What Artificial Intelligence Means for the C-Suite and How To Prepare For It

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There are a lot of rumblings about artificial intelligence (AI) these days, as it hints at a workplace revolution. These articles typically express a type of fear or anxiety. Any one who has seen a few science fiction movies has witnessed a fictionalized version of AI gone wrong at least once. As far back as 1920, a Czech play called R.U.R, which consequently coined the term “robot”, depicted a world where artificial people with advanced AI rebelled and eliminated the human race.

AI anxieties are deep rooted in our culture. Right now we hear mostly from workers who fear they will be replaced by machines. How many jobs will be lost? What is my worth if a robot can do my job for free? But instead of looking at the possible direct effects of AI on jobs, today I’m going to talk about AI and the *C-Suite, including leadership in government and nonprofits.

First let’s look at AI a little closer.

AI Already Exists and You Are Probably Using It

artificial intelligence and the c-suite

AI already exists. It works in three ways: assisted intelligence, augmented intelligence and autonomous intelligence.

  1. Assisted Intelligence: We already use assisted intelligence. It is AI that makes things easier day-to-day like the GPS in your car, or Alexa.
  2. Augmented Intelligence: While assisted intelligence works with humans to make things easier, augmented intelligence enhances what humans are capable of doing themselves. An example would be ride-sharing apps—these businesses would not be possible without AI.
  3. Autonomous Intelligence: I’m sure you guessed by the name—this type of AI represents machines acting alone. An easy example of this is self-driving cars. Autonomous intelligence is currently being developed and is not yet widespread.

Look Closely. Possibilities = Opportunities

The possibilities presented by AI extend far beyond job loss. It is predicted to have a transformative effect on enterprise, consumer, and government markets globally. Financial Times reports the market is projected to reach $70 billion by 2020. Surveyed consumers believe AI has the potential to help create medical breakthroughs, democratize costly services, improve customer service, and even free up a workforce overburdened by menial tasks. All of these things sound promising—and they also present huge opportunities to leaders who are tuned in.

According to a study done by PwC and CISAI, 72% of business execs believe AI will be the business advantage of the future. Currently 54% of business and IT executives in their Digital IQ survey say their companies are making large investments in AI.

What Does The C-Suite Want From AI?

artificial intelligence and the c-suite

What are organizational leaders hoping to get from their investments? Put simply, they want a boost in productivity, improved business strategy, and substantial growth. More specifically, they want to improve big data analytics, obliterate menial tasks, and match human intelligence to artificial intelligence in order to create impactful business strategies. And one more thing—they want to improve the life of workers.

The C-Suite Wants More Big Data

Execs are looking forward to the possibility of virtual personal assistants and automated data analysts. They see an opportunity for AI to analyze massive amounts of data quickly, in order to increase efficiencies in all areas of their business. As an example, a UK law firm partnered with a French start-up to use AI to analyze decades of historical data. Looking at this information, they were able to estimate the course, cost, length and outcome of litigation.

AI Waves Goodbye to Menial Tasks

78% of executives agree that AI will free employees from menial tasks like paperwork, scheduling, and time sheets. This will allow them to focus more on deep thinking and creating.

However, when it comes to the human resources department, they are less keen on AI. Even though 69% of business executives think AI could be equally or more fair, and less biased, when it comes to bonuses and promotions, only 46% would consider having AI involved in those type of decisions.

Human Intelligence + Artificial Intelligence

So in the case of HR, human intelligence and AI would be better for executives. AI would make the decision, but HR would want to follow up with a human for feedback after this decision was made. The C-Suite also hopes that the marriage of HR and AI will contribute to major strategic shifts in the organization by providing more information during decision-making. They believe the man-machine hybrid has the potential to be more powerful than either on its own. So this does not mean the elimination of employees—just the elimination of jobs as they transition into new roles overseeing and coordinating with intelligent machines.

Improving the Life of Employees

Executives are hopeful that the new roles created by the relationship between human and artificial intelligence will improve the life of employees by providing more flexibility and freedom to work from home, and a more balanced workload. 70% believe AI has the potential to allow humans to focus on more meaningful work and indulge more in leisure. They will be able to think deeper about complex situations, build better relationships with their teams, act with empathy and influence others to seek their vision—because AI will automate the rest.

What kind of things could AI automate that would lead to more big thinking? Imagine a job without paperwork, scheduling, time sheets, accounting, personal expenses, email management, proposal writing and more. How much more time would you have to devote to solutions, strategy and building relationships?

Five Ways to Prepare Your Organization for AI

artificial intelligence and the c-suite

  1. Grab That Data

Data is what drives technology. Organizations need to find out what data they already have, and what data they need in order to find opportunities, improve processes and answer a variety of questions. This means you need people in all aspects of your business who understand data, or you must bring in outside data analytics consultants.

  1. Commit to Continuous Learning

Improving the life of employees by shifting tasks to AI will require learning new skills and being adaptable. Incorporating AI and the rapid technological advancements associated with it means C-Suite and employees need to adopt the mindset of continual learning. That includes seeking out diverse perspectives, to better take advantage of AI’s potential for the business and the community.

  1. Foster a New Kind of Teamwork

When your team now includes a machine, teamwork will undoubtedly change. How will goals be set? How will tasks be delegated? A new approach will be needed.

  1. Teach, Direct, Mentor

As we bring AI into our organizations and institutions, it is the humans that will be in charge. They will decide how the machines will learn, create training processes, and refine operations. Teaching and mentoring employees while directing machines will be the norm in the transition to AI.

  1. Think About How and Where

Business leaders must take a good, critical look at how their organization works. They should examine things like workflow, processes, costs, and productivity patterns and then imagine how AI could make improvements if introduced.

Overall, business leaders are not looking at AI as a way to eliminate the human beings who they employ. Rather, AI can enhance the business operations while also enhancing the lives of employees. Organizations will be able to move forward more rapidly, without having overworked and over burdened teams. This future of AI is bright, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

How do you feel about AI? Do you see it as a positive or negative thing? Let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment below, send me an email, or find me on Twitter.

* C-Suite gets its name from the titles of top senior executives which tend to start with the letter C, for chief, as in chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and chief information officer (CIO), etc.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics come from PwC’s consumer intelligence series

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