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  • Ben

Do we need to rethink intelligence in an AI world?

Updated: May 11, 2020

I was a speaker on a panel at CIPD's Future of Work conference and discussed the role of AI in HR. Here I examine how artificial intelligence can unlock the potential to imagine, create and innovate.


Today’s view of intelligence was born two-and-a-half millennia ago in Greece. Widely embraced by what is now accepted as the 4th Industrial Revolution, the terms “intelligence” and “smart” are fast becoming overused and ubiquitous. And now is the time to ask what this actually means.


We are experiencing accelerating change and complexity – our sense of wellbeing is suffering, industries are undergoing radical transformation and public services are battling to remain fit-for-purpose.


Marginalisation is on the rise, societal progress and economic progress has decoupled and these trends have come at the expense of our planet’s health.

These patterns are not sustainable in the long run, and the visible fractures appearing in our economic and political systems are a warning sign that further disruption lies ahead. Is it smart to retreat to our “business as usual” approach?


Linear thinking in a non-linear world


Plato and Aristotle determined the key indicator of intelligence was the ability to reason and apply logic in the quest for facts.


This perception shapes everything about our society; how and what we teach, conduct science, our political and economic systems too.


In the continuous scramble for facts we lose sight of everything else. In particular, how everything connects in a complex and ever-changing system of interacting forces and feedback loops.


By viewing intelligence through a narrow lens we have created dramatic consequences which demand more than logic to solve.  Despite having so much in common with one another, our understanding of intelligence has divided us; we have endless categories, rules and silos, whilst we pursue states of certainty (in an uncertain world) and meaningless targets. In this environment, certain professions, accountants, lawyers and now computer scientists appear to be lauded, unconditionally.


This backdrop – where so much has become transactional or reduced to a metric – limits the space for creativity, empathy and personal development.


Before setting in motion technological changes that will alter the course of our lives forever, should we first consider what Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created – it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”


AI can be a force for good, once we recognise our own flawed thinking


Like any technology, artificial intelligence (AI) is deployed in ways that reflect the current context of society. We live in the information era and we seek patterns to monetise insight and knowledge – hence we view data as the new oil.


This is what we value today and where AI, in an algorithmic capacity, excels. If AI is the simulation of human intelligence by machine, we must also recognise our brains can do more than crunching numbers.


Data is the knowledge that feed algorithms, but knowledge can be outdated, out of context, and shrouded in bias. Unlike humans, AI is not accountable and neither will it veer off on an altruistic path of its own accord.


Today’s technology is networked, which when coupled to faster decision-making, will serve to amplify existing societal and industry trends. AI itself is used for narrow purposes, for example predicting what you should read, buy and listen to, or how to respond to job application.


By continuously rushing from A-to-B we don’t do enough to explore how the forces intersecting people, industry and society are radically changing how we live, learn, work and consume.


There are no single point solutions, no one-size-fits-all-approaches and there is more to life than numbers, and more to intelligence than just logic. It doesn’t mean we should discard these, but instead enrich them with social, emotional and linguistic wisdom; be beautiful and useful, creative and analytical, experiential and transactional, divergent and convergent.


Rethinking work is a necessity for business to thrive tomorrow. By becoming buried in detail, we have neglected why we are in business – a meaning and purpose we all share. As the battle to attract and retain talent increases, we must find a solution.


This requires a change in mind-set shift which looks beyond binary to discover sweet spots, and focus more on holistic solutions.


For this outcome to be realised there needs to be a clear definition of the roles people and technology will play in the future.


We are transitioning from an era of abundance to one where less is more, with greater value placed on quality, design and experiences.


Intelligent automation will free up bandwidth, but the growing skills gap won’t disappear as a result. The headwinds facing industry mean it isn’t enough to save costs without investing for growth and providing the space for learning and innovation.


The ability to straddle opposing forces has never been greater. Long-term sustainability requires the lights to be kept on today. Agility needs stability as a counter balance.

Competition and code without compassion is where we are now and in this scenario computers are cherished more than people. The smartest thing we could do right now is to take the opportunity which advancing technology presents us: to spend time reconnecting with the skills that make us unique.


Only then will we be able to see that continuing to fix people in the same way we do a machine, or waste energy on what we can’t do, is a little bit dumb.


Our future depends on untapped potential being realised in all of us, but this requires more than logic and more than an algorithm to achieve.