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Google and IBM: We Want Artificial Intelligence to Help You, Not Replace You

In an era of maturing artificial intelligence technology, what does the future of the corporation look like? Will the rise of robots help us do our jobs better, or harm them? This dynamic has become a mainstay of the dialogue around AI, with voices from technology visionaries such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking weighing in.

But at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit in Hong Kong on Tuesday, leaders at two of the world’s most powerful tech giants pushed back on those concerns. AI is intended to help—not hinder—the human workforce, they said.

“AI is actually not new for us,” said Vanitha Narayanan, chairman of IBM India, whose Watson supercomputer has risen to global acclaim. But “technology always comes way ahead of policy.”

Just as her boss, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, has insisted “it will not be man or machine,” Narayanan said that many companies, especially service-oriented firms, benefit from the technology.

Consider a bank in Brazil that has 50 different products, she said. “The average call center rep cannot handle 50 products. So they’re using Watson in their call center—not to replace the call center rep, but actually help the call center rep understand their products and their offerings and be able to serve that customer much better than he or she may have been able to.”

Leonie Valentine, managing director of sales and operations at Google Hong Kong, likened use of artificial intelligence to a “murmuration,” when a starling flock take flight “without any kind of preprogrammed system.”

“The birds just know how to find formation in a murmuration. And it just kind of works,” Valentine said. “It’s a fantastic analogy for what the future of organization will look like.”

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The Google executive also defended artificial intelligence as a means of supplementing human workers.

Take the example of call center operators, “When you go and survey your customers about where they would like your staff to spend your time,” she said, “it’s not on problem-solving, troubleshooting, credit issues, or billing, right? It’s ‘Help me, advise me, send me on the trip that I wanted to go to.’”

Valentine said that since “a lot of the technology has been put in place, we’ll actually finally get to the place that’s been Nirvana for the last 20 or 30 years in corporations, which is moving people to high-value tasks, which is actually taking the intelligence of the organization and forming that human intelligence, and where we need value-based judgments and real-time decision-making and a human touch, putting that back into the hands of the customer.”

Said Valentine: “That’s the sort of stuff I’m looking forward to.”