Artificial Intelligence (and its sub-components of Machine Learning and Deep Learning) are becoming pervasive, let's discuss getting ready for the impact on business operations with a focus on people.
If Artificial Intelligence is the practice of using technology to complete tasks while that very same technology mimics human intelligence (by being able to self-direct, to achieve/accumulate knowledge and perform decision making; i.e. to be autonomous by continually improving itself without human intervention) – then many people are and will be asking: "aren’t humans going to be replaced in the workforce and isn’t that scary and potentially Armageddon-like?" (you know, like Cyberdyne Systems, Skynet and all that artificial intelligence based Hollywood movie Terminator sci-fi stuff?)
I had time, while flying back from Ireland, to contribute to the wider AI discussion on its expected impact to business culture and even its effect at the individual level. Perhaps you've noticed that many people, including in the popular media, are discussing what they think the impact of increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will do? Even more interesting is what AI's sub capabilities of Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL), will do? In early October my wife and I celebrated our first 30 years of marriage by spending time in Ireland (yes, we thought it would be special to land 6 hours ahead of Hurricane Lorenzo and then drive for 3 hours directly at it to get to the west coast in Donegal. We really believed in heading for "The Wild Atlantic Way" https://www.wildatlanticway.com/home
There we found frequent conversations in cafés and with relatives and friends about AI. People seem to have a general appreciation that big changes may be coming, not only to business, but to how society operates. Many wonder how AI suddenly became capable/reliable, and how it affects jobs – for me and this blog edition, I don’t know if it was the fresh air, the cliff’s around Donegal (Slieve League), or the Irish countryside, but I was inspired to take on this topic from an enterprise paradigm shift viewpoint.
[First though, a few foodie recommendations if you visit Ireland: Eala Bhan in Sligo (outstanding, the owner also has the more casual Hooked in the same town), and Wine and Brine in Moira Northern Ireland (a Michelin star), but if you’re lucky enough to be in the town of Donegal then The Blueberry Tea Room is the daily must enjoy place. A great Airbnb for a couple is found here in Dunkineely Tom and his wife look after the place very well.]
I think we’ve all heard we’re entering “the 4th industrial revolution”. This new paradigm shift will completely change enterprise culture (culture in MBA terms specifically meaning “how we get work done”) We don’t even know (yet) just what jobs will be created by AI, but by looking at history in paradigm shifts we can expect that there will be many new jobs, most not yet even dreamed of. This will happen along with many jobs being lost (workers being displaced). All Industries four categories will be changed (Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and in particular for this blog - Quaternary)
Referring to Hollywood let’s try this play on a movie title, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”.
The Good: many new jobs, including jobs that haven’t even been thought of, will be created.
The Bad: many jobs will be displaced
and The Ugly: executing change -- to be ready and successful business enterprise culture must be changed which requires leadership foresight, investment in people, and people to invest in themselves, to ensure a willingness to change and adapt (and the longer you wait, the more rapid the change may need to be later, which increases risk to your organization).
We must get our organizations’ cultures ready to adopt rapid change while also assisting individuals to be ready for displacements. Yes, AI will displace a lot of jobs, but it will also create a lot of new jobs. Gartner group predicts that even by late 2020 AI will generate more jobs than it replaces.
This week sees Gartner Group’s annual Symposium in Orlando Florida (their largest annual conference). You can watch their annual list of Top Strategic Predictions for 2020 and Beyond here...
How did AI suddenly breakthrough? After all, many technology scientists and the wider IT industry had reached an impasse and had just about given up on reaching true AI. In the mid-1980s Doctor Geoffrey Hinton, who is highly recognized as “the godfather of deep learning” for being one of the key pioneers of neural nets, was part of a breakthrough in the ability to get to a “best answer” which greatly increased the accuracy in decision making. He relocated to Canada and has been a professor at the University of Toronto, where many believe it is now the centre of the AI-ML/DL universe. Around 2010 came the big breakthrough in Deep Learning so that autonomous behaviour can be accelerated. We must recognize that a person who’s core education was in Psychology, and dabbled (so to speak) in computer science, was part of the breakthrough combining knowledge about human cognitive with digital artificial processing (in a neural net). What a strong clue to tell us just how pervasive technology will become in all aspects of our lives. More than business, science, health, and social administrative applications, AI will take computing along with AI’s sub-capabilities of Machine and Deep Learning to impact everything in life including assisting and enhancing creativity, even assisting relationships.
AI will both fortunately and unfortunately greatly increase the speed at which we can (and must?) make decisions and operate. Along with AI and its sub-capabilities, computing power is providing image recognitions, vocal interfacing, and so much more – would you plug your brain directly into the Internet should such an interface work at a thought level? Today we need to prepare to have Enhancements in our personal space from AI.
For the Sociologists among us this conjures up the great Paris France thinker/professor Jacques Ellul who back in the 1960s defined the term “technique”. He felt that the drive for efficiency by large organizations becomes technique. Those large organizations, whether private or public, would also drive technology to support the new efficiency, which - as the technology improved - would in turn drive and support more efficiency, which would then once again drive technology to improve, which then in turn drives for more efficiency… and that cycle would go on in a continuing hugely influential way. Ellul felt that those large institutions/organizations would continuously be the catalyst to drive technique beyond their workforce, out into society in general. He warned that this cycle towards efficiency would change society by eventually becoming so very efficient that there wouldn’t be room for God, arts, nature etc., and therefore people would lose life’s enjoyments and the expressions he saw done through art, religion, and in other ways. He felt life would be highly efficient in all processes, while continuously and relentlessly driving to improve efficiency, and then there wouldn’t be any fun left for humans.
I admire Jacques Ellul’s writings and during my formal education days I took a position and wrote that because Ellul died in 1994 he hadn’t fully seen the impact of the Internet. Sure there’s the continuous improvement cycle of Ellul’s “technique” going on all around us, but there’s also the incredible impact of the Internet on sharing widely, even globally, our art and religion etc. almost all ways of expressing ourselves can be done creatively in digital media and social media etc. I believe this ability to express our creativity widely using technology was not expected by Ellul. He saw a concentration of efficient direction coming only from large concentrated institutions such as global big businesses and by governments pushing workplace efficiency methods (technique) out into society (this can happen through today's popular Robotic Process Automation); he likely didn’t see the reverse, a concentration of people globally through technology and in their societies gaining concentrated influence into big enterprises and governments – technology has given peoples the ability to more creatively express themselves and to find each other and socialize. How could Ellul have seen “Internet Social Media Sentiment” as the influence it has become?
Let me apply that to the coming drastic impact of AI (along with its ML/DL) in the workplace. The next paradigm shift has started, yet some things don’t change because of AI while many new ways will be created (many new doors opened). AI will be amazing at relieving people from mundane tasks and analysis. There have been enough articles and warnings about how it will displace many job roles, but we’re now starting to see more recognition that AI will also be creating new roles; this lag of good news is because the new roles don’t yet exist. It’s hard to determine just what they will be. Just as Ellul couldn’t see the Internet exploding with creativity… and just as the Internet changed everything… AI will also be the next phase to change everything, and there will be new and exciting roles as a result.
Automation vs Autonomous
I’ll finish this blog edition by being very specific how AI will impact business organizations’ IT groups.
Automation: the past decade or more saw a drive for automation within IT shops. The more we could automate; the less errors as a result of change might occur. "An act of Change" causes most of our IT instability (whether that Change was because something suddenly broke, or because someone did something in error). Automation was a way to mitigate the human error Change problem. However, Automation required everything we did to be declared, manually identified, then scripted/codified and done the same way every time the task was executed (yes, it might include limited defined options). This investment in automation enabled IT shops to lower operating costs, to run and be more stable, UNTIL change was needed.
Automation has made IT ridged and not able to adopt to changes in a cost-effective way. Some changes now became more complicated and expensive "if", as an example, the IT group was stepping outside of a vendor lock-in. Many organizations invested in advanced automation tool-sets to run IT applications and infrastructure with varying degrees of success. A large investment in automation often experienced limited success because there was not a corresponding investment in people. It was often believed (or simply desired) that the tool-set could reduce the headcount required to operate IT. While automation did replace some mundane systems administrative roles, it most often simply changed the jobs, the people were still needed but in new higher-value ways.
AI will do similar but without the negative rigidity and it will avoid mistakes in learning (because it will learn itself from your environment) , very large shops will be able to do with less IT staff, but the smaller the IT group the less actual people headcount will be downsized (i.e. people skills will be getting displaced, but new higher value roles that long needed done will now have the time to get done, and entirely new higher value roles will be created), what is expected is that people will have much more time to do the creative and innovative and integration strategies that IT really needs to give to the business or organization they are a part of -- with AI built-in to our IT tool-set, those functions will learn, build knowledge, make decisions, and run the infrastructure as it currently is and will adopt, make decisions, and continue to run it without interruptions when there are changes.
Artificial intelligence is essential for the optimization and predictive maintenance of your infrastructure and systems.
Example from IT vendors: Oracle’s new Autonomous database, announced in 2017 and finally now in 2019 starting to work, takes a step beyond simply automation of routine tasks and includes AI and ML capabilities to learn about workload behaviours. It will also respond and automate tasks and make adjustments without any human intervention. Most of the automation, before AI became involved, was about coding typical learnings from running databases over the years, but this wasn’t flexible enough.
Many IT systems will, if not yet then soon, use AI to provide autonomous decision making based on current knowledge retention (i.e. AI will be adaptable and do it's thing without intervention). For AI to work, in particular when relying on developing from ML and DL learnings, it requires a lot of data to learn from.
Today's AI must be focused on a specific function; it is not yet able to be broad-minded. This takes time to setup and work with AI, but the benefits later will be huge. IT groups will need to be open to change, test the new AI capabilities, and adjust their group services to allow autonomous tools to do their job as they create and even add new innovation/creative roles for people.
The new roles for people will be different but exciting. Embrace the AI changes and vendor offerings in the "crawl, walk, run" method, but get started and do the culture shift and people readiness preparations to be a successful enterprise no matter what changes AI will bring.