Four Lenses to View AI and the Future of Work

August 6, 2019

Four Lenses to View AI and the Future of Work

Artificial intelligence (AI) expert Kai-Fu Lee estimates that within 10 to 20 years 40 to 50 percent of jobs in the U.S. will be technically capable of being automated. He stresses that inertia, new jobs, and other forces will likely diminish the amount of actual job losses to 10 to 25 percent. A recent Harvard Business Review analysis found that jobs in food service, production, and administration are most at risk. Jobs in education and business are apparently least at risk (18 percent and 14 percent). 

No one is forecasting that all jobs will go. And the creation of new jobs (such as AI explainers and doctor-coaches) may actually lead to overall growth. Given the rapidly changing landscape of jobs that we can expect, how can we lead well? For this article, let’s imagine a future world two to three decades hence where AI is significantly superior to today. 

A necessary first step to leading well in such a future is to avoid lazy assumptions. Fictional AI characters regularly grip our imagination. However, no theory currently establishes a base for general intelligence (cognitively or more) of the kind that these stories imagine. Aspects of such a future may develop, but we don’t know when or what it would involve. 

A more credible assumption is that today’s AI will develop apace and its applications will increase. In such a context, I recommend using four lenses to lead well. As work continues to evolve, your job is to inspire others to shape a magnificent future–one with soulful and environmental results as well as financial profit.

The Four Lenses

1. Systemic
As a leader in your organization, you’re also a leader in society. The first lens is about using this influence in positive ways. In 2015, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and others signed a letter on the subject of “research priorities for robust and beneficial artificial intelligence.” The significance of this letter is that it recommends electronic personhood status, but it goes too far.

Prematurely conferring personhood on machines will have a negative effect in two ways. First, it departs from reality, overvaluing the capabilities of machines. Second, it may tend towards harming human wellbeing by creating legal barriers to freedom of opportunity. One journalist recently lamented the human spirit being overwhelmed by tech giants.

The intent isn’t to depart from legal accountability. Inventor and scientist Daniel Hillis posits scenarios for how machine superintelligences will relate to corporations (which he calls hybrid superintelligences): 

  • State/AI: Individual nation states control and ally with multiple machine intelligences.
  • Corporate/AI: For-profit corporations control the most powerful and rapidly improving AIs.
  • Self-interested Super-AI: AIs act solely in their own interests, rather than being aligned with either humans or hybrid superintelligences.
  • Optimistic: Machine intelligences aren’t allied with each other but rather work to further the goals of humanity as a whole. 

Given the life or death decisions often involved, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett says, "Those who encourage people to put more trust in [AI] systems than they warrant should be held morally and legally accountable.” I support this, whichever type of hybrid superintelligence (if any of the above) ultimately emerges.

Question for leaders to consider: How do you want to contribute to our world and how will you inspire others to do so?

2. Corporate
The second lens is how we prepare our corporations for the future of work. What sort of work will we do in future? At one level, this is an ethical question, so ethical leadership will increasingly be a part of your role. To get ethics right in an AI corporate context, consider moving beyond legalistic approaches that merely punish “bad apples,” instead creating ethical cultures that address values, incentives, norms, and what Professor Nicholas Epley of the Booth School of Business and Assistant Professor Amit Kumar of the University of Texas at Austin call “thoughts during judgment.” 

Don’t just focus on performance, such as getting corporate structures and processes aligned to the changing landscape of digital transformation and other AI-related trends. Also try fostering the organizational health that will enable you to sustain that performance in the long term. Articulate how your leadership development strategy dovetails with the ways machine learning will affect your business and ensure that it’s genuinely shared throughout the organization–otherwise, change it.

Question for leaders to consider: Who’s taking an ethical lead in our organization when it comes to AI? 

3. Team
The third lens is how we prepare our teams for the future of work. As humans, we can grow, care and love in ways that machines can’t. As Kai-Fu Lee writes in his book, AI Superpowers, “It’s in this uniquely human potential for growth, compassion, and love where I see hope. I firmly believe we must forge a new synergy between artificial intelligence and the human heart, and look for ways to use the forthcoming material abundance generated by artificial intelligence to foster love and compassion in our societies.”

Our businesses will play a key role in fostering love and compassion in our societies. As Max Depree explained, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Question for leaders to consider: How do I link talent that I have and want to develop to these new frontiers so they can become the leaders of tomorrow and today? And in what ways can I serve my teams to grow given the rise of AI? 

4. Self
The final lens involves discovering virtuous values by uncovering your true self. This involves being realistic about the human condition–neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. Try this for an exercise: 

  1. Four times a week, for 5 to 10 minutes each, visualize where you want to be a year in the future.
  2. Reflect what makes you, you—for example, by keeping a self-appreciation journal. 
  3. Then consider the connection between your visualization and your reflection on yourself.

This is relevant in an advanced AI future because we’ll be at our best when we’re most authentic. Uncovering our true selves is a way of getting there. Then we’ll have values that really drive us. 

Question for leaders to consider: What inspires you about an AI future? How can you inspire others in a way that arises from who you really are? 

By using the four lenses to lead the future of work, we can help to make sure that we stay relevant in an increasingly AI-driven world. You could be forgiven for being taken in by all of the negative news pieces on the rise of AI, but there’s hope.

Curator and artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist makes the point that computers, as a tool for creativity, can't replace the artist. 

The Authors: 

Nick Chatrath, Ph.D., is Managing Director at Artesian Transformation Leadership, Ltd., author, executive coach, and a former CEO.