Artificial intelligence is transforming the modern workplace, raising important questions for our society.
Everyone knows that artificial intelligence (AI) is supposed to bring a huge competitive advantage to those who successfully adapt it.
The challenge, however, is to identify what makes AI adaptation truly successful. Over the past few years, we’ve seen many technology trends come and go. Maybe it didn’t add enough value. Or maybe employees found it too difficult to use and abandoned it in favor of “traditional” methods.
The two unlikely friends came from halfway around the world. Both were dressed in perfectly tailored suits and sat with an azure blue background behind them on the stage at the World Conference on Artificial Intelligence 2019. Chinese billionaire and co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, said exchanged opinions with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
While Ma joked AI could represent Alibaba Intelligence, Musk took a more sober stance. AI will be smarter than the smartest human, he said. To what degree? His adjective: “tremendously”.
But what does “largely” mean to you and me?
Do you remember when you were a kid and the new kid on the block turned out to be an absolute genius? Maybe your heart raced a little at the thought of her reducing the curve in math class. Artificial intelligence is a bit like that. We know it’s here. We know it’s not going away. But we don’t know how it will change our lives as employees, managers, customers, supplier partners, consumers, human beings.
Transformation and change management
Author Eric Hoffer once said, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while scholars find themselves beautifully equipped to face a world that no longer exists.”
Poetically, Hoffer describes the heart of change management. Applying Hoffer’s point to AI, it is not enough to be “educated” or to be an expert in technology. AI will be transformational, making everyone within the organization’s ecosystem a “learner” of AI. In fact, focusing on psychological and cultural changes within your organization is essential for any technology transformation or adoption.
I saw the importance of this recently when I completed a cybersecurity program at MIT Sloan Management. AI and its implications on people were topics we discussed. Why? Because we are like humans playing with fire for the first time. Understanding our relationship with AI and how people inside and outside our organizations are adapting to this new technological frontier has a direct impact on an organization’s strategic approach to maintaining a secure, sustainable and well-defended organization against the misuse of AI.
Like many things, questions call for others.
How do we prepare for the change that AI is unleashing? What is the psychological and cultural impact of AI and machine learning? How will our decision-making process change when we turn to bits and bytes as a key contributor? How to equip people with tools to succeed? How to allay fears that jobs are in jeopardy?
These “softer” issues go beyond technology and data. And that’s exactly the point.
Cultural adoption of AI within our organizations requires not only board and leadership support, but also a framework that helps people understand their role throughout the transformation.
So what now?
Reality: It is inevitable that organizations will focus on workforce transformation, regardless of their beliefs. They will disturb or be disturbed.
Preparing to embrace the changes starts with ensuring that all employees have a basic understanding of emerging technologies such as AI and cybersecurity. Include discussions around their opinions and ideas. Building and managing an organizational culture of emerging technology adoption begins with an employee’s onboarding training and continuous learning program. Discussing the values, attitudes, and beliefs that drive AI and cybersecurity behaviors in an organization will help employees reduce their anxieties.
Changing behavior therefore means taking into account values, attitudes and beliefs. Leaders and executives play an important role in conveying the importance of technological advancement and how this directly relates to the greater success of the business.
Other points to consider are as follows. I challenge organizations to write a statement addressing these points for clarity.
Why we need to embrace AI and machine learning.
What problems are we solving with AI as a team or as a company.
What needs to be done and how people contribute to success.
What does the composition of the workforce look like from a technological perspective.
The training program to reskill the existing workforce and prepare it for the future of work.
The role of the CEO and management team in AI adoption.
How do we measure the success of AI adoption?
Change begets leaps
Change is difficult; change is scary; change disrupts our world (the world here being defined as the world we live in as individuals – going to work, going to school, taking our kids to football, having a beer with the neighbor on Saturday after mowing the lawn).
Change, of course, is also good. There would be no glory in forgoing penicillin or pasteurization in the name of maintaining the same.
In an article by Scott Mathis, he writes: “AI will not replace humans. AI will allow humans to ask the right questions to innovate.
After watching Musk and Ma swap opinions on AI, I guess the two would probably agree that asking the right questions, rather than going down the AI path without considering the people who use it, is the right starting point. These questions start, not just with their career or how they buy products, but with the long-term psychological impact on all of us and how our culture will change as a result.