Vizard : IT & The Coming AI Storm
In opinion / By Mike Vizard / 03 October 2016
Artificial intelligence (AI) represents a long-standing promise of IT that is just now coming to fruition.
The challenge now is that most organizations and individuals are about as prepared for the AI revolution any more than their ancestors were at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
IT leaders are going to have to come to terms with two unpleasant realities in the months and years ahead.
AI is about to start eliminating large numbers of existing job functions.
Whether it’s a middle management position that primarily generates reports or an IT administrator, any job that fundamentally depends on being able to identify patterns is at risk.
Making the decision to leverage IT to eliminate a particular set of tasks is not likely to prove to be politically popular inside or out of the organization.
IT was originally embraced as a means for reducing reliance on back office clerks. The AI revolution is going to be about replacing entire layers of management inside organizations.
AI will flatten management structures because the decision-making attached to many business processes will become automated to the point where the reports describing what actually happened will automatically be surfaced to senior business executives.
None of this is lost on the IT vendor community. In an unprecedented level of cooperation, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Google have formed a partnership dedicated to understanding the impact of AI better.
This “Partnership on Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of People and Society” organization even sports a moniker worthy of the “Newspeak” language that George Orwell created for his famous “1984” novel. To make matter even more interesting, Microsoft this week followed in the footsteps of IBM by creating an entire commercial division involving 5,000 employees dedicated to developing AI products and technologies.
Clearly, the IT vendor community is trying to get out in front on any potential backlash. The lessons of the Industrial Revolution have not been entirely lost. Back then thousands of weavers became infamous as Luddites dedicated to trying to slow down progress by going on strike. That effort ultimately failed. But not before the British government had to violently suppress a Luddite movement involving riots that left hundreds dead and wounded.
Today there’s already enough angst over the economy to foster both a controversial presidential campaign in the U.S. and the further potential disintegration of the European Union. Once the general population starts the feel the economic impact of AI, the potential reaction could easily result in the overthrow of any number of institutions.
Of course, there’s really nothing all that new about AI. The algorithms being used to enable AI have been around for decades. Now there is enough data available on more affordable compute platform to put AI concepts into practice. As such, it’s already too late to put the proverbial AI genie back in the bottle.
Unfortunately, there is little comprehension in terms of what impact will have on the global economy. Some conservatively forecast that AI will only eliminate six percent of all jobs in the U.S. by 2021. Multiply that number around the globe and you’re talking about impacting people and their families in way that will number in the millions.
Others say the economic impact will affect people numbering in the billions because AI will not create as many new jobs as it eliminates. There are even calls to create a minimum basic income for people to help mitigate the potential economic impact that AI poses.
IT leaders better than anyone else should know what is and what is not possible to achieve using AI. But their responsibility for AI goes well beyond figuring out how to implement it. For every benefit AI might provide an organization, there’s another AI project somewhere dedicated to eliminating the need for all or some part of the services that organisation provides.
IT leaders not only need to be able to identify those threats to the core business, they also need to be able to identify new opportunities enabled by AI that will allow the organisation to thrive.
Alas, today too many IT leaders are not especially good at identifying how IT might be employed to disrupt their organisations for better or worse. As is often the case, those that have AI done on to them before they do on to others are likely to fare much worse than others.
It’s now the responsibility IT leaders to think beyond the realm of their own organisations to help less learned colleagues and politicians truly understand the huge impact AI is about to have on them.
Undoubtedly, amazing new things never before though possible are about to regularly occur thanks to the mainstream adoption of AI.
But the fact remains that the benefits of those AI advances will be far from being distributed evenly.
Hopefully, most IT leaders will be more thanked than blamed for these advances.
The difference between those two extremes will most likely come down to how, when and where those AI advances actually get employed.