Humanity’s progress to date has depended on our ability to create new and innovative tools that help us to achieve more as a species. The introduction of AI into our lives will, without doubt, represent the next giant leap forward for humanity, but it will also massively disrupt our society, just as industrialisation, automation, and digitisation have done before.
While previous technologies – the steam engine, assembly line, and the computer – each disrupted industry at the time, AI will soon be able to work more effectively than us in the vast majority of sectors. What makes AI and the fourth industrial revolution different is that none of us can ignore the impact that AI will have on our lives.
Oh, the humanity!
The ad-man, lawyer and doctor of the ‘50s might have been able to ignore the direct impact of mass production, but almost all modern-day work that can be made into a process can be automated by AI, including digital marketing, case law, and basic medical diagnosis. However, just as computers opened up entirely new sectors and fields of research, and mass automation allowed the factory worker to step into a new thought-based role, AI will also provide us with a new range of jobs based on our human ability to adapt, improve, and think creatively.
A by-product of our last technological leap was the creation of the modern office, and since then we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as leaders or followers, as a manager or an office drone. These dichotomies are entirely false and hold people back from achieving their full potential. Within all of us, there is the drive and ability to have genuinely innovative ideas, to develop them to completion, and to lead a project as part of the greater good. To take full advantage of AI, we need to remember what we can do, and stop declaring defeat before the disruptive change has even begun.
Plato and Prehistoric thinking
If we go back to the usual starting point and forgive the caveman cliche, then we can see AI as the tool that it is. When our distant ancestors first wondered if a sharp branch might be used to kill animals, or if fire might be used to cook the meat, they did it to improve the overall capacity of the group. Each advance came from abstract thought and initiative, which was used to achieve more, die less, and become the most successful apex predator in history.
As the product of this raw intelligence, modern humans instead use our advancements to make sure we don’t have to put in too much effort. A particularly famous cave devised by Plato allegorises the restriction of man’s consciousness, proposing that we cannot conceive of anything more than our reality until we push ourselves into a new one. Just as our instinct-driven ancestors used their creative thinking to develop tools and move out of their cave, AI will drive us out of our mental cave (a ‘that’s not my job’ mentality) and make us use our initiative and emotional intelligence to its full potential.
However, completely changing the way we work won’t be easy, and companies need to change now to encourage those attributes that make us wonderfully human.
We can make this work
The traditional organisation, where managers make decisions and employees do as they are told, creates a process-driven workforce that is not able (or allowed) to see the bigger picture. In our company, Pod Group, we realised AI could handle any process a hundred times better than we can and restructured the entire company to focus on our most human attributes. These attributes, Wisdom, Emotional Intelligence, Initiative, Responsibility and Development (WEIRD), are central to our WEIRD strategy, which encourages everyone to feel responsible and confident about their actions as owners of the company.
Oddly enough, if you treat people like adults who are good at their work, they want to do it. People can choose where they work, and when to take a holiday, and all information about the company is entirely transparent – including salaries decided by each person – so everyone can know the costs and returns of any project. This way everyone feels respected and satisfied at work, and can see how every process fits together to benefit the company, which is precisely what we need to work with AI successfully.
AI will force change
Moving to a management structure that lets people decide what is best for their work will also help companies become more agile and streamlined. AI will change many things, so companies must prepare now to make sure they are ready, but pulling ourselves out of a ‘leader or follower’ mindset can only be good for the future of humanity in its own right.
Humans didn’t get to the top of the food chain by accident; we used each of our technological advances (fire, the wheel, steam power) to reach a new phase in our development. AI will allow us to break through to a better world, but we need to help ourselves first to take full advantage of our most advanced technology yet.