Human + Machine add up to a new exciting world

Will machines conquer humans? The idea of intelligent machines as a potential threat to mankind has a long history. Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) lead to job losses? Will workers be made redundant by machines? These are troubling, relevant questions.

In a brilliant, must-read book for industry and thought leaders as well as laymen, Accenture technology leaders Paul R Daugherty and H James Wilson reassure us that ours is an age of great excitement but we need to work together with machines, not compete, for peace and prosperity. Human + Machine: Reimagining Work In the Age of AI (Published by Harvard Business Review Press, Distributed in India by Penguin India, Pages 228, Price Rs 1250 ) tells us how artificial intelligence is transforming how we work right now.

Daugherty and Wilson point out that AI systems are not just automating many processes, making them more efficient, they are now enabling people and machines to work collaboratively in novel ways.

To begin with, AI has changed the idea of robots. For decades, robots have typically been large pieces of machinery, usually sectioned off from human workers, that would perform a dedicated task. That specific task was part of a rigid, fixed chain of work that would generally include humans doing other predefined tasks. But today AI has made robots much smaller and more flexible, able to work alongside humans. AI systems are not limited to manufacturing but being integrated across all departments, everything from sales and marketing to customer service to product R&D.

Daugherty and Wilson argue that machines are not taking over the world, nor are they obviating the need for humans in the workplace. They point out that AI systems are not replacing us; they are amplifying our skills and collaborating with us to achieve performance gains that have previously not been possible.

The important, soothing message that Daugherty and Wilson deliver is that AI will lead to new, exciting jobs. A large number of these jobs will focus on humans training the machines and, in order to develop AI systems capable of complex interactions with people, the training process will increasingly look like a child’s development path. These new jobs are, Daugherty and Wilson say, not replacing old ones. They are entirely novel positions, requiring skills and training never needed before. There will be a new category of trainers, explainers and sustainers that AI will bring forth. For example, an empathy trainer is an individual who will teach AI systems to display compassion. Advanced AI systems will also learn to become more human-like from personality trainers. As chatbots and brands evolve, they will need to be trained with a global perspective, a task that will be the responsibility of worldview and localization trainers. Just as employees who work abroad need to understand the cultural cues and some of the language of their international colleagues, so too do bots need to be sensitive to human variations across the globe, write Daugherty and Wilson. Then there are data hygienists to ensure that the data is unbiased and is free from any slanted perspective. Then there is the world of automation ethicists and machine relation managers—individuals who will function like HR managers, except that they will oversee AI systems, not human workers. It looks like Human + Machine will add up to a new world.

In Human + Machine, Daugherty and Wilson offer different takeaways for leaders and workers. They strongly advocate reimagining of work. Human + Machine aims to give people who are thinking about their organization, their team, or their career the knowledge they need that will separate winners from losers in the new age of AI.

Daugherty and Wilson show and explain the current state of AI in companies. Companies can’t expect to benefit from human-machine collaborations without first laying the proper groundwork. They also strike a cautionary note that those companies that are using machines merely to replace humans will eventually stall whereas those that think of innovative ways for machines to augment humans will become the leaders in their industries.

But the most interesting chapter in Human + Machine is the one addressing the future of work. Titled ‘Extending Human + Machine Collaboration’, the authors advocate eight new fusion skills for the AI workplace and I consider the chief among them the ability to ask questions. They call it Intelligent Interrogation. They have defined it as knowing how best to ask questions of AI, across levels of abstraction, to get the insights you need. The next best fusion skill you should possess is Relentless Reimagining, a task fit to be a creative artist, endowed with the rigorous discipline of creating new processes and business models from scratch, rather than simply automating old processes.

And the important thing is to realize that the AI revolution is not coming. Daugherty and Wilson tell us that it is already here, and it is about reimagining your processes, across all functions of the company, to get the most benefit from technology’s power to augment human capability. And Human + Machine is the ideal roadmap to understand and navigate the new landscape.

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