There is a lot of confusion around what ‘AI’ means. Often, what is referred to as AI is simply ‘machine learning’. Machine Learning is actually only one component of AI – deep learning combined with predictive analytics.
See diagram 1 below.
The true breadth of Artificial Intelligence, as such, is yet to exist in the full, ‘self-aware’ sense as science fiction describes it – but there are many aspects of that exciting future state, that are already emerging.
Enabling smarter living
In our everyday lives, we are already benefiting from advances in this area, be it the clever search algorithms that mean you can find an answer to any question on Google (whether or not you spell it correctly) or the recommendation engine on Amazon that makes sure you buy batteries to go with your flashlight or shows you the most relevant content on Netflix.
Just coming into view is the powerful combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence within our homes which means that your new smart house has devices that talk to one another, learn your preferences and meet your needs before you even think of them. A great example of this is the Google Nest thermostat, which uses a camera to detect the presence of a person, learns from this data over time and then predicts when to switch the heating on/off according to occupancy.
“… there is an increasing level of debate around what artificial intelligence means for work, in particular creativity and decision-making in jobs”
As well as impacting our home life, there is an increasing level of debate around what artificial intelligence means for work, in particular creativity and decision-making in jobs. To understand this further, let’s take a look at how AI is impacting creative industries, like architecture and advertising.
AI is pushing boundaries in the workplace
Some of the world’s most forward-thinking architecture studios are making excellent use of AI’s predictive analytics and image generation capabilities. London-based practice Spacelab uses machine learning and virtual reality in order to visualise their architectural drawings in a very tangible way that also enables them to make changes to the structures in real time – something that was impossible before the advent of these technologies.
Machine learning, using systems like UpCodes AI, also allows architects and engineers to check their 3D models to detect potential material clashes, ensuring all legislative requirements are fulfilled and ensuring the building elements are correctly labelled.
In the world of advertising, ‘programmatic advertising’, where machine learning algorithms analyse visitor behaviour and optimize campaigns in real-time towards those visitors most likely to buy, is now commonplace. Classic examples of this include Google AdWords and Facebook whilst companies like Albert seek to utilise this approach across channels.
Elsewhere, AI is now used to generate film trailers, such as the one for the sci-fi horror film Morgan (1). It would have taken a human editor 10 – 30 days to complete the trailer, whereas the AI supercomputer ‘IBM Watson’ shortened this process to just 24 hours. Some of you may be aware that AI is already writing sports articles for the likes of Associated Press… (2)
In user experience, machine-learning algorithms are being used to customize the experience to the individual user, allowing for personalisation at scale – again, something hitherto impossible but now commonplace on platforms like Netflix.
Does this mean that humans are being supplanted by an intelligence that can work faster and more reliably than a human brain? Yes and No.
The continued rise of the Knowledge Worker
John Smith, IBM Fellow and Manager of Multimedia and Vision at IBM Research, argues that adding machine learning capabilities to creativity actually augments it: “With filmmaking, 99% of the work is actually very mundane. It’s going through hundreds of hours of video in some cases to arrive at the core pieces to use. So there’s still a very good reason to use technology as an assistant here, rather than replace the human in the loop.” (3)
What we are seeing with current technological advances is not that human beings are being replaced by machines, but rather the human is freed from the more mundane and repetitive tasks in order to focus more on the non-linear and creative. This is happening across all sectors, not just the creative industries.
According to a McKinsey report from 2012, the average worker spends 28% of the working week managing email and nearly 20% looking for information internally (4). Whilst the percentages may have changed over the last few years, there is still a lot of time wasted on manually completing processes that could be streamlined using smart technology.
As more and more repetitive tasks are taken care of by machines, an increasing number of us are falling into the ‘knowledge worker’ category – where employees are required to use their knowledge, and ability to learn and increase this knowledge, to direct the technology at their disposal towards desired outcomes for the organisation. With the continued rise of the Knowledge Worker, we see a shift in roles that requires a vastly different skillset from manual labour. Communication skills, factual and theoretical knowledge, the ability to access and apply information as well as continuous desire to learn are becoming key skills in the job market.
Many larger, more established organisations are ill-prepared to foster a culture where these skills can flourish. For a knowledge worker to be effective they need to have sufficient flexibility in order to have time to think and, because they often think in new, non-linear ways, they need to be allowed to challenge the status quo – something that has previously been unthinkable.
So what can you, as a company leader do to adapt your organisation to these changes and explore how AI can benefit your business?
“With the continued rise of the Knowledge Worker, we see a shift in roles that requires a vastly different skillset from manual labour. Communication skills, factual and theoretical knowledge, the ability to access and apply information as well as continuous desire to learn are becoming key skills in the job market.”
Be open to change…
First, accept that it is happening… In my opinion, there seems to be a lot of wishful thinking at the moment, with some organisations only now starting to acknowledge that the world of work is really changing. It can be hard to take a look at the bigger picture whilst grappling with ‘business as usual’ and when an organisation is doing well enough to sustain itself, the threat of disruption seems remote. One of the most famous examples of this happening is, of course, Blockbuster. You don’t want your organisation to be the next Blockbuster.
Secondly, start challenging the firmly-held, limiting beliefs within the organisation. Simon Hayward, author of the book “The Agile Leader” (5) advocates that leaders need to enable their organisation around a clear vision and set of values, whilst at the same time seek to disrupt their business through these types of innovations. How to achieve the latter is explored in the article by Gary Ashton and Julie Brophy. One technique we advocate is carrying out a visioning or innovation workshop with your team. This demonstrates how new technologies and ways of working are already being implemented across the world by both startups and more mature organisations in order to explore your own future possibilities today.
Also some leaders I’ve worked with ruled out brilliant, game-changing ideas because they didn’t work in the past. This can be a trap – more often than not, the idea was sound but the timing was wrong. A successful innovation programme captures all ideas and has in place mechanisms to revisit them in the future when they might be more easily incorporated and relevant.
Lastly, there is a need to be open – open to change, open to new ideas and open to new ways of doing things. We need to be continuously evaluating how we do things and why. Only when everyone in the organisation is clear on the why can they move forwards in the same direction – and AI can help us do this much, much faster.
“there is a need to be open – open to change, open to new ideas and open to new ways of doing things…”
1. “IBM Watson creates the first AI-made film trailer” (September 2016) https://www.wired.co.uk/article/ibm-watson-ai-film-trailer
2. “Associated Press expands sports coverage with stories written by machines” (July 2016) https://venturebeat.com/2016/07/01/associated-press-expands-sports-coverage-with-stories-written-by-machines/
3. John Smith, IBM Research
4. “The social economy: unlocking value and productivity through social technologies” McKinsey (July 2012)
5. “The Agile Leader: How to Create an Agile Business in the Digital Age” by Simon Hayward (June 2018) Kogan Page https://www.koganpage.com/product/the-agile-leader-9780749482732