“If you do not embrace new technologies as a business, you have no right to exist in the long run”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly important role in business processes and therefore also in the management of organizations. Nevertheless, Deborah Nas, part-time professor of Strategic Design for technology-based innovation at TU Delft, can see that many administrators do not know how technology works and how it is used in their company. “A company sometimes uses dozens of artificial intelligence that everyone does something different. I think everyone in the organization should have basic knowledge of AI.”

But first: what is artificial intelligence or artificial intelligence at all? Nas starts: “Artificial intelligence is a concept we invented to indicate something similar to human intelligence. What we call AI and what not changes over time. If we look back in history, for example, we thought that one really need human intelligence to play chess.This requires strategic insight and creativity.So it was a big shock when the computer Deep Blue once beat Kasparov.We called it artificial intelligence back then.Now we call it just brute force calculations.It could well be that in the future we will look back on what we call AI today and that we will no longer think of it as AI. ”

deep learning

She continues: “Artificial intelligence is also an umbrella concept, which in turn includes specializations. For example, there is machine learning and deep learning. With machine learning, we program algorithms that we train with a lot of data. As a result, for example, an email system can recognize and filter spam. With deep learning, you do not program the algorithm, but you give it a task. For example, to learn to recognize a cat. Then you feed the algorithm tens of thousands of YouTube videos tagged cat. Then the algorithm itself learns what a cat is. Because these systems can see and contextualize information at different levels, it is similar to what humans do. You also have systems that can make art, understand languages ​​or recognize faces. That kind of specific technology in AI is already playing a big role in our society and will play an increasingly important role. “

“I think AI gives us a lot of opportunities, but it also comes with a lot of dangers.”

Opportunities and dangers

Artificial intelligence evokes a feeling of discomfort in many people: what if it runs away with us? Nas emphasizes that algorithms in themselves are neither good nor bad. “It’s what we as humans do with it, and with what data we train it. Take face recognition. It is useful that you can unlock your phone with your face. As possible, many more people are protecting their smartphones. But it is, of course, terrible if the Chinese government, for example, uses face recognition to profile and isolate ethnic minorities. In addition, such a system may inadvertently discriminate if the data set with which you train it is biased. For example, if the training data does not contain enough faces from a particular ethnic group, it will be difficult to recognize people from that group. I think that’s why AI is a technology that gives us a lot of opportunities, but which also has many dangers. ”

Confrontation with reality

“An example of this is Amazon,” Nas continues. “At one point, they used an algorithm to screen resumes in the recruitment process. They trained that algorithm with ten years of real data. Who applied? Who came for an interview? Who got a job? Now it turned out after a few years that the algorithm discriminated. It had a strong preference for white men. Of course there was a lot of fuss in the press, Amazon apologized and they stopped using that algorithm. Then everyone thinks the weather is good. But the algorithm only confronts us with reality, in this case behavior from recruiters.We often judge people on purpose but algorithms by result.We argue that the HR people did not intend to discriminate.It was an unconscious bias of the human being that there was no intention behind it.The “algorithm is highly rated, however. I actually think we can provide insight into this human bias using algorithms. And then correct the algorithm to remove that bias. Then we can create a fairer world.”

Deborah Nas: “I advocate that all administrators develop some basic knowledge of AI.” Photographer: William Rutten

Ethics in the boardroom

The question is who decides what is and is not fair. That question, according to Nas, should also play in the boardroom. “It is a difficult ethical issue. I believe that technology – AI, but also other technologies – will play an increasingly important role in business operations in the future. Then you need people who think about the ethical effects of that technology. On humans, but also on the economy and the planet. We tend to ignore it. We immediately apply the technology in practice, and if problems arise, we would like to correct them. But then you’re actually too late. I therefore believe that in addition to the current CEO, we need to appoint a new type of CEO: a Chief Ethics Officer. He will think about how the company uses new technologies and how you can increase the positive social impact. For that, he or she needs to have a diverse team around him or her. If you only have a team of mathematicians or computer scientists who have just graduated, you think very one-sidedly about what effect the technology can have. In a diverse team, you get different perspectives, and you can identify ethical and moral issues much better. ”

Insufficient understanding

To apply technology properly, you must first understand it. This is where it often goes wrong. Nas: “I think administrators generally do not have a sufficient understanding of AI. I give many presentations at conferences and events where I often explain the basic concepts. I can see that many people generally have little knowledge about it. Them. , who make decisions in the organization about how AI is used are often many layers under the board.I argue that at least all directors should develop some basic knowledge.Even better is if directors ensure that everyone in the organization is trained in this.There is already a national AI course for this and a new one is on the way that focuses on AI and ethics.It also deals with skewness in data and broader social issues.What about for example big tech, power relations , disinformation and the role of government? I think it’s very important information for drivers. “

“We can provide insight into this human bias using algorithms.”

Resistance to new technology

Nas notes that many existing companies are struggling to embrace new technologies. “Of course, changing something that already exists is much harder than creating something new. I think there are three main factors holding back change in an existing organization. The first is loss aversion. We tend to spend our time and energy protecting what we have. People are afraid of losing their profit margin or their trusted distributors. It is also often the case that if one department wants to develop something new, it can cannibalize the turnover of another department. Then internal conflicts arise. The second factor is outdated IT systems. Existing companies often have many old systems that are interconnected. It is very difficult to change it in one fell swoop and apply new technologies in it. The third factor is internal resistance. Most people do not like change and often do not understand new technologies well. They prefer to keep the situation as it is now. “

Steep competition

Ignoring new technology is not an option for existing businesses. Then they are overtaken by new players in no time. Nas: “New entrants do not have to deal with the three factors. Startups have nothing to lose yet and they do not suffer from organizational silos. They design their organization and IT in such a way that the structure helps them in their goals. They “Designing everything from scratch using the latest technologies. Finally, they have some internal resistance issues because it is their mission to create change. They only attract employees who want it.”

As startups grow, of course, they risk getting stuck in the same three pitfalls. Nas: “As companies grow, their innovation capacity almost always decreases. Therefore, they often get the innovation power from outside by buying up startups. But often the cultural clash between the old company and the startup is so great that the people from the startup run away quite quickly. It’s a little easier for tech companies because they often already have a more modern culture and are more flexible. But any business will have to deal with it at some point. One solution may be to accommodate radical innovations – ie real innovation – in a separate business unit. For example, Google does Radical innovation does not take place in the same parts where, for example, the search engine or the advertising system is optimized. ”

Keep innovating

Artificial intelligence is here and the development is going strong. So companies will have to swim or drown. In addition, a future-proof company wants to be able to move with all the new technologies that we will receive in the future. Quantum technology, for example, is based on the quantum mechanical properties of the smallest particles, so that some computational problems can be solved many times faster in the future. Nas therefore ends with a tip: “Set up a team of wise people. Make sure at least half are outsiders, technologists who fully understand technology and AI. The other half consists of free thinkers from the organization who have been in the organization for some time. Then let that team think about what the company would look like if they could reinvent it from scratch. They probably come with a very different image. Then you can follow two routes. You can take some great ideas and apply them in your existing organization. Or it is so interesting that you start a separate company and start your own competitor, so to speak. By thinking this way, as a driver you get your eyes open for how things can and should be done differently. Because if you do not adopt new technologies as a company, you do not have a long-term right to exist. ”

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