AI’s Rapid Evolution Deserves Attention to Future Impacts
Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t typically a subject that pops up in casual conversations, business discussions or issue management audits. It should be on the radar, especially for issue managers.
Kevin Roose, a technology columnist for The New York Times, writes, “We all need to start adjusting our mental models to make space for the new, incredible machines in our midst. Most people think about AI narrowly as it relates to us – Will it take my job? Is it better or worse than me at Skill X or Task Y? – rather than trying to understand all the ways AI is evolving, and what that might mean for our future.”
Roose believes the potential for AI and its risks are huge. “Over the past 10 years – a period some AI researchers have begun referring to as a ‘golden decade’ – there’s been a wave of progress in many areas of AI research, fueled by the rise of techniques like deep learning and the advent of specialized hardware for running huge, computationally intensive AI models,” he says.
“Some of that progress has been slow and steady – bigger models with more data and processing power behind them yielding slightly better results,” Roose reports. “But other times, it feels more like the flick of a switch – impossible acts of magic suddenly becoming possible.” As an example, he cited an AI system descended from gaming that solved a decades-old puzzle involving protein structures that resulted last year in an inventory of 200 million proteins that can be used by medical researchers to develop new drugs. Science called the protein inventory “the biggest scientific breakthrough of the year”.
The diversity of AI can be staggering. AI systems, Roose says, are writing screenplays, composing marketing emails, creating video games and punching out code. One observer called recent AI advances as like moving from spring to summer, so that lay people as well as AI insiders sense the change.
Transformational AI that goes from amusing toys to white-collar worker replacements is no longer science fiction. “The best AI systems are now so capable – and improving at such fast rates – that the conversation in Silicon Valley is starting to shift,” Roose says. “Fewer experts are confidently predicting that we have years or even decades to prepare for a wave of world-changing AI; many now believe that major changes are right around the corner, for better or worse.”
Skeptics remain doubtful AI is on the cusp of revolutionizing the workplace, military weaponry and classroom software. But Roose argues the challenges and opportunities are real enough that more people should pay greater attention. “What’s missing is a shared, value-neutral way of talking about what today’s AI systems are capable of doing, and what specific risks and opportunities those capabilities present.”
Roose encourages “regulators and politicians to get up to speed;” big tech companies “do a better job of explaining what they’re working on, without sugarcoating or soft-pedaling the risks” and news media “explain AI progress to nonexperts” without resorting to science fiction tropes.
Unmentioned by Roose is the need for issue managers to get up to speed, learn how to explain AI capabilities to nonexperts and apply their skills of looking into the future for possible AI applications, technology breakthroughs and pitfalls. The role of issue managers is to identify research, track issues and become conversant on trending topics to frame future challenges and identify potential responses.
You might call AI automation on steroids. It may or may not be inevitable in every workplace setting, but it poses the prospect of being so revolutionary that it demands creative forethought. As robotics has shown, jobs don’t disappear, they change, often radically, requiring vastly different training and skills.
Change driven by technology, government policies and consumer preferences can present challenges for people caught in the middle. Ford is laying off workers who make internal combustion engines while hiring workers to build electric vehicles.
Fear of change can often be worse than change itself, especially if businesses and workers are unprepared for seismic change. The advantage provided by curious, informed issue managers is getting ahead of the curve by learning what’s coming, understanding adaptations that may be required and developing ideas on how to prepare for a different future.
Issue management has always been important, if often unheralded. AI will prove that issue managers are more important than ever.