Intelligence [n] - The ability to learn and adapt.
Artificial intelligence is a really interesting subject, that really shouldn’t be reserved just for technical folk. It’s a subject that will have a huge impact on our world, and on all of us in the years and decades to come. So, I thought I’d talk about AI and how it relates to the business world.
First, let’s look at the two words, ‘artificial’ and ‘intelligence’. “Artificial” means “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural” while “intelligence” typically means “the ability to learn and adapt”.
Before we dive right into business, let’s think about the world around us. Planet earth is complex, filled with millions of species of plants and animals. It’s an intricate system that has evolved over a very long time, and within it there are some remarkable examples of intelligence. Animals such as orangutans, dolphins, elephants, pigs and even rats have proven they are smart enough to learn and adapt to the changing environment around them. Our planet is an amazingly complex, learning, intelligent system.
Looking back on recent history, in the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin formulated the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, published in his book On the Origin of Species (1859). The phrase “survival of the fittest” originated from his theory, which refers to the ability to learn or adapt (or “intelligence”) as a major factor in survival over time. Whether or not you agree with Darwin’s theory, I feel this is playing out in today’s modern world as Artificial Intelligence builds momentum. If we think of our natural world as a complex system, we need to remember that humans, including human’s creations, are part of that system too.
More recently Alan Turing – whom many consider the father of the modern computer and Artificial Intelligence – showed that it was possible to ‘invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence.’[i] In 1950 he developed the Turing Test, which tested a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour indistinguishable from that of a human – a test that is still disputed to have not been passed.
Since then we have furthered these artificial human creations - machines – and we’re at a breakthrough moment in human history. As these machines increase their ability to learn and adapt in the years ahead, they will become more sophisticated, more complex and more intelligent. Increasingly, AI will augment and mimic our natural and physical world – a world that as I said earlier is an amazingly complex, learning, intelligent system. AI will show up in millions of different and amazing ways, it will help augment our human abilities, and make the impossible possible.
Reflecting on Darwin’s theory, Artificial Intelligence might one day have the intelligence to become a super power that could save or destroy our planet. My view is we need to embrace AI with both optimism and care, so we don’t unnaturally disrupt our planet’s finely balanced ecosystem, and only make the world better. That’s a big responsibility for us as the creators of AI.
But what does AI mean in the business world? Well, “survival of the fittest” comes to mind. Organisations are complex too. They also need to learn and adapt in a fast changing world in order to not only survive but thrive. By applying Artificial Intelligence in the workplace you are helping make your organisation a little faster, smarter and fitter. It can reduce wasted time and effort, and reduce friction for employees and customers. It can help enable faster and better decisions and actions too.
One area in which this is increasingly evident is customer engagement. AI enables hyper-personalised experiences at a scale and speed not previously possible. With the world at consumer’s fingertips - enabled by the internet and smartphones - businesses that are slow to respond, or don’t personalise, are set to lose out to those organisations that embrace AI to deliver the types of experiences customers expect.
I believe we should all embrace AI in the workplace, as well as the world around us, and just get on with it - even if just small, incremental steps at first. Just like Darwin’s theory, AI might just be the thing that helps your business survive and thrive. It is not something to fear, but definitely something to keep learning about. We should approach it with care and ethics, but with great optimism too.