing skills with more and better curated data – to see humans as part of the total solution is the real future of AI in industrial applications.

In the same collection of essay’s there is a piece by George Westerman “Why Digital Transformation Needs a Heart”.  Westerman’s thesis is that ‘if used unwisely, digital forces could transform businesses in ways that will have negative long-term implications for both companies and workers”.

There is no doubt that the success of digital businesses such as Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Facebook and AirBnB will see them become the poster children for the world’s business school’s and the MBA’s that they pump out. But they will also be the go-to organisations for corporate benchmarking projects.

The problems will arise when we fail to head Westerman’s warning that,”we cannot forget that it is people who make companies work. The vision of management in five or ten years should not be one where all employees are seen as contracted resources laboring under tight, machine- like supervision.

According to Westerman, “It shouldn’t be a world in which automation squeezes workers — and managers — out of the system…It should be one where computers help employees to collaborate fluidly, make decisions scientifically, and manage better with automation than they ever could without it. In the long run, digitally savvy companies that engage the hearts and minds of employees will outperform those that treat people like machines.”

New technology offers the opportunity to make work better, to lessen it’s detrimental physical rigours and to bring people much greater personal efficacy and meaning. Of course there are potential negative societal impacts and yes there are wider risks that are associated with it’s implementation.

On balance however it is important to recognise that technology has to exist to serve the wider interests of society and people.

The photograph at the top of this post is of my three children taken several years ago as we drove back from a holiday in central QLD. You know the drill…’Dad can we stop…dad can we stop…dad can we stop…oh look a park!” The reason its included it is that these kids are doing things that AI and tech can’t yet do and which many people suspect are some decades away.

They are being creative – they climbed on top of a tube designed to crawl through, they are coordinating difficult patterns of movement for no reason other than fun and they are experiencing joy. They are coordinating their activities such that the total experience is better than if just one of them decided what to do.

One seems separate but she’s not – she’s about to take the experience tangentially somewhere else, she’s about to build on what the other two are doing. She is co-creating. This is play but these behaviours are at the core of what people bring to work and what we will add for many years to come, to the rise of technology at work.

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