CIO upfront: Why AI will enhance, not replace NZ workers

Artificial intelligence, if headlines are anything to go by, promises to herald either a wonderful new age of possibility, or it signals the beginning of the machine world —and once set in motion, one which might happen with or without us.

Let’s be clear right from the start: At best, AI can amplify the ability of humans, but I don’t see it replacing us.

Much about AI has been hyped, oversold, misunderstood, mislabeled and wrongly feared. There isn’t enough discussion about the technology’s true purpose, which is to serve and amplify human potential. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella articulately described recently, “The beauty of machines and humans working in tandem gets lost in the discussion about whether AI is a good thing or a bad thing.”

A simple way to understand AI

First, let’s understand what AI is not. It’s not a one-to- one replacement for people. It’s not an all- powerful product capable of the same cognitive thought as we are. It’s also not interchangeable with AI-related concepts like machine learning or deep learning. Instead, AI is the practice of applying technology and autonomous or semi-autonomous machines that take on tasks or jobs that we either don’t want to do, or may be unable to do. Think deep sea exploration with robotic submarines. AI is the science of making machines do those things that would be considered intelligent if they were done by people.

When we talk about AI, we’re talking about algorithms that are capable of learning from data and using what they’ve learnt to improve processes and overcome challenges. They’re algorithms that can analyse 300 million global mining records in under four seconds and complete tasks from payroll administration to customer service. AI techniques have been more or less the same, the difference is that the computers required to process large data sets are now affordable and available.

AI is essentially a set of techniques — technology based on our ability to layer knowledge with applied solutions that are used to bring us a new understanding of the world around us. It does not and cannot replace, or accurately replicate, humans o human thinking.

In fact, where AI excels best is when it works in tandem with humans to help us do what we do best: think about and find problems, both large and small, and come up with ways to solve them. AI, at least in its current state, is best when we apply it to problems we already know are there.

As you read this, New Zealand businesses are using AI to combat credit card fraud, speed up the discovery of new medicines, improve the safety of trucks and manufacture high-tech products.

AI is appearing in almost every business sector, according to our AI Maturity Index CIO report, based on a global survey of 1,600 business and IT leaders, released in January.

We found the majority of big businesses have already deployed AI, with an average spend of US$6.7 million last year on the technology, leading to around two in five experiencing cost savings, improved productivity and better decision making and problem solving.

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AI excels best when it works in tandem with humans to help us do what we do best: think about and find problems, both large and small, and come up with ways to solve them.Abdul Razack, Infosys

AI to unleash human creativity

AI has the innate potential to transform how people identify and find problems. For example, AI can present humans with information they may never have uncovered through identifying patterns and anomalies in environments and production. Humans are then free to focus on creative solutions incorporating AI-derived data.

It’s a bit like our ancestors inventing the wheel. A world-altering invention, But the technology itself didn’t take over from there on its own; it was still up to humans to figure out how to use it best, and to figure out that smooth surfaces would make the wheel even more efficient, leading to the creation of roads.

AI can be deployed any time there is an opportunity to replace manual human work with mechanical, autonomous machines and technology. This is why we should embrace it. It amplifies us, improves our productivity, makes us more efficient and in principle with that efficiency we can do more and ultimately it can free us up to be creative.

And this is what encourages and enables design thinking and the mindset of creative confidence. It empowers people to look beyond the stated challenge, frame questions in a different way and consider new perspectives to uncover hidden problems. This is a significant change in mindset as most organisations encourage employees to focus narrowly, rather than to innovate through finding and solving obscure, unknown problems. But that’s where human invention excels. AI may help us along the way by providing context and insights into the problems, but it cannot solve them the way humans can.

When working together, teaching, training and technology can combine to form an innovative culture.

Each person in an organisation — along with its customers and partners — can enhance his or her performance thanks to the collective, evolving knowledge of AI that learns, remembers, and informs.

AI’s power is not in operating independently, but working with us in the discovery, creation, and management of knowledge. Robots won’t replace us.

Abdul Razack is SVP and head of platforms, big data and analytics at Infosys.

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