I came from a family of counters or, so I was told.  My grandfather used to work in an oil refinery where barrels of oil were stacked roof high in large warehouses.  Whether it is family myth, I don’t know, but apparently, he was called a human calculator (before ‘calculator’ was a common desk item) because of his ability to count in his head how many barrels in the warehouse quickly and accurately, using his innate skill with multiplication, incorporating depth, height, and rows into the calculation.  This was his superpower.  My mother had the same genes which she would use in a career handling money (in the days when people used to count it) but alas the skill skipped a generation, though I don’t feel disadvantaged as I grew up in the era of digital calculation tools.

Both careers and their professional self-esteem was built around their talent for numerical reasoning but today with calculators, stock control systems, scanners and the like, their skill would go mostly unnoticed and be unremarkable in its make-up. Undoubtedly, they would have found other ways to add value, fitting for the time. They would have adapted and changed as we do from one generation to the next.

The subject of AI is everywhere now but of course the concept is hardly new as technology has been changing how we work, literally for decades. Just as from the industrial-age, machines enabled workers to accomplish tasks beyond their capabilities, today computers have enabled us to perform calculations that would have taken years to do manually and AI applications are even able to perform a range of routine tasks, from the reorganization and classification of data to the more impressive and fancy stuff like the ability to write text, compose music, and create digital art. The potential of AI is limitless and that is why I think it makes most of us feel unsure and uneasy. 

While we might not be certain how AI will impact our lives and how it will affect jobs and the future world of work, I am thinking wryly I don’t have to be uncertain. Surely, I can find the answer by simply asking Chat GPT?  But, of course it’s a little more complicated than that.

How ‘technology on steroids’, which is my lame way of understanding the Artificial Intelligence trend, will impact us is no longer in question because that’s a given – it is transforming the way we do business in almost every way. AI has so much potential that it is hard to imagine a world without it, whether it’s self-driving vehicles, more precise weather predictions, or space travel, AI will be prevalent in every way in everyday before you can say ‘let me Google it’!

Talking of Google, I searched ‘what’s the most common question being asked about Artificial Intelligence’ and got the answer ‘What is artificial Intelligence?’ The fact that this question is the most Googled question strongly suggests that we really are only at the beginning stages of understanding it, and I get it.   I haven’t seen a self-driven car yet, have you, and much else besides – in tech terms it’s called being at the early adopter stage of the innovation-adoption cycle.  Or in other words it’s still forming!

The second biggest question is ‘Will AI kill jobs or create them?  If we were to look at history for this answer (as opposed to Google), large-scale technology transformations or disruptions create jobs – and lots of them.   And the question which is foremost in my mind is less about what routine tasks will be replaced but how AI will be used at the higher levels in business, especially in leadership.  I don’t really anticipate a day when a robot will replace a boss but then when I lay out the business case for it, I find it hard to imagine it won’t.  Surely a robotic boss programmed in emotional intelligence, big-picture thinking, win-win solutions, kindness, compassion and armed with decades worth of literature on how to get the best out of people, would do a far better job of managing people, holding down management and leadership positions in our organizations?  Who wouldn’t love a boss as skilled as that? And if Theodore Twombly, the fictional character in the movie ‘She’,  could fall head over heals (or keyboard) in love with his virtual assistant Samantha, why can’t others with a virtual boss? 

Perhaps that’s too much for the imagination at this stage and that we shouldn’t put the cart before the horse or the rod before the electric car.  Is it more realistic to think how, for example, Boards of Directors might incorporate AI into their work? Will directors be able to use generative AI to prepare for meetings or to answer questions they have between them?   Perhaps not so far-fetched as there is at least one company in Asia which has gone so far as to give AI a seat on the board and a vote! Radical I know. 

All of us are at the beginning of a journey to understand generative AI’s power, reach, and capabilities as it transforms roles and boost performance across all functions and levels within business and society.  It is estimated that half of today’s work activities could be automated between 2030 and 2060, with a midpoint in 2045. And because I come from a family of counters, I can tell you that the start point is only 7 years away!

Because I am always on the lookout for the opportunities on the people management front it means that as AI improves productivity and changes jobs, there will need to be a people focus and investment push to support workers as they change jobs or shift activities. Workers will need support in learning new skills, and some will change occupations. And of course, inevitably we will have to be trained on how to deal with an AI boss including inevitably accepting that you will never win an argument, but then again mission accomplished – you won’t even bother getting into an argument with the boss!