Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Boris Altemeyer of Cognisess, the Predictive Analytics for People company, anticipates what may lie in store for the AI industry as the powers gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum to discuss:
The Coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Across this weekend, the world’s press, governments, industrialists, commentators, the good and the (not so) great start gathering in Davos-Klosters in Switzerland ahead of the World Economic Forum. Some might argue that the combined brain and influencing power of this gathering represents the most powerful human super-computer the planet has to offer. A combination of industrialists with billions of dollars at their fingertips for funding innovation; governments who can investment development of major long term global infrastructure; and the media who are able to reach out and engage every corner of society with new ideas and solutions to better our world for all. It is a fair question to ask that if these people can’t transform the fabric of society – then who can?
The impacts and implications of the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution will continue to dominate the agenda. In an agenda-setting pre-amble last week titled: The Urgency of Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, outlined his concerns about the impacts of allowing a free market development of emerging technologies such as AI and Robotics. The main area of his concern is that the digital revolution that emerged in the middle of the last century is now happening at an exponential pace rather than a linear one and blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. This unprecedented economic whirlwind might start to become as unpredictable as much of the climate change that we have been experiencing recently and that there is “clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses”.
The crux of his argument is founded on the assertion that in the future talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production with a workforce polarising into either “low-skill/low-pay” jobs or “high-skill/high-pay” jobs with a hollowing out of the middle. The WEF Report of 2016 Jobs of the Future paved the way for this theory by identifying a number of new super-brain human attributes which will come to define the employment and skills landscape of the future. These included:
- Cognitive flexibility
- Judgment and decision-making
- Emotional intelligence
- Critical thinking
- Complex problem-solving
The Report identified these as the new human capabilities we need to develop to ensure that machines, AI and robotics would not leave the entire human race totally redundant.
The trouble with this cause and effect, is that it underestimates greatly how transformation really works. The reality is that ‘the future’ being described in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here – now.
Firstly, all the signs are that the huge skills deficits are already present within every major industrial sector. An aging and bulging population is rapidly retiring en masse with all the money and knowledge and being followed up by an emerging new workforce who are fewer in numbers and have been badly prepared skills-wise by the education system to slot into the highly sophisticated tasks and environments that are being demanded by the digital disruption sweeping through economies and business models like a Hurricane Ernie. Working right across many business sectors as we do, we have already been addressing these deficits over the past 3-4 years.
Like all good Science Fiction and Futurology, it can leave us feeling we ought to be worrying more about this impending future but yet helpless to do anything to affect it… however, somewhere, those powerbrokers and influencers close to the levers of power will be. Therefore, perhaps we feel its better we concentrate on what we are doing in the here and now – and wait until we are briefed more about the future in due course.
Secondly, the kind of skills described in The Future of Jobs report are not anything super-human that need inventing in a lab or by creating a cybernetic hybrid of machine/human. These faculties are all actually in abundance and thriving in our citizens. The fact that (up to now) we have not been able to assess, identify or calibrate the value of this potential amongst our citizens is no longer an excuse. All the tools and technologies we need to manage this evolution are here, they are in market, they are proven and they are already working hard for those employers who have been sharp enough to take advantage and get ahead in accessing the workplace skills of the future. We have found increasing need amongst our clients – within exactly the kinds of sectors that WEF have identified as under threat – who are raising their game and the game of their workforce to enhance their talent and capabilities to meet the demands of customers and competition.
And thirdly, AI is not going to behave like some kind of semi-sentient intelligence that is hell-bent on erasing any human participation or presence. Even now, our experience as an early innovator in People Analytics and AI has shown us that the real benefit we see from AI is the ability for humans to learn from AI AND for AI to learn from humans. This reciprocal exchange of insight and learning is already creating a brand new form of intelligence which is neither exclusively human, nor machine. We are already seeing how this intelligent two-way interface is helping us humans to make better decisions. Ones which are not coloured by subjectivity and bias or driven by pressure and self-interest. It doesn’t mean that humans won’t continue to make mistakes and that machines won’t either. One has to just observe the very recent introduction of the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) into the sport of football to appreciate that!
But in real terms, how can this innovation make a difference here and now. Can Science Fiction really become science-fact?
In the past year we have started to help our clients:
- Identify and correct unconscious bias
- Identify new skills and talents they didn’t know their workforce had
- Define what good performance looks like and where to find it
- Make accurate decisions about whether candidates are actual a match for their culture
- Create greater diversity of thinking styles, backgrounds and talents to form higher performing teams
- Match and predict how Apprentices’ talent can positively affect their organisations
The truth is that from this point forward, humans will simply not be able to usefully cope with processing the scale of demand, the volumes of data and the speed of change that is already required in today’s labour market WITHOUT some AI and Machine Intelligence. Humans need to stay on top of the game whilst AI is better placed to observe and inform the game.
So in response to the question posed at the beginning of the article which asked who is best positioned to help transform our society? It has to be people. Us. Not machines. We’re the ones who already have the tools and levers freely available to us to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The future is already here. It’s just a matter of where and when we choose to apply it.