When the world was introduced to the internet in the 1990s, plenty of professionals weren’t sure whether it was friend or foe. Today, the same is happening with the emergence of artificial intelligence solutions.
It’s clear that AI isn’t going anywhere—despite warnings that we need a temporary AI moratorium. AI is moving quickly and changing the economic and social landscape. Without thoughtful approaches, we may find ourselves in a pickle of our own making.
Yet, it can be hard to know where to begin. Each day, it seems like there are new AI developments. We can’t afford to lollygag when it comes to AI adoption. At the same time, we can’t afford to leave it all to chance; we must be strategic.
Navigating the evolution of AI
I turned to a few leaders who have been using AI to get some on-the-ground advice. Interestingly, all three of the executives and founders I interviewed acknowledged similar concerns about AI’s challenges as well as hope for a future buoyed by AI’s best promises.
For instance, ethics was a common thread. Perhaps AI products should come with blanket warnings: Privacy isn’t something AI has mastered. AI products like ChatGPT require ridiculously large data sets to keep learning. However, the products can’t tell if a use case is ethical without some kind of boundary in place.
Like ethics, bias is another issue with AI. When studying one AI image-generating program, Bloomberg researchers found that the images were shockingly biased and trained on biased data. When asked to produce images of doctors, just 7% of those images were women, even though real-world data suggest women make up 39% of doctors.
All of this shows AI isn’t perfect. However, it isn’t some darkness descending upon humanity. On the contrary, many AI programs afford organizations tremendous opportunities, such as increased productivity and augmented creativity. Workers can finally be free of repetitive tasks and begin to explore their creative, innovative talents.
This is hardly terrible news. It points to a future when people can unlock more of the brain’s power and burned-out managers and employees can focus on tasks that give them meaning. But to make this happen, companies must be strategic. Here are three ways to engage with AI according to industry experts.
1. Take a front-seat approach.
Subha Tatavarti, chief technology officer at Wipro, wants leaders to drive AI development within their organizations. Rather than watching and waiting, she recommends implementing strategies that direct the internal course of AI. This way, as AI evolves and progresses, those businesses that have taken a front-seat approach can harness the technology’s best aspects: productivity, revenue, and innovation gains.
“For CTOs to understand how to use AI to innovate and grow their organizations, igniting creativity and simplifying the business down to its building blocks is crucial,” she says. “CTOs should focus on what their business is about at its core and then investigate how the team can use AI to enhance these foundational blocks. The art of being a CTO is finding the right problem to focus on. Once you have that, you can use your creativity to find the right tech to overcome that problem.”
Tatavarti and her company have set up an AI council. The council works on firming up standards for AI development and usage, setting ethical guidelines for mitigating biased algorithms, ensuring fairness, and preventing discriminatory outcomes. Wipro has also engaged with several leading companies across a wide variety of industries to develop centers of excellence by leveraging their consulting expertise and foundational research knowledge through academic partnerships. The measures that Tatavarti is focused on—regular audits, employee training, etc.—should allow AI capabilities to unfold in ways that better humanity.
2. Start small and contained.
There isn’t a day that Diana Bald, president of Blue Orange Digital, doesn’t use AI for something. Designing employee and client onboarding plans. Formulating meeting and workshop agendas. Creating job descriptions and customizing career development programs. AI touches practically every element of what she does, and she’s always looking for more ways to leverage AI models.
“AI is expanding the capabilities of data science,” Bald says. “Capable of analyzing massive data sets, AI enables us to perform more complex types of data analysis, including natural language processing, image recognition, and deep learning (a form of AI that mimics the human brain). AI excels at handling unstructured data (such as images and voice) and extracting meaningful insights—tasks that were previously challenging or time-consuming.”
However, she doesn’t feel that businesses need to jump into the mix all at once. Bald reports that Blue Orange Digital’s solutions architects, data scientists, and engineers start with pilot projects. The “start small” mindset allows the team to test, learn, and iterate AI-based technologies prior to scaling up. When pilots show promise, Bald gives the green light to incrementally initiate AI across the company’s operations. This ensures a seamless transition and a slow, controlled familiarization of AI across all the people in the business.
Once people grasp the fundamentals of how to use AI, they are encouraged to find optimal use cases and models for specific tasks. This is all done within an environment that’s already invested in cybersecurity. For leaders very new to figuring out where AI belongs in their ecosystem, Bald suggests starting with automating routine tasks or adding chatbots rather than jumping headfirst into AI-enhanced customer behavior forecasting, internal talent discovery, or logistics optimization.
3. Approach innovations with curiosity.
Caution is always needed when evaluating new technology. At the same time, Michael Scharff, CEO and cofounder of Evolv AI, doesn’t want leaders to lose their feelings of curiosity toward AI innovations. He sees time and again that those who work in harmony with AI—while proceeding at a speed they can handle—come out on top.
“Brands and companies that adopt AI for experimentation and testing will have a more significant competitive advantage,” asserts Scharff. “It is essential to experiment with generative AI now. Like when the internet disrupted a wide range of industries in the early 2000s, the AI revolution forces companies to adapt or be left behind. Likely, your employees are already using generative AI at work. Get curious and see what happens.”
What does curiosity look like from a practical standpoint? For Evolv AI, it means constant experimentation when it comes to customer experience. Scharff and his team frequently lean on AI to help organize notes and meeting agendas, effectively personalize content, and write complex code for variants they want to demo with prospective clients.
By asking questions about AI, leaders can take away the mystery. This urges everyone to keep the conversation going and share their thoughts and solutions.
AI is becoming embedded in business and the fabric of society at large. Is this reality somewhat intimidating? Yes. Nevertheless, companies can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist. Now may be the best moment to take the lead in an industry.