No technology stirs a combination of fear, hope, and hype quite like AI.
Tech CEOs and senior researchers petitioned a six-month pause in advancement efforts. Hollywood's writer and actor unions temporarily walked off the job over it. A supergroup of the world's top literary icons is suing an AI algorithm maker for plagiarism. And with all the noise coming from The New York Times, Washington Post, and countless other media outlets, it's no wonder people believe their jobs will disappear and their lives will be severely disrupted for the worse.
I must admit: even I nearly fell down the rabbit hole of uncertainty and doubt, despite my natural optimism toward technological progress. But according to Timo Elliott, SAP's vice president and global innovation advocate, all this doom and gloom around AI may be undeserved.
"AI will ultimately make us more human. The moment we no longer try to flex our muscles to compete with earth movers, we will leverage what AI is good at and concentrate on things that only we can do – which, thankfully, includes executing on business innovation," Elliott explains during his SAPHILA 2023 presentation at in Sun City, South Africa earlier this year.
How to Ensure AI Remains Responsible and Reliable
We've all watched movies and read books that cautioned us about the perils of unchecked technological progress in the future. While most of these stories do not directly address AI, they tap into common human fears – such as loss of control, unpredictable outcomes, injustice, inequality, and distorted realities.
Those futuristic stories are now coming closer to our present. Many people are responding with questions about the ethical implications of AI technology. But Elliott believes "the key is not to fear AI but to harness its potential wisely."
"It's important to realize that we're in the "horseless carriage" phase in AI advancement," states Elliott. "Much like the early days of the automobile when gas engines were simply bolted onto existing carriages, today's AI accelerates what we've already been doing."
Today's call to pause, reflect, and discuss AI is an opportunity to recalibrate our visions and find a symbiotic relationship between human empowerment and talent and skill enhancement, rather than supplanting them. So instead of Terminator's Skynet, we can create AI like Jarvis that amplifies Tony Stark's capabilities to become Iron Man.
Directing AI's potential for augmenting humanity calls for three fundamental innovation principles:
1. Good data
The foundation of any successful AI endeavor is quality data. Poor data quality can lead to erroneous decisions. Luckily, some business systems – such as those from SAP – likely contain some of the most valuable and reliable data within your organization, which can serve as a solid starting point.
2. Well-defined problems
While achieving advancements, like Generative AI, remains challenging, applying the technology to address specific business challenges can make the innovation process more effective and efficient. This equips companies to identify automation opportunities where AI can quickly make the most substantial impact.
3. Integration of algorithms and operational processes
AI algorithms alone are powerless – they must be seamlessly integrated into your existing operational processes. This integration is where built-in use of AI directly into applications shines, especially when relevant data is leveraged. Furthermore, responsible AI usage must be prioritized when dealing with large language models that can sometimes generate hallucinations of false information.
There's nothing more human than innovation, and only we possess the unique ability to understand the context of what's happening in the real world. With these principles, we are better equipped to spot opportunities for improvement, engage in creative problem-solving, and envision practical and augmentative applications of AI.
With great enthusiasm, Elliott advocates: "As we embrace new technologies, let us remember that AI's role is to liberate us from robotic tasks, unburden us from the mundane and repetitive, and allow us to elevate our human essence. It's in our empathy, our capacity for change, and our vision for a better future that we truly shine. The future belongs to those who can harness technology while nurturing the human side of things, for therein lies the essence of progress."
Where Rationality and Purpose Converge
Despite the immediate clamor and unease, there is a glimmer of hope that rationality and purpose will drive AI innovation in the long run. As Elliott suggests, AI has the potential to elevate our humanity rather than diminish it.
By concentrating on quality data, well-defined challenges, and seamless integration of AI into day-to-day operations, businesses and innovators can guide this technology to amplify the traits that make us human – creativity, empathy, and a forward-looking vision. And this is when we can begin shaping a world where intelligent technology and humanity thrive together.
To hear more of Timo Elliott's insight on the future of AI, see the full-length replayand slides of his presentation from SAPHILA 2023 in Sun City, South Africa.