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Top of Mind

May 15, 2019

Artificial Intelligence (AI):

Based on what I observe in the business world, AI is going to continue being in our collective consciousness for some time to come. Many thought this was going to be a fad—and with reason. The promise of AI drastically changing our world has been around for several decades. However, we in the technology world have not fulfilled the AI promise in the manner expected.

As usual, when it comes to technology, we overestimated how quickly the advances would get here, and I believe we will see that we have underestimated the impact of technology when it finally arrives.

High-Tech, High-Touch

I remember reading, in 1982, John Naisbitt’s and Patricia Aburdene’s then-new book, Megatrends. The phrase they coined, “High-Tech, High-Touch,” has stayed with me all these years. What they were stating is that: “Whenever a new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response… We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature.” This concept is just as true today as it was back in 1982.

Angst

Today, much of the angst around AI is the lack of consideration for the high-touch part of the equation. Some of the reason for that lack of attention is that technologists, economists, and business leaders are having a difficult time predicting how AI is going to affect employment.

We are learning which jobs will be automated first and which will lag behind the automation trend. The question, as always, is timing. In general terms, it’s safe to say that any jobs requiring physical interaction with a world designed for humans will be last to be automated. Think about a plumber, for example. It will be exceedingly difficult for us to design a humanoid robot that will be able to “climb under your sink” to fix a leaking faucet. On the other hand, human plumbers may well have a robotic companion to fetch tools and parts.

Manufacturing jobs, research jobs, writing, editing, and education tasks will likely be among the first to be automated. However, the question is, what are we doing to recognize the impact on human beings when they are no longer able to work? Where’s the high-touch, the spiritual demands of human nature?

Unintended Consequences

I feel safe predicting that we will be surprised at some of the consequences as we move forward with AI and Intelligent Machines. Human nature will be part of what causes surprise. We will see automation embraced where we didn’t expect it to be easily adopted. We will wonder why the human beings involved fight so hard against what we technologists think should be a slam-dunk acceptance of automation.

Most perplexing to me are some of the questions around what we might be able to do to mitigate human emotions around not being able to work. History tells us that the dream of being able to have a comfortable life without having to work is a pretty ancient dream. If we achieve that, what will be the human response? How will they find meaning in life? What economic system will we devise that allows for goods and services being available with only a small percentage of human beings participating in providing those goods and services?

Performance Leadership

In last week’s blog post, I spoke of the need to move from Performance Management to Performance Leadership. Certainly, the adoption of AI and Automation in an intelligent way is a perfect example of why we need to move Performance Leadership.

Performance Leadership demands that we take the high-touch requirements into account as we guide our organizations through the accelerating chaos of introducing intelligent machines and AI into our everyday lives. It will take great leaders to navigate these rapids.

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