Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already shaping our world; now we must be ready for it to not merely shape our world, but to radically alter it. How do businesses capitalise on the commercial gains that AI can bring whilst also protecting against emerging risks?
Ross Dawson, Partner in Eton Bridge Partners’ Operations, Procurement, and Supply Chain Transformation Practice, hosted a webinar exploring AI opportunities and threats, and its potential to transform the way we work. Ross was joined by engineer and award-winning broadcaster Dr. Shini Somara who is passionate about making STEM accessible through her TV projects, books, and podcasts working with high-profile names such as Harper’s Bazaar and Channel 4.
By opening up the conversation on AI, we aim to move past the fear and sensationalism that can cloud this subject and offer pointers to those keen to learn more.
Should we really be afraid of AI?
Any new technology has the potential to bring excitement and fear in equal measure – just look at nuclear fusion. AI is no exception. Observers have drawn battlelines between ‘boomers’, AI optimists keen to move quickly to unlock its benefits, and ‘doomers’, the pessimistic, apocalyptic-leaning, evil twin of techno-optimism. The two schools agree that AI will accelerate exponentially, probably beyond our ability to predict or control. They disagree about whether that’s a good thing or not.
The advent of generative AI such as ChatGPT – tech that has capabilities earlier AI didn’t have such as the ability to generate content – brings us to a pivotal moment. Some tech visionaries argue that ethics and safety should not be allowed to stand in the way of what could potentially be able to achieve. Others feel strongly that clear and secure boundaries should urgently be put in place, in line with national security measures, to ensure AI is developed and deployed in a safe, responsible way for the benefit of the global community, mitigating societal risk. Governments and leading figures from the world of computing and engineering, such as Elon Musk, the Tesla CEO and owner of the social media site X, are still working out how to tread the line between the two.
How do business leaders incorporate AI into their businesses whilst being mindful of the risks?
The era of generative AI is just beginning. Excitement over this technology is palpable… but leaders in business and society still have considerable challenges to address. McKinsey & Co.
Shini doesn’t see AI as something to fear; “It’s a tool we can’t avoid, it’s part of our future and it will enhance our businesses and day-to-day lives.” Shini expects AI to replace mundane tasks and allow humans to focus on higher-level, more creative work; “We should embrace the fact that it will allow you to bring different talent to the table.” A recent report from EY found 65% of CEOs said the impact of AI replacing humans in the workforce will be offset by new career opportunities.
There are obvious wins in efficiency, customer experience and marketing insight; Shini advises organisations to be clear on what the routine tasks are that can be automated and where to, “Allow employees to shine by being human.” Businesses need to consider the data they generate and where AI can pinpoint patterns to streamline processes, enhance customer interactions and focus innovation.
At the same time, businesses leaders need a keen awareness of what the risks are and how to manage them. They need to consider myriad issues here including the regulatory environment, cybersecurity, privacy, intellectual property, the impact on the workforce and local community, unintended bias, transparency and social and environmental impact.
The task before us is to manage the potential positive and negatives of the technology simultaneously. McKinsey & Co.
What will the future bring – where are we headed with AI?
Shini pointed out that AI is already very much in the fabric of our daily lives, from banking chatbots, to Netflix suggesting which shows you should watch. She sees deep learning – a subset of machine learning that mimics the way the human brain works and can learn from unstructured data such as images – as an exciting development. Further ahead, she said the coupling of AI with quantum computing is, “Something to look forward to that will be very powerful.” Shini sees opportunities for AI to positively impact all sectors, from better treatment for Parkinson’s disease to cleaner transport and energy solutions.
A key factor in where AI goes from here is how publicly accessible it should be. For the fastest advancement, making AI freely available for all to use and improve, so called Open AI, is the way to go. Keeping it under lock and key with developers and owners – Closed AI – gives more scope to control and regulate. The recent case of Sam Altman, who was fired as CEO of AI research firm OpenAI and reappointed five days later after a highly public power struggle, encapsulates the argument. “It’s fascinating,” said Shini, “It’s about transparency and Closed versus Open AI.” She advises business leaders use open sources of AI to enhance their businesses but remain mindful of the security risks. Employee training and skills also need to be carefully considered.
Pushback from those who feel under threat from AI will continue. The Hollywood writer’s strike, which secured reassurances over AI use in film and TV projects, could encourage action in other sectors. Government frameworks will also continue to evolve. Shini attended the world’s first AI Safety Summit held recently at Bletchley Park, which signalled the UK welcomes AI, but with guard rails in place. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the EU has the strictest rules around AI, China has also regulated but the US has prioritised innovation over regulation.
We are at a crossroads on AI – the transformational power is there, now it’s time for governments and societies to leverage the positives and manage the risks. Shini said:
We are on the precipice of a technological breakthrough, AI has the potential to make us ‘superhuman’ we need to ensure our future generations are using it for good.
My thanks to Shini for guiding our conversation and sharing her insights. For me, the key takeaways were embrace AI, don’t fear it and use it wisely. The webinar was very well-attended, and the feedback we’ve had suggests attendees appreciated Shini’s ability to make a complex subject accessible – many were left feeling more positive about the opportunities AI can bring.
“I am more informed and more excited about the potential and how it can enhance the service offering across our function and the wider business.” Webinar attendee.
The AI debate will continue to develop rapidly – we look forward to keeping the conversation going on an issue that so deeply affects the future of work and indeed all aspects of our lives.
Want to learn more about AI?
There is a wealth of resources such as online courses, books, podcasts and YouTube videos out there. You will be surprised how much you understand once you have grasped the fundamentals.
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