AI and the C-suite

Full transcript of my interview with Lisa Morgan for her Information Week article.

Generally speaking, how aware of AI does the average C suite have to be these days and why?  What should their attitude about it be?

The C-suite is becoming increasingly aware of the impact that AI will have on business processes, product development and, crucially, on HR. Big technology provides such as Microsoft, Google and IBM are pushing the AI agenda aggressively, and embedding AI across their applications; something that is catching the attention of CIOs and CTOs across the corporate world. The attitude of C-execs should be to add AI as a top strategic priority. This time technology will move faster than ever; and the laggards will pay a hefty price.

You hear the Doomsday hype and regardless of one’s view, it’s apparent that AI capabilities are expanding and so are the use cases.  How might AI impact the C suite from organizational and management perspectives?

AI will have profound impact across the organisation. More specifically, it will impact three areas. First, business processes; by automating many tasks currently performed by humans. Secondly, on product and services development; by adding an element of intelligence and intuitive human/machine interactivity. Finally, on data insights; by managing the exponentially increasing deluge of data, particularly so in the emerging era of IoT (Internet of things)

From a competitive POV, how can AI distinguish a company and how much easier or difficult will be for the laggards to catch up?

As suggested in (2) above, first adopters will gain a quantum leap in competitive advantage by embracing AI. This technology will separate the companies with leaders who are quick to see and act on the opportunity – and succeed – and those who will fall helplessly behind. Unlike previous technological disruptions AI will not be a slowly accelerating ride. It will be like a spaceship switching to light speed overdrive. The laggards will be in danger of becoming irrelevant overnight.

We’re constantly hearing about men, machines, and where the lines should be drawn.  Where are we now on the continuum of human assist, advisement, and automation/autonomy and how do you see that evolving in the near future?

There is a clear trend towards machines becoming more intelligent so that humans can work more intelligently with them. Although machines will increasingly gain more autonomy, they will do so within the human space and within human norms and ethics. Whether they are robots working alongside us on the assembly line, or intelligent interfaces which carry out the most tedious cognitive tasks, machine intelligence will be our most trusted colleague in the future.

More organizations are using machine learning to solve problems faster and at scale.  Some are innovators, some are consumers, some are both.  At what point does it become obvious that AI is impacting or will impact the corporate culture?

Corporate culture is essentially about behaviour; or how employees conduct themselves while aligning with the company’s goals. The successful companies of the future will be the ones that encourage innovation and the empowerment of their people. This is because the most positive, and most disruptive, impact of AI will be the empowerment of humans to be more productive and more creative. Savvy corporate leaders get that and are ready to shift gears towards more employee empowerment, more organisation agility, and more data-driven management.

What are the characteristics of companies that are in a better position to gain a strategic advantage of AI and what are the characteristics of companies who are likely to fall short of their own expectations?

Companies that have embarked on rethinking their business models in a more digital fashion are the ones who are better prepared for the 4th Industrial revolution. AI takes digital transformation to another level, so naturally those companies that are already investing on innovation and digital are better positioned to adopt AI.

How will AI affect the workforce?  Which types of roles are more likely to benefit from AI assistance/advisement and which roles are more likely to become obsolete, given that AI is constantly becoming more sophisticated and helping bona fide experts?

AI will have a major impact on the workforce, particularly white-collar workers. It is estimated that 60% of jobs will have 30% of their tasks automated (McKinsey research). The impact will be most severe on entry level jobs, challenging how young graduates will enter the labour market (Willis Towers Watson research). The current trend of companies becoming leaner by shedding full-time employees and replacing them with contractors using digital talent platforms will persist. In the future, most working people will be working as contractors using digital platforms to get work and AI to support them; this will give more opportunity for a better work/life balance, but will also make our working lives less secure.

How does and how will AI affect the decision-making process?

By providing better data insights and predictive analytics (as alluded in 2), AI will significantly enhance decision-making and transform management into a more data-driven process but also one that is more creative.

Is there any advice you’d like to offer or best practices you’d like to mention that you haven’t yet talked about?

Identify opportunities in the three impact areas of AI (products and services; business processes; data insights) and start upping your game.