It’s impressive, and sort of unsettling, to see the extent to which smart machines are taking over so many of the day-to-day jobs across the world. One of the first ‘smart machines’ by the San Francisco-based Momentum Machines was a device that could make grilled-to-order gourmet burgers from scratch without any human intervention at all. Rethink Robotics’ Baxter can learn repetitive assembly line-like tasks quickly and work alongside (and without) humans with no risk of injuring them. And then there is Google, which is powering through thousands of ‘deep learning’ projects that will significantly improve the way we search, discover, and experience the world around us by identifying and making sense of the millions of information patterns.
As intelligent machines begin to march their way into our worlds, outsmarting us along the way, it’s worth expending some thought into what all AI can do for us, our industries, and jobs, and how best we can use it to re-imagine the organizations for the future.
Automation is the future – one that will lead the next wave of disruption across industries.”
The age of smart machines and what it means for organizations
Even the most far-sighted, tech-savvy business leaders of today do not feel quite comfortable with the idea of letting machines with artificial brains make critical business decisions. They may not flinch a move at the thought of automating their factory floors but letting deep learning tools drive strategy is an unsettling thought for many. Delegating this kind of authority, especially one that can be hard to fight or disagree with, is unnerving, and could pose a challenge to the organizational structures and processes as we know them today.
But that’s the very reason AI and smart machines are seemingly desirable in today’s economy – to change and better the way things work.
Apprehensions towards AI are broadly about behavioral dissonance and rooted in fear. But scientific (and economic) facts clearly tell that AI is but a means to better the way we get things done. Smart machines reduce (even remove) all sorts of computational errors, factor in a lot more probabilities, and handle ‘A→B’ tasks faster than humans ever could. There are plenty of tasks ripe for automation, particularly those pertaining to tracking, monitoring, and reporting. And by assigning these administrative activities to AI, management stands to free up a lot of room for creative thinking, experimentation, and innovation. All of which still need (and will need) humans.
Let’s not forget that businesses require insight beyond the inputs provided by machines. We don’t just rely on rules and data for driving business goals. A lot of times we rely on experience, creative thinking, historical events, expertise, and instincts. And these factors will be critical to any business decision even in the future. It is unlikely that human judgment will be automated, but automation led by intelligent machines can add enormously to our organizations by supporting all sorts of decisions with search and discovery of thorough data.
AI can help take better decisions. It’s not (yet) capable of taking the decision on its own”
Management in the age of AI
A recent Accenture report found that managers tend to spend more than 50% of their productive hours on doing paperwork and administrative tasks. They tend to spend as less as 30% of their time with their teams and even less strategizing and collaborating. This is an area that AI is already looking to improve.
By automating administrative tasks, AI will free up time and broaden the scope for collaboration and improved task execution. And the fact is, AI will do these tasks that consume much of managers’ time way faster and better.
In fact, task management may very soon be led by the reliable and responsive models of smart machines that can help with monitoring and reporting. They can define the scope of tasks, align teams, analyze critical areas, develop timelines, help compute, document efforts and evaluate outcomes. They can also help capture comprehensive business reports that can offer reliable insights for future action plans. These machines will also be the source and house for all sorts of data, mined and analyzed faster and more reliably than ever before. Sort of like a ‘dependable responsive assistant that’s always available, active, and ready with best outcome solutions’.
AI can easily improve project management efficiencies by automating tracking and reporting processes.”
What it means for Project Management
AI will ultimately prove to be more efficient and reliable than humans. But AI is still far away from being mass and cost efficient. Even with today’s smart learning machines, human judgment will reign supreme. Even if AI takes over tracking projects, humans will still be needed to drive the strategy.
But it will be in the interest of today’s managers to start thinking about how they can ready their organization for the future. By taking care of the grunt work and all the processes, AI presents an opportunity to drive focus back to the people – to quality work and to solving problems. Soon we may see people being hired for their networking abilities over their ability to work a software. Their ability to draw insights will trump the ability to gather data. And social/emotional intelligence may very soon play a significant role in future recruitments.
What remains to be seen is how the leaders of today and tomorrow make sense of what AI can do for organizations of the future. It will be about figuring out how best AI fits with the broader business strategy and not as a substitute for it.
AI can help make efficient the way we make gourmet burgers, but humans will still be needed to write the recipe.