Intelligence has become an emotive word. Politicians and those tasked with national security use it as a strategic lever to fight terrorism, in fiction the word intelligence is currency for gripping sub-plots and in our business technology community when used with the word artificial, intelligence has come to mean widespread change.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new concept, but the technology developments of the last decade have brought AI back into focus and more importantly into a strategic option for organisations. Perhaps because of its rich history in science fiction AI is discussed with a great deal of concern. All technology developments must be approached with balance of scepticism and excitement; but there are elements of the anti-AI debate that fail to realise that in many ways AI is nothing more than the next phase of mechanisation.
Machines have pressed panels, sowed and reaped the seeds of crops, moved objects as well as shaped, cleaned and collected since the industrial revolution. Inevitably, as today’s world is defined by data and that data resides on software-defined platforms the processing of data to deliver outcomes will become mechanised. Artificial labour will complete tasks.
AI has the potential to automate a vast array of tasks in the knowledge economy and this is striking the fear of god into many. But as a group of CIOs and lawyers discussed in the recent Horizon podcast on innovation in the legal sector, that automation by AI is perhaps necessary as the tasks are “boring” and therefore the opportunity for errors increases. CIO Stuart Whittle tells the podcast that AI has to be “better not perfect” and this is an argument I have heard not only from CIOs in the legal sector, but also health.
Better, not perfect has happened to society time and time again, robots weld cars together better, combines harvest more efficiently and production lines increase margins over hand made. More efficient machines means we can grow more food for a growing population (which of course increases the growth of the population). AI is seen by our panel of legal experts as a necessary development from the monster that computing has already created in rising data levels. Bird & Bird lawyer Howard Rubin describes how in his career litigation cases have grown from a couple of files of paperwork to data sets of a size the average retailer would recognise. Processing that data with any level of accuracy will require a solution with the ability to scale equal to the ability for data to increase.
The challenge is for society to be ready and able to adapt to the fact that AI will become increasingly prevalent, just as the computer has grown from a centralised tool for the Lyons tea shop empire to a multitude of devices per employee. For CIOs this means that the leadership role will require that on a daily basis you are developing the skill set of those in your team. I use the word require intentionally. As a CIO you are tasked with ensuring your organisation has the informational and technical ability to respond to changes in the marketplace. Central to that will be the people that can deliver new information and technology outcomes. The team in place and the team you recruit will need to be as evergreen as the technology you deploy, constantly being developed, refined and modernised.
For too long it has been acceptable, especially in the UK, to hire and forget, but now I believe it will be essential for a CIO’s success to be deeply involved in the development of the people in your charge.