Artificial intelligence is rewriting the corporate rulebook, promising greater levels of efficiency and productivity than ever before.
However, as all their value, algorithms are no substitute for the essential qualities that make us human, and won’t be for a long time to come.
In this exclusive article Dr Stephen Simpson and Hugh Shields, founders of UK-based corporate performance consultancy Alpha Fortius, explain why it is now more important than ever before for managers to reassure their staff that they still have a place in the AI workplace. This can be achieved through behavioural change programmes, but not without a clear understanding of the human factor. Without it, companies risk alienating employees and star talent, while also slowing down the pace of change to the advantage of their competitors.
Envisaging An AI Future: It’s Not As Scary As Staff Imagine
Some futurists believe that a ‘technological singularity’ is coming. This is the point when machines and robots overtake humans in their ability to think and create. Is this realistic? Well, go on to YouTube and search on “AI Gargoyle Denver International Airport”. It is funny but is also a stunning example of how far things have already come. It certainly made me pause and think.
Back in the corporate world, technology marches on. AI and other new technologies, such as blockchain, are coming into the corporate world at a dazzling pace. But I think it is fair to say that, at least in the medium term (say 10 years), we will not witness significant job losses.
What we will see is AI and other technologies being used to make our current jobs more effective, more productive and more useful. We are living in the age of AI-assisted jobs; of AI-extended intelligence.
You are obliged to adopt new technologies because your competitors are doing so and, if you don’t, you will ultimately be out of business. It is a competitive march that has to be made but how do you go about it, and where will it all end?
The answer to the first question, at least in a generic sense, is the answer you must always give in the corporate world. It is the solution which maximises shareholder/stakeholder value both now and in the short/medium/long term. It’s easy to say but it does provide a framework because it means that you have to:
- Think hard about the prospective costs and benefits of new technology
- Identify the path which generates the highest net present value; and
- Never lose sight of the fact that the customer is king
The answer to the second question is much more complex. But it is clear that we can choose how this plays out – and choose we must, in a coordinated way and in a way which prioritises the human purpose above all else.
Our consultancy, Alpha Fortius, has recently established a research centre called “The Centre for Artificial and Infinite Intelligence”. Amongst the various projects we are establishing, one is to consider the answer to the second question.
The project is really about the conceptualising the likely conclusion of the convergence of artificial and infinite intelligence. Only time will tell but we are positive, believing that the end game must ultimately be good for the human race… because while we may not be as coldly calculating as AI, we are certainly smart enough to make it so.
To Make Employees Comfortable With AI, You Need To Understand The Human Mind
In the scramble to integrate AI into the workplace, employers risk embracing cast-iron algorithms while losing sight of the human touch.
Employees are already uneasy about the prospect of being replaced by a robot, and such concerns can impact on their mental wellbeing and productivity, which in turn has a negative impact on the corporate bottom line.
But this understandable anxiety will be compounded tenfold if companies start rolling out AI in the office while suddenly expecting their flesh-and-blood staff to fall in line with their new electronic colleagues. Artificial intelligence is supposed to be a powerful new tool; not a role model for managers to impress on their teams.
Behavioural change is already a tried-and-tested approach to improving the efficiency and contentment of a workforce, but as we hurtle towards the digitally-assisted world— whether we like it or no—it will be an even more essential management mechanism if companies want to train, retain and attract star talent.
One of the first things I learnt at medical school was how a healthy human baby develops in the mother’s womb. At various times of its development it resembles a fish, then a reptile, and at other times a bird. Finally, it is recognisable as a human. Some of these reptile elements still exist in our brain as archaic remnants.
In a nutshell the brain can be divided into three main areas, with the oldest part, the reptilian level, also known as the basal ganglia, first emerging in fish about 500 million years ago. It continued its development in amphibians, and reached its final stage in reptiles about 250 million years ago.
The reptilian brain is where our most primitive instincts live. Many of them are directly concerned with our survival and how we respond to threats. It is the home of aggression, of how we protect our territory, and the ritual displays that we use to get our own way.
It may come as a shock to know that most of the thinking that we are aware of comes from this primal centre. Almost all of our thoughts arise from this swamp. Of course, they will be filtered and processed by the higher layers of the brain. This sanitation exercise is an essential function to all of us as we have evolved as social animals.
The point of this biology lesson is that when managers recognise where our thoughts come from, we will understand ourselves, and others at a much higher level. It will help to us to communicate to others more effectively, work as part of a team more effectively and, crucially, enable all staff to embrace AI change at a much faster rate than would normally be comfortable.
Understanding where our thoughts come from is important because it provides the keys to construct behavioural change programs that are more likely to be accepted by employees.
In short, all messages should be designed to be attractive to our reptilian brain. This attraction exists at an emotional level and has little to do with logic. Get this wrong and any change program has almost no chance of success. Indeed it will likely be catastrophic for the company. Get it right, however, and the organisation is more likely to have a common sense of purpose.
The challenge is that employees first reference point will be social media, and all too often this is designed to engage the worst aspects of our reptilian brain. Management communications will need to be far more attractive than the fake news that people are usually drawn towards.
In the new, uncertain age of AI, professional contentment and happiness are likely to be primary concerns for employees. What will there be left to do? How will the long hours be filled? Where is the hope? These are the questions that the reptile brain will be asking, and it is imperative that any change program addresses all of these points.
In the post-AI world our sense of unity and belonging to something greater than ourselves is about all we have left to defend against the march of AI. These aspirations are not likely to change in the future, because they are hardwired in our reptile brains.
A company culture based on caring for others will have a standout competitive advantage as we navigate these uncertain waters. Company visions and objectives based around social themes such as corporate social responsibility, in its widest sense, will appeal to employees far more deeply than objectives based around profit and return on investment.
It is no longer sufficient to pay more than the competition to attract and retain staff. It’s not that remuneration is no longer important; it’s just not as important as it used to be. It could be argued that this new paradigm is more ethical, more responsible, and ultimately more sustainable than the old business models.
CEOs and other senior managers take note. These older models are finished, and as soon as companies recognise this the sooner they can develop the new strategies required for their employee’s survival and wellbeing in the 21stcentury workplace.
Alpha Fortius Consulting works with companies of all sizes, both nationally and internationally, to improve staff performance and refine IT infrastructure policies. The consultancy offers services including motivational speeches, workshops and weekend retreats.
Co-founder Dr Stephen Simpson is a world-renowned mind coach, presenter, author, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.
His partner, Hugh Shields, has been named as one of the 50 most influential accountants in the UK and is also a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications and innovative technology for business. For more information visit www.drstephensimpson.com .
Dr Simpson and Hugh Shields welcome comments and questions and can be reached at stephensimpson _AT_ msn _DOT_com or hughcshields_AT_ gmail_DOT_com.