Mark Batey Ph.D.

Working Creativity

Friend or Foe? Are We Ready for the AI Revolution?

Mass automation is here, and being creative and emotive may be key.

Posted Nov 26, 2017

Be it in the headlines, while talking with leaders or with MBA students - the topic of AI keeps cropping up.

Recently, doyen of the innovators, Elon Musk suggested that left unchecked Artificial Intelligence may result in a significant threat to humanity.  Bill Gates, too echoing similar sentiments.  Is this a rehashing of the old Luddite concerns or a genuine recognition that the very place of humans in the world stands at the edge of obsolescence?

Image from Creative Commons
Source: Image from Creative Commons

We humans have augmented our own abilities and sought external assistance for as long as we have walked the earth.  From using sticks and rocks, to fire, to steam, to mechanics, to electronics and now in the 4th Industrial Revolution networked systems that fuse the digital, technological and biological.

When the printing press was invented it was presumed to bring about the end of life as we know it. As the printed word proliferated, the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm lamented that “the horrible mass of books that keeps growing might lead to a fall back into barbarism.” Much the same was said of the telephone! (Where the ability of the device to disrupt corporations was thought so great that most companies had only one - locked away for the use of senior executives alone).

Perhaps this leaves us with the sense that the bulk of our concerns are unwarranted.  It's just future-shock. That AI, just like any other new technology will simply slot in seamlessly alongside our daily lives and enrich, empower and improve them.

In recent conversations with executives in the insurance industry and also while facilitating a future leadership skills workshop with MBA’s last week, similar themes and challenges about AI kept repeating…

1.  Should AI have rights?  If we are, in the future, to alter our thinking and emotions with implants, at what point does a human become a ‘machine’?  What rights does that ‘machine’ have?  What about the rights of humans in interaction with AI?

2.  Who will ultimately bear the responsibility for a ‘mistake’ involving an automaton?  Is it the ‘robot’, the coder, the CEO?  Where does the balance of blame lie when a human cyborg augmented with emotional and cognitive implants does something wrong?

3. How will we fund human society when most of the ‘workers’ do not eat, sleep, rest or pay taxes?  Is it time to tax robots?

4.  How should we regulate a new world where myriad decisions may be made outside direct human control?  Is it really much different to cruise control on a car or autopilot?  Will we see lemming-like decisions made where networked systems all blindly follow a coding rule?

Perhaps most importantly for our own well-being and purpose…

5.  What will humans do at work, when virtually every automated process has been automated?

I think we are left with not much to do beyond being creative and emotive.

To excel at being human.

For the time being, we homo sapiens are the most remarkable agile, flexible creative problem solvers who can weigh up an ambiguous moment and on the spur, think of and implement a solution.  Being a creative source of ideas, encouraging the same in others and working collaboratively with people and systems will be a vital future leadership skill.

Same too is true of emotions.  The ability to empathise, understand and comfort is a core human competence.  We will see a growth in humanistic leaders not afraid to bring a little Platonic love into the workplace.  Nearly every song on the radio, book, play and film, much of our waking lives are spent on the subject of love.  Yet it is a word and concept unspoken in organisations.  Organisations that harness the natural human tendency to cooperate and care will thrive - and will do so whilst responsibly contributing to wider society.

Friend or foe?  For better or worse the change has come and is coming...  Are we ready for it?

With a little creativity and love we might just well be.