Chris Bull says that for all the bewildering power of computers, the human element remains key to achieving longer term transformations
Last November, the seemingly relentless rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) claimed another scalp, when Lee Se-dol, master of the Chinese strategy game Go, decided to retire. He may not be a household name but as the only human to ever beat Deepmind’s AlphaGo software, his place in the history of AI is assured. Yet Se-dol has now put away his game pieces, telling reporters that AI is “an entity that cannot be defeated”.
This appears to be just one example of a technological trajectory which sees automated machines speeding away from humans in cognitive and decision making abilities. Such events have helped create the overarching narrative that humanity itself will eventually be replaced by machines.
Such ideas and concepts have always existed in popular culture but have become increasingly mainstream. And certainly, the mix of fascination and fear such predictions engender is certainly good for selling newspapers. But are they accurate? The evidence – at least for now – suggests not.
Back to reality
Some technology commentators have observed that these predictions have been over-stated or at least over-simplified. For example, leading academic, public speaker and tech entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan, has said that a “brutal tone” of inevitability about “the rocket of technological progress” has grown in recent years, with huge breakthroughs promoted and seemingly forever poised to arrive.
The hype and the reality, however, are not exactly aligned.
This may seem an odd admission from someone who works at a technology company. And to stress, that recent advances in computing and data processing, storage and exploitation are very much real. But presenting this trajectory as an inevitable arc of progress towards an automated, computer controlled utopia/dystopia (depending on your perspective) is disingenuous.
It’s also likely to be behind the common problem of over-emphasising the ability of technological solutions at the expense the people and processes that – for the time being at least – are central to any proposed technological change. As my colleague Mivy James has pointed out, many of us are likely to be aware of, or have been involved in, at least one such project offering to solve complex, ingrained business problems that has subsequently failed to provide all its anticipated benefits, or even fallen over completely.
This is probably because the people involved weren’t considered, or invested in, to the same degree as the shiny new technological solution, and so it never became successfully embedded into the organisation.
Indeed, the very fact that the world is becoming so interconnected and complex makes the human dimension of change more, not less, important to consider when embarking on any kind of digital transformation in the private or public spheres.
People are naturally cautious about change, and revert to patterns of behaviour they are familiar with. To make any changes permanent, whether in a business, government or other context, there needs to be increased creativity, resilience and adaptability from the people who will use and be part of the technological change; whilst those leading the transformation need to ensure their overall strategy is aligned with the messaging they are relaying to their people and – crucially – the behavioural changes they are aiming to make stick across their organisation.
After all, these are the very human work-forces we are likely to have for the long term… until the robots take over, of course.
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- From bias to balance in Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning has the potential to reshape our world but biased algorithms cast a long shadow, says Mivy James. She explains why only algorithms free of human prejudices will unlock the full benefits of this new technology
- March of the machines. No longer the stuff of science fiction fantasy, artificial intelligence is now blazing a transformational trail around the world. Dr David Nicholson takes a look at its impact so far – and what’s still to come
- Access all areas? Spotlighting the data in digital transformations. When it comes to their data, a culture of openness and transparency will help companies prosper, says Charles Newhouse
About the author
Chris Bull is a Business Consultant with BAE Systems Applied Intelligence