When Thinking About Artificial Intelligence, Don’t Forget the People

January 26, 2017, 10:23 PM UTC
Artificial intelligence, cyber brain, illustration
Artificial intelligence, cyber brain, illustration
Photograph by Mehau Kulyk/SPL Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

Businesses that adopt artificial intelligence technology to help with jobs like automating call center activity must also consider giving employees education and training so that those who are displaced by innovation can still work.

That’s one of the takeaways from Accenture’s annual report on Thursday about technology trends. In short, companies should realize that innovation can cause human pain and that they should do something to minimize it.

Accenture joins the countless other analysts, technologists, and researchers who claim that the rise of artificial intelligence technologies like deep learning is ushering a new age. Deep learning, when done right, can help developers build software that can sift through mountains of data, recognize patterns, and take action.

Companies like Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) are using AI to improve their digital assistants, those voice operated helpers on smartphones and home automation hubs, said Accenture chief technology officer Paul Daugherty during a Wednesday media event. Digital assistants are an example of the change in how people interact with their devices, Daugherty explained.

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And while AI can make people worry about losing their jobs, it’s up to business leaders to instill a workplace culture that encourages constantly learning new skills. Additionally, business leaders must be more involved with public education to ensure that it is properly training the next generation to become “life-long” learners who are willing to adapt as technology continuously advances.

“We need to invest in technology, but the real opportunity is to invest in people,” Daugherty said.

Companies looking to invest in AI should be aware that the hype behind it has led vendors to claim they have the latest answer to every business problem, said Jerry Kaplan, a computer scientist and entrepreneur who spoke at the event. But he cautioned that artificial intelligence “is not magic” and it’s not something you can easily install into an app to give it super powers, he said.

“If someone comes in and says you should buy this because it has AI in it, I’d be extremely skeptical,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan also opposes the notion that businesses will need to have “chief AI officers” in charge of directing an AI strategy, as Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng has espoused.

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AI is just one element within software and one part of a company’s overall technology strategy, Kaplan said. Ultimately, it’s up to businesses to decide the best way to implement it, along with other technologies. Additionally, Kaplan doesn’t believe that AI at its core is a moral issue; it’s just a type of technology, no different than other tech in that it’s ultimately how it’s used that’s important.

“You don’t worry whether relational databases are forces of good or evil,” Kaplan joked.

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