CEOs discuss how experimenting with A.I. will affect productivity and jobs

May 24, 2023, 9:45 AM UTC
CEOs discuss how experimenting with A.I. will affect productivity and jobs.
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When Glenn Fogel, CEO and president of Booking Holdings, thinks about the use of artificial intelligence to improve travel bookings, he sees a tool that can help achieve his vision of a “connected trip.” 

What would a connected trip look like? It is a futuristic spin on how travel was booked in the past. Just a few decades ago, travelers relied on human travel agents to book their travel. These agents knew a bit about them, their travel preferences, and what they could afford, to guide their bookings. Since the advent of the internet and self-booking, many travelers are planning trips on their own, a process that can become frustrating.

Generative A.I., Fogel explained, can create a conversation between travelers and agents. But this time, the agents will be A.I. and have the ability to personalize recommendations and travel plans. Customer service is another area Fogel believes could be improved with A.I.

“We are moving methodically and carefully,” said Fogel during Fortune’s CEOi virtual discussion on Monday led by Fortune CEO Alan Murray. Bookings already uses two ChatGPT plug-ins in the market, but Fogel only wants to add the technology responsibly. “Nobody wants their travel screwed up,” Fogel said. “So we have to be careful to make sure we don’t ruin the trust that we built over many, many years.”

A.I. has prompted a huge swell of interest from business leaders, who are awestruck by the capabilities and accessibility of A.I. tools, while also remaining cautious about what impact they will have in future. 

“It opened up this question about, well, how do we use this in the right way?” said Joe Atkinson, vice chair, and chief products and technology officer at PwC. “And every single client I’m talking to is trying to figure out how to go fast, but how to go fast in a responsible way right now.” 

Atkinson said what’s driving caution is concerns about confidentiality and proprietary information, especially in an environment like A.I. where the nature of the tech is that everything is out in the open. There are also concerns about how to use the technology and effectively direct the power of A.I. in the right ways, and also how to prepare people. What will A.I. do to productivity and how can it affect people’s jobs? 

“We think it comes down to training people to take advantage of the technologies, because we know that if you don’t prepare people for the technology, it’s coming anyway,” said Atkinson. “And so part of the responsibility we see for any organization—but certainly big employers—is to help your people prepare for the changes that are coming.”

Patrick Geraghty, president and CEO of GuideWell Mutual Holding Corp. and Florida Blue, is encouraging his team to experiment with the technology, but with certain parameters. 

“We’re more cautious when we’re talking about things that are going to be out in the general population,” said Geraghty. “You’re encouraging creativity. But you’re also trying to do it within the kind of environments that you have responsible control over.” 

He added there’s still work to be done before figuring out how to encourage doctors or nurses to use A.I. as a copilot, as often those individuals can have multiple affiliations to not only hospitals, but also competitors. 

But despite the caution, Geraghty said every board meeting he’s had this year has a standing agenda item of A.I. and ChatGPT to ensure the board is thinking about where they are going as it relates to the emerging tech. 

Microsoft is particularly bullish about A.I., having invested $10 billion into ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

“The amount of energy going into [A.I.] is palpable,” said Chris Young, executive vice president of business development, strategy, and ventures at Microsoft.

Young acknowledged that concerns about proprietary information have validity. Microsoft often works with customers to better educate them on the proper safeguards that are put in place to ensure their information is protected. 

The other common issue is the immensity of the technology’s potential. Many organizations don’t know where to start. Young lauded the concept of A.I. as a copilot, i.e., tools that can be used alongside a team member to make work more productive. When workers hear that, they worry about how A.I. will impact their jobs. But Young is bullish about the potential. 

“Whenever you bring new capabilities like this one to market, there will be changes in the way organizations work,” said Young. “And there are ways to work through that, whether it be training people in different ways or reorienting some of the work that people do in different categories. But I think we really see this as an opportunity to build and grow the economy versus removing what’s there today.”

Atkinson agreed, saying that every single major technological innovation has raised questions about the displacement of jobs. “There’s also always displacement of tasks,” said Atkinson. “But if you prepare people for the transition, you’re going to take advantage of the growth opportunities. And I think that’s where most of our clients are headed right now.” 

Ultimately, CEOs say there’s no stopping the forward march of A.I.

“We believe that it is going to impact almost every knowledge worker job to some extent,” said Jeff Tarr, CEO of Skillsoft. When the education technology company debuted an introduction to generative A.I. course, it saw four times the enrollment of the next most popular course that Skillsoft had ever offered. 

For Thrivent, meanwhile, the copilot model can help its advisors free up time to better serve their clients. “In financial services, I do believe that generative A.I. is a powerful tool, and it has the potential to really transform every business,” said Terry Rasmussen, Thrivent’s president and CEO.

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