In recent decades, we have been beset by predictions and questions related to « artificial intelligence ». As a manager and director, how can you use artificial intelligence for business management or to set up your business? In what forms is it already exploited? How can artificial intelligence be integrated into your current information systems? And even more important: are today’s managers aware of the skills needed to tame the machines of tomorrow?
Don’t expect me to tell you here about Douglas Adams’ depressive robot, replacing under-productive employees. Indeed, artificial intelligence has a completely different face.
Automatic translators such as Deepl, Facebook’s DeepFace facial recognition, Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR), automated customer support in CRMs, chatbots on your company’s web page, SPAM detection, targeting of online advertisements according to your behaviour to make money on the Internet, etc.
AI is everywhere in our workplace.
One of the amazing facts about AI-technology is that it loses this name as soon as it becomes useful and becomes part of employees’ daily lives. AI is scary, while e.g. interactive software is attractive. That’s why the presence of AI in our daily lives doesn’t strike us.
From today’s business point of view, AI can be defined as a stand-alone computer program capable of learning and giving orders to performers. AI programs « learn » from the data contained in information systems, extract and analyse recurrent patterns, compare them to larger databases, and take decisions somewhat like an automatic pilot. In the future, those programs will advise the users and warn them of any anomalies.
So let’s look into the future and see how artificial intelligence can be used by companies and what kind of skills will be required, to tame the machine.
One told me once “I am afraid you misunderstood your question.” As curious as this sentence may sound, it sums up well the trap that the future holds for us.
Indeed, the manager’s working time is generally distributed as follows
• 80%: the manager carries out repetitive tasks for which he or she is overqualified. Some of these tasks can be automated.
• 10%: the manager is at the heart of his job and produces value.
• 10%: the manager is underqualified
If 80% of the managers’ time is spent on tasks for which they are overqualified, then these tasks are the ones that should be eliminated as soon as possible by the AI. The managers dispossessed of these tasks will then have more time to be in contact with their team, to develop close relationships with clients, to think, to reflect, to refocus on their core business and to be creative.
The managers will have to learn to clearly analyse the questions they are asking themselves. They will have to educate the machine, to obtain from it a range of solutions for which they will be able to choose to automate the answer or to select a solution from among those proposed.
Previously the manager was judged on their ability to solve problems. Now, as soon as they interacts with the AI, they will be judged on their ability to ask problems and questions.
There is nothing better for a manager to go back to the basics of his/her job and think about the processes in order to logically interact with the machine. The choice of the answer among the range proposed after the AI will be the most prized asset by your peers.
The managers will have to imagine systems that feed artificial intelligence with data. They will learn how to implement solutions so that all the stakeholders provide quality data, in continuous flow, to the AI teams.
This is a complete paradigm shift for the company. Managers need to understand the data they use and above all how to collect it. They will need to know how to surround themselves with specialists who can help them upstream, and they will have to « educate » themselves on the data. The managers of tomorrow will have to have a real scientific culture of data.
The little hindsight we have on artificial intelligence allows us to foresee the tasks that AI will be able to perform in the short term and those that it will not be able to do.
For the moment, AI cannot innovate, have imagination, undertake, etc… These fields still remain in the domain of the human being, a priori for a long time. Tomorrow’s managers will therefore have to develop their human qualities and get out of the straitjacket of being implementation specialists. This particular skill is strongly linked to an entrepreneurial culture that accepts failures in the organisation because failures are human.
Last but not least, the managers will have to « educate » the AI in addition to the immutable activity of coaching their teams. They will have to get help from a new emerging function: the robot breeder. These breeders are the new developers specialising in AI.
Employers will then have to be able to identify good robot coaches/educators, whose signatures will be recognised. At the same time, managers must accustom their teams to the new data culture and train them to educate AI themselves.
This last skill raises a fundamental question: Should AI’s be taught everything? What will be the shortcomings (in particular values and ethics) linked to teaching by a single person or a homogeneous group of executive staff? These questions will have to be resolved, particularly within companies.
If in 1980, a skill had a duration of about 30 years, from 2020 it will only last a maximum of 5 years. With the deployment of AI, managers will therefore have to reinvent themselves and develop new skills in order to be able to work with artificial intelligence. It will then be a question of collaborative intelligence (men / machines), as it already exists in handling with co-robotics.
If today’s managers do not realise what their role will be tomorrow, they will never be able to tame the machine.