Artificial Intelligence
10 April 2017

3 Myths of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to transform the workplace and the concept of ‘work’ itself. But, before AI can change us, we should make a few changes ourselves. Here are three common myths that distort what we mean when we’re talking about AI.

#1 AI lives in sci-fi

I, Robot. 2001: A Space Odyssey. The books of Isaac Asimov. From novels to TV shows, pop culture has cemented visions of how our future will look when artificial intelligence becomes widespread. Some of the sensationalist language in the media does its bit to add to the image. We’re made to see a distant and slightly terrifying future of human subservience to machines more powerful than us. Less often do we think about how this technology might help our lives change for the better.

It might be surprising to some that Artifical Intelligence (AI) is sort of already here today; it’ll be surprising to an even bigger crowd that AI has been working away under the hood for quite a while now. AI, not people, writes financial summaries and sports recaps at some publications. “Computer-assisted diagnosis” allowed a computer to spot 52% of breast cancers based on mammography scans up to one year before the women were officially diagnosed. And AI is used to help decide which sales opportunities are worth a salesperson’s time.

We, as consumers, probably use devices and services that function with AI more times in a day than we realise. Alexa is just one member in a very large club. Businesses with good relations with their IT teams are a little more clued in: they’re leveraging AI technology today with some very practical business results to show for it. No more does AI live in the science-fiction genre.

#2 AI discards the human

PwC’s recent report said up to 30% of existing UK jobs are susceptible to automation from robotics and AI by the early 2030s. That certainly made the headlines. The bit that was considered less newsworthy was where the report said that introducing AI into the workplace would boost performance, maximise productivity and lead to offsetting additional job gains elsewhere in the economy. Again, tying back to the doom-and-gloom imagery, many believe that AI will cause humans to lose jobs and that’s the end of the conversation.

Other sources paint a slightly different picture. For McKinsey, very few occupations – less than 5 percent – are likely to be in danger of full automation, that is, complete replacement of a human. Each job out there involves lots of different tasks at varying levels of difficulty and intelligence. Automation can be applied to take care of a certain fraction of those tasks, not all of them. That means people are freed up from repetitive tasks to focus on delivering real value in other aspects of the job. And of course, AI technology will equip humans with the intelligence to do their jobs even better.

AI creates new jobs – as the Industrial Revolution did – and makes people that are working better at their jobs. For those that see AI with a fearful lens, this might be the right sort of way to start a conversation about the real benefits that AI can bring to the employees of a company.

#3 AI works for everything

AI can do a lot. But it isn’t magic. It doesn’t discard the human. And there is much that it can’t and probably shouldn’t be made to do. AI needs to be managed with rules that humans must create and implement, because AI is also incapable of real judgement and even ‘common sense’. Applying robotics automation to tasks that you could have refined by just perfecting your business process and strategy means you’ve put on your technology hat when you should’ve brought out your business one. That’s money gone to waste. Think carefully about whether AI and robotic automation is the right solution for the problems that keep you up at night.

At the end of the day, your business goals should guide your choice of whether or not to dip your toes into AI technology. Start by thinking about what you want to achieve for your business. Is it to improve customer experience? Generate new business? Spend less on one department? Decide what you want, then work backwards until you arrive at the right technology for that specific goal. And be sure to measure your results so you can show your team what AI has and hasn’t done. The technology is only here to help you get to where you want to go.

A conversation is how it all begins, and it seems we’re not having enough of those. We have to speak openly with each other and across different departments of an organisation about what IT can’t do, what it can do well, and what it can do brilliantly. We have to be able to judge the technology critically, which goes for everyone and not just the IT specialists – if what they really say is true and that every company today is a technology company. Start by looking at the technology for what it is, and let fall the myths that disguise it.