AI – How Can We Future-Proof Our Organisations, Lives and Careers

We previewed futurist Rohit Talwar before the recent Basware Connect event, and thought he would be good – and he didn’t disappoint.

He asked us to imagine that we are watching a film about Japan – on the TV or maybe on our tablet. AI will be able to tell I am interested, and when the film finishes, will show me a short promotional film and ask me if I want to make a trip to Japan.  AI will get in touch with my friends, see who else is interested, go onto the web and ask for proposals from “travel concierges” (which I guess may well be largely AI- driven as well).

Soon, I will have proposed itineraries and costs – and if I go ahead, I don’t need to carry much, I can get 3D printed stuff on arrival. If I’m running late, I can bid to jump the traffic queue in my autonomous vehicle, and of course I will check in and pay via facial recognition. And I’ll speak to folk in Japan via instant translation. And all this will be available within 5 years, Talwar says.

So one of his main themes was to ask what we can do to future-proof our organisations as well as our own lives and careers? One danger is as we automate, all firms looks the same. He took the logos off bank websites,  and found that senior executives of those banks couldn’t tell which was which. So, to future-proof our organisations, we should work on 3 time horizons.

12 months – focus on operational excellence, understand customer and employee needs.

1-3 years – consider digital capability, search for growth, change the way we do business.

4-10 years - understand future drivers, look for concept / business model innovation.

And there is more which takes us into the realms of science fiction as the physical and data worlds “collide”. Google is not just focusing on driverless cars but on extending human life-spans; they think they can add 50 years to the norm.

But digital literacy is a big driver for failed IT projects, and if you can’t understand the tech you become “servants of the machine”.  This is the fourth industrial revolution, he says, with AI at the heart of the changes. AI will “replicate what the human brain does”. But, he says, it can’t do emotion – however it may be able to do it well enough to deliver the required outcomes, it will mimic it.

AI works in three ways; augmentation (supporting human activity); replacement (taking over such activity) and scale (doing more, faster, such as scanning through millions of chemical compounds to help in drug discovery). He then gave us the “7 steps to AI nirvana”.

  1. Expert rules-based systems
  2. Context awareness, advice, chat bots etc.
  3. Human-level domain-specific expertise e.g. Go champion
  4. Theory of mind / reasoning machines
  5. Self-aware, artificial general intelligence 5-15 years
  6. Super-intelligence 10-20 years, we can’t describe it, because we can’t understand it!
  7. Singularity /transcendence 20-200 years

So – the million-dollar question. Do we as humans have a future? Well, we need to be examining and challenging the human impacts, and asking our governments how they will help us prepare for the future. (Personally, I don’t have much faith in governments to do much, but we’ll see).

And we need extraordinary leadership to navigate us through this; for instance, to act on the “stress, overload, and cultural toxicity” that comes from social media.  We need to navigate a path, stop doing what we don’t need to do, get people focused on those three different timescales. We need to establish robust technology ethics on issues such as use of data, and really start thinking about using people more appropriately.

His personal advice to us – keep informed, look for new companies, watch videos, have dialogue. Think about the new skills that we will need. Pick 2 or 3 angles on that, choose a partner that you can talk to regularly and discuss progress. And maybe look out for more from Talwar – he managed to combine the visionary with being surprisingly down to earth, and I’ll certainly be looking to read or watch more from him in the future.

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