Is your business ready for AI? 3 Ways to Prepare Now

By Michael Johnson

artificial intelligence Ask three people about artificial intelligence (AI) and you are likely to get three different answers. That might be why Cliff Justice, Partner and Advisory Lead of Cognitive Automation at KPMG, led off a discussion about AI at the KPMG Austin Finance Leadership Summit this year with a strong metaphor: AI as electricity. Consider that electricity had been around for decades, but it took the invention of the lightbulb to bring it into common use. Infrastructure and rapid innovation followed, spurring an industrial revolution that quintupled worker productivity. Today, we cannot imagine our lives without it.

Cliff suggested we think of AI as an intellectual power source. It has an available grid in the form of the internet and the cloud, but we have only recently begun to see practical applications for AI that create a clear return on investment. In other words, AI is on the verge of its lightbulb moment.

Yet AI has the potential to have a much more transformative impact on the global economy, the workforce, and modern human behavior than electricity. That change may rapidly usher in the fourth industrial revolution, making the next three to four years far more disruptive than the last 50.

Given that potential, what are the business implications of AI, and what do leaders need to be thinking about now to prepare? The panelists in this striking conversation offered three suggestions: develop an “AI First” strategy, address fears about job loss and start thinking now about how to align AI with your organization’s values. Here’s a closer look.

  1. Commit to an “AI First” Strategy

    Ganesh Padmanabhan, VP of Global Business Development and Worldwide Marketing at CognitiveScale, said he is seeing industry leaders take an AI First approach, implementing new business models that can start incorporating AI and blockchain in everything, from risk and fraud to customer interactions. He suggested starting with a project or two that is appropriate for putting new tactics and action in place.

    Ross McIntyre, VP of Strategy at Hypergiant, said companies need to start laying the groundwork for AI utilization now. “These are not the kinds of things you just plug in five years down the line; AI needs to be woven in from the beginning. What looks like magic in five years is really today’s planning.” Part of the magic is looking at process improvement from a new perspective. “It’s not about combining steps or making steps two and five better. It’s asking what people are trying to achieve through a process, and then seeing if we can make that process go away,” he said.

    Suba Vasudevan, Director of Business Integrity at Facebook, agreed. “How much of your day do you spend doing things you really want to do at work? Are you spending it on transactional activities or as leaders, thinking about the future?” She said Facebook is focused on using AI to cut through complexity and operate at scale. “The question I ask is, ‘What can I automate now so I can harvest more creativity from people at the company?’”

    When asked about potential costs, Ross asked the audience a pointed question: “Given what you know today about AI and everything automation empowers, if you were going to prioritize your business case around this, where would cost fall?”

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  2. AI Won’t Take Your Job… But Someone Using AI Will

    AI’s potential to eliminate rote tasks also prompts a darker fear from employees: massive job loss. The panel members all believe AI will create more jobs than it will displace, but Ganesh cautioned that there will be a phase where job creation will not keep up with job loss. “Think about the impact on the trucking industry; they are still the number one employer in the US. Truck drivers are not going to become programmers. Their new job will be training a self-driving machine to think the way they do,” he said. Ross agreed: “AI is not going to take your job, but someone using AI is.” Ganesh added that business leaders have a responsibility to help employees navigate those changes.

    Suba added that AI will not be about replacing jobs, but about the evolution of jobs, adding that executives can help allay fears by shaping a more positive narrative. “It’s easy to see the disruptors, but difficult to see the opportunity they bring.” In that vein, Ganesh suggesting thinking of AI not as artificial intelligence, but as augmented intelligence designed to improve human creativity. “The Hollywood image of AI is Terminator and Ex Machina, but the reality is that AI is already woven into our everyday lives.”

    Ross agreed. “Our view is machine intelligence, not artificial intelligence. There is nothing artificial about it.” He also thinks businesses can help by considering how they present AI, pointing to “the silly typing noises” on automated customer service calls (chat bots) as an example. “I wonder about the value of that kind of obfuscation. Why not just say, ‘Hey, you are interacting with an AI. It is not as scary as you think it is. You probably did it already today.”

  3. Make Sure AI Reflects Your Values

    Fears can intensify when people think about the role of AI in decisions with ethical implications—for instance, in hiring, healthcare, criminal justice and immigration. While the panelists agreed that it may be early to talk about ethics and AI per se, Ganesh and Suba emphasized that there are things responsible leaders need to be considering now, such as human bias and data rights. “AI reflects the human values of a programmer or the person feeding in data. So how do I actually use a semi-automated system for immigration decisions? What about who gets released from jail sooner if they haven’t committed a violent crime? There are bound to be biases,” Ganesh said. “This is where the human-machine partnership is important.”

    By considering those biases at every step from data to insight to decisions, leaders can ensure AI reflects their company values. Because AI is likely to outpace regulation, such controls provide an important check on technology. It will also be important to look at AI from a risk perspective, Suba said. “I strongly believe you should be documenting everything that goes into it, to the context, to the intent, to the coding behind it, so you are able to publicly share that as needed.” Providing such transparency can help reassure the public that life-and-death decisions won’t be made in a black box environment, but rather with human consideration and care, supported by machine learning.

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

Artificial Intelligence is not science fiction. It is something we already use dozens, if not hundreds, of times each day. What we have seen so far is not even the tip of the iceberg of the changes that AI will bring. So, what is your business doing about it? How are you leveraging AI inside your business? What are you doing to prepare your business for the changes that AI will usher into your marketplace? An AI First strategy touches every aspect of an organization’s digital transformation journey, from achieving real-time data visibility and implementing new systems to recruiting and training employees. Wherever you find yourself on that journey, Bridgepoint can help your company build the foundation, map out the right strategy and implement the enabling technologies to successfully and responsibly incorporate the full promise of machine learning into your business.

Learn more about our digital transformation services here.

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About Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson leads Bridgepoint Consulting’s Technology Consulting practice, which helps organizations leverage technology to drive transformation. The practice specializes in designing and implementing innovative solutions that allow organizations to grow and scale efficiently.  He has 30 years of experience with integrated business solutions, including as managing director at KPMG Consulting, where he oversaw the planning and implementation of HR and finance business solutions for a range of organizations.

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