Kirsty Halloran November 07, 2019

Man Versus Machine

Many of us of a certain generation can recall being glued to movie theatre screens watching the Schwarzenegger Terminator movies. The central theme was the battle for survival between the nearly-extinct human race and the world-spanning synthetic intelligence that is Skynet. In the 30+ years following the release of these block-busters, speculation continues on the relationship between man and machine and how superhuman artificial intelligence may be deployed for malicious ends. Leading AI researchers are certainly taking this threat seriously and outlining strategies for mitigating against these risks.

As with any technological advance there will always be negatives to manage alongside the positives, and the positive outcomes that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can yield are generally not disputed. A recent blog by Avaya’s David Chavez illustrates the immense value AI can present to an organization for the improvement of customer service and organizational cost reductions.

The Impact of AI

So what about the negative impacts AI can bring to an organization? And how can organizations mitigate against those impacts? A recent Dale Carnegie white paper on attitudes towards Artificial Intelligence across 11 countries provides some interesting insights. When employees were asked how they would feel about AI doing their routine tasks so that they may focus on more meaningful work, APAC respondents were the most positive, Europeans the most negative, with people from the Americas falling somewhere in-between -- which would seem to illustrate a cultural influence on our likelihood to embrace AI in the workplace.

Having said that, there appears to be a general recognition that AI is here to stay, with 23% percent of respondents saying AI and automation are already impacting them in their roles, and another 44% saying they expect it to in the next 1-5 years.

Over half of respondents at the level of director or above said they were at least moderately worried about the potential impact of AI on their organization’s culture. These leaders recognize that gains from AI could be offset by losses if the resulting impact on corporate culture has a negative impact on employees.

Employees’ trust in their senior leadership to make the right decisions regarding implementation of AI is shown to have an inverse relationship with the respondent’s position in the organizational hierarchy --  with those higher up in organisations having more trust in the roll-out of AI initiatives than individual contributors “lower down” in the organisation.

Human bias being built into AI systems is another area where there is concern. For example, we may not always want our AI to learn best practices from historic data as this could result in issues such as gender bias or discriminatory practices in profiling.

Next Steps of AI Implementation & Acceptance

The roll-out of AI initiatives in an organisation should therefore be carefully planned and explained to employees to encourage acceptance of the initiatives and mitigation against any feelings of threat.  Achieving the full potential of AI depends on a successful partnership between humans and machines.

Employees need to trust their leadership in the roll out of AI initiatives, and be confident in their ability to transition their skills to those needed in the future working landscape.

For leaders, encouraging a positive attitude toward AI projects will be an important first step: AI can enrich our working lives, freeing us to undertake more interesting work. Transparency in how AI algorithms work will also build trust.  Leadership taking this approach can result in employees being advocates rather than adversaries of Artificial Intelligence.

Man versus the machine?

Kirsty Halloran

Kirsty Halloran has worked in the business communications industry for over twenty years and has held many leadership roles across functions such as Product Management, New Product Introduction, Sales Enablement and Marketing. She is currently responsible for the marketing of Avaya Alliance Partners. Kirsty holds a B.A in Economics and Politics and a Master’s Degree in Information Technology from the National University of Ireland as well as several professional qualifications.

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