Humans and machines: “a match made in productivity heaven.” Our species wouldn’t have gotten very far without our mechanized workhorses. From the wheel that revolutionized agriculture to the screw that held together increasingly complex construction projects to the robot-enabled assembly lines of today, machines have made life as we know it possible. (Chui, Roberts, and Yee, 2022).
It’s been more than 50 years since HAL, the malevolent computer in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” first terrified audiences by turning against the astronauts he was supposed to protect. That cinematic moment captures what many of us still fear – that the robot/computer may gain superhuman powers and subjugate us. This situation seems more real with the advent of AI.
What exactly is AI? In 2004, John McCarthy offered the following definition: “It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.”
In its simplest form, artificial intelligence is a field that combines computer science and robust datasets, to enable problem-solving. It also encompasses sub-fields of machine learning and deep learning, which are frequently mentioned in conjunction with artificial intelligence. These disciplines are comprised of AI algorithms that seek to create expert systems which make predictions, or classifications, based on input data. (McCarthy, 2007).
In our everyday life, computers already make many decisions for us, and on the surface, they seem to be doing a good job. In business, AI systems execute financial transactions and help Human Resources departments assess job applicants. In our private lives, we rely on personalized recommendations when shopping online, monitor our physical health with wearable devices, and live in homes equipped with “smart” technologies that control our lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances.
Over the years, artificial intelligence has gone through many cycles of hype, but even to skeptics, the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT seems to mark a turning point. The last time generative AI loomed this large, the breakthroughs were in computer vision, but now the leap forward is in natural language processing. And it’s not just language: generative models can also learn the grammar of software code, molecules, natural images, and a variety of other data types.
With these capabilities, AI has serious implications for the business world and, therefore, all business leaders. By using artificial intelligence, companies have the potential to make business more efficient and profitable. But ultimately, the value of artificial intelligence isn’t in the systems themselves but in how companies use those systems to assist humans—and their ability to “explain” to shareholders and the public what those systems do—in a way that builds and earns trust.
Unfortunately, a closer look at how we use AI systems today suggests that we may be wrong in assuming their growing power is almost always for good. We now rely on machines to make decisions for us, thereby increasingly substituting data-driven calculations for human judgment. This risks changing our morality in fundamental, perhaps irreversible, ways.
As noted by Moser, den Hond, and Lindebaum (2022), when we employ judgment, our decisions take into account the social and historical context and different possible outcomes, with the aim, as philosopher John Dewey wrote, “to carry an incomplete situation to its fulfillment.” Judgment relies not only on reasoning but also, and significantly so, on capacities such as imagination, reflection, examination, valuation, and empathy. Therefore, it has an intrinsic moral dimension.
With AI systems, in contrast, decisions are derived after processing data through an accumulation of calculus, computation, and rule-driven rationality — what we refer to as reckoning. The problem is that having processed our data, the answers these systems give are constrained by the narrow objectives for which they were designed, without regard for potentially harmful consequences that violate our moral standards of justice and fairness. For example, in the Netherlands, some 40,000 families unfairly suffered profound financial harm and other damages due to the tax authorities’ reliance on a flawed AI system to identify the potential fraudulent use of a child benefit tax relief program. The ensuing scandal forced the Dutch government to resign in January 2021. (Moser, den Hond, F., and Lindebaum, 2022).
How can today’s business leaders utilize the capabilities of AI without ending up with negative consequences? To begin, every leader must understand that these AI tools are not necessarily intended to work without human input and intervention. In many cases, they are most powerful in combination with humans, augmenting their capabilities and enabling them to get work done faster and better.
Therefore, it is critical to understand that corporate leaders/executives should proceed with abundant caution. Technologists are still working out the kinks, and plenty of practical and ethical issues remain open. Here are just a few:
- Like humans, generative AI can be wrong. ChatGPT, for example, sometimes generates inaccurate information in response to a user question. We have observed instances when the tool was asked to create a short bio, and it generated several incorrect facts for the person, such as listing the wrong educational institution.
- Filters are not yet effective enough to catch inappropriate content. Users of an image-generating application that can create avatars from a person’s photo received avatar options that were entirely inappropriate, or incorrect.
- Systemic biases still need to be addressed. These systems draw from massive amounts of data that might include “unwanted biases.”
- Individual company norms and values aren’t reflected. Companies will need to adapt the technology to incorporate their culture and values, which requires technical expertise and computing power beyond what some companies may have access to.
- Intellectual-property questions are up for debate. When a generative AI model brings forward a new product design or idea based on a user prompt, who can claim it? What happens when it plagiarizes a source based on the data that was used to “train” it? (Chi, Roberts, and Yee, 2022).
Most importantly, at this time, all corporate leaders must expect additional problems. Overall, it is much too early to move ahead and adopt this technology as if it is tested and proven. It is not. However, as with any emerging inventions, products, etc., as refinements are made and additional findings incorporated into AI’s capabilities, appropriate applications/usages will emerge. The most successful leaders will be the ones who continue to follow the findings, incorporate those applications that best fit into one’s own organization, while remaining nimble as new information is gathered and understood. As they say, “these are interesting times!”.
Chui, Michael, Roberts, Roger, and Yee, Lareina. Generative AI is here: How tools like ChatGPT could change your business. McKinsey & Company, Commentary, December 20, 2022.
McCarthy, John. What is artificial intelligence?. Stanford University Computer Science Department, 2007.
Moser, C., den Hond, F., and Lindebaum, D. Academy of Management Learning & Education, Vol 1, (1), 2022.
For years, E.A.S.I.-Consult® has been helping leaders to understand emerging issues, and then best utilize those technologies that would be most effective for their specific challenges. As a leader in researching and identifying key capabilities necessary for exceptional leadership, we assist organizations reach their full potential.
Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com, or call 800.922.EASI.