What Every Business Leader Should Know About the Rise Of The Robots

Every week Artificial Intelligence makes the headlines – pharmaceutical firm Exscientia has just announced a £33m deal with GSK. The founder wants to put AI in partnership with people to diminish the time and cost equations associated with medicine.

This application of AI focuses, as most do, on changing the way companies do things, or on re-wiring entire industries. Yet scant attention is paid to the real burning issue: how will robots change our day-to-day experience of working in business? And, more to the point, will robots working alongside rather than replacing humans even be possible?

These questions are fast becoming critical for today’s business leaders because the need to understand the implications of AI will dictate what changes to how a business and its people operate in anticipation of that are needed today. In every case, however, the answer is the same: educate yourself.

We’re warned that jobs are at stake. Some 4 million in the UK private sector should you choose to believe the latest reports. With this in mind, it’s reassuring that AI is, in fact, distinctly unhuman in its thinking. The self-driving car doesn’t drive like a human – it has no easily distracted mind; instead, its sole focus is on the road and delivering safety for humans. And in the differences between humans and AI lies opportunity.

More productive than worrying about AI versus human is for businesses to focus instead on where human and machine intelligence can complement one another, rather than compete.

Take as your starting place the notion that AI can augment human behaviour. This is the so-called ‘centaur approach’ to the technology inspired by the growth of freestyle chess where teams compete using any combination of humans and computer. And consider Gary Kasparov’s conclusion that “weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkable, superior to a strong human + machine +inferior process”.

As it stands today, the ‘centaur approach’ to freestyle chess beats AI players more than half the time. In itself, this is interesting. But more than that, it shows how despite the rise of AI chess did not die – it evolved. So if humans can use AI to become better chess players, they can surely use AI to become better teachers, engineers or doctors.

The take-out for businesses is that by evolving employees to become ‘centaurs’ they can be moved away from menial tasks to focus on things that truly matter to a business’s core mission. And with the elimination of human-implemented routine tasks, more not less emphasis will be placed on the improvement of more sophisticated human-based tasks.

This, then, should provide the starting point for businesses today to create the right platform for deploying AI moving forward. So, they will need to focus on how they nurture emotional intelligence, imagination, intuition and creativity within their workforce ahead of more basic, lower-grade skills.

They will need to prioritise areas within their organisation for implementing AI where that AI will complement human skills sets – focusing on automation, for example, 24/7 response and crunching big data. They will need to start experimenting. And they should research how others use the ‘centaur approach’.

What they must understand is not just what AI can and can’t do but, as important, when. Even in the next ten years, the AI we interact with will be an extremely narrow, task-specific super-smart specialist incapable of the subtleties and nuances that come from an ability to synthesis seemingly disconnect thoughts and actions.

Finally, when needed, they should turn for inspiration and reassurance about the continued need for and role of humans in their workforce to the disciplines of Emotional Intelligence and Behavioural Economics for inspiration. Because as long as humans are consumers of goods and services companies produce, then those companies will always need humans to understand the irrational and random nature of their consumers’ decisions.

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