Cognitive Ethics Series: Three Questions Businesses Should Ask About AI in 2018 (Part Four)

We’ve touched on the three primary considerations for Cognitive Ethics (part 1, part 2, & part 3), leading up to this blog, which address—the impact of these technologies on humanity at large. Part of what makes AI potentially scary is it a complete unknown. We are just now learning the impacts of social media and screen time on humans, and have even less experience with cognitive solutions, let alone any research or definitive knowledge about the impact on humans.

Still, times of great uncertainty are also the times for the greatest human potential to be realized, and companies can start by thinking about their impact on humanity from three perspectives:

From your internal business perspective--Operations:

You are considering implementing AI/cognitive solutions to solve a business problem, and there is a lot of excitement around what these technologies are capable of. However, the question to be asked is, just because these technologies can do something, should they? Another way of exploring this is by asking, where can human touch (over automated or robotic) be our differentiator? The most obvious application of this is where there are direct interactions with consumers or employees. Along a customer journey, for example, there are likely several points where a AI could be applied for efficiency, speed or other logical business reasons. However, those same technologies might also dilute the experience or not fit your brand promise. For example, customer or employee onboarding. You can certainly create a bot to help with onboarding paperwork and processing. You can even automate training. But, can and should you replace a welcome lunch with a manager with an automated interaction instead? There are no right or wrong answers—the point is to make these decisions intentionally, in alignment with the brand and values you have.

From your business community perspective--Brand:

This perspective is about thinking about your brand once removed and asking, Besides the business problem we are solving, what might be the ripple effects of this implementation to our immediate community?” One example of this thinking is a client I worked with in Consumer Packaged Goods who, in order to meet growing market demands, needed to automate their factory line work. These automations would allow the factory to reduce its workforce by almost 70%. However, this company employs a good percentage of people in a small town, and have a brand promise that people (among other things) matter more than profit. So, instead of laying off workers, eroding the local economy and tarnishing their brand, they decided the best course of action was to create a strategy for re-skilling their existing workforce (which is a more economical option than hiring) and an incremental plan for when to “flip the switch” on automation. This ability to take the long view and consider external implications will be key for organizations to minimize risk and ensure brand resiliency.   

From a world impact perspective--Legacy:  

The world impact perspective may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. We have already entered the era of the Purpose Economy and Conscious Capitalism and the application of AI may simply be an extension or enabler of your organization’s existing mission. This is about considering the possibilities of these technologies in advancing our human experience. If your organization can leverage them to solve XYZ business problem, what bigger impact might that solve have on the world? Something as simple as digitally automating a paper process likely has positive environmental impact due to less waste.  Or, leveraging machine learning in medical decision-making may eliminate mistakes that improve human life-spans. The possibilities are truly endless and the stories are waiting to be written.

As Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum puts it, “The fourth industrial revolution has the potential to robotize humanity, and thus compromise our traditional sources of meaning—work, community, family, identity. Or, we can use the fourth industrial revolution to lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”

Instead of viewing your AI initiatives as traditional technology implementations view them as channels for creating a new way for your brand to interact with the world and for enabling human potential which will ensure your efforts realize all the benefits available—not just within your organization, but well beyond.

In case you missed it, check out Part One of the Cognitive Ethics Series here, Part Two here and Part Three here.