How to harness AI’s power and energize the human enterprise

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10 minute read 17 Jan 2020
By

Jeff Wong

EY Global Chief Innovation Officer

Innovation aficionado and change agent at EY. Technology enthusiast. Passionate supporter of STEM and women in technology.

10 minute read 17 Jan 2020

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AI is undoubtedly transforming life and business as we know it, pushing boundaries and redefining what’s possible in today’s complex world.

This technology is driving down costs, boosting efficiency and helping a growing number of organizations around the globe develop stronger businesses. Such real-life success stories are surfacing at an ever-accelerating pace, encouraging other companies to adopt the previously unfamiliar technology.

In fact, an EY study found that 84% of US CEOs and business leaders now consider AI essential to their companies’ success.

Even though it may still be early in the journey, AI technologies such as biometrics, machine learning and natural language processing have already left an immense impression on the world. In 2018, artificial intelligence drove an estimated US$1.2 trillion in global business value, 70% more than it did in 20171. And it doesn’t look like this will stop anytime soon.

AI’s 2018 global business value

US$1.2 trillion

70% more than in 2017

These numbers are compelling, and it may be tempting to stay laser-focused on how artificial intelligence has delivered real, transformative results to companies. However, it’s also important to acknowledge the strong potential that AI has to drive creative solutions for the greater good.

The global business value from AI is expected to balloon to US$2.9 trillion in 2021.2 Envisioning all that could be accomplished with that much money might be difficult, but consider this: it’s nearly equivalent to the United Nations’ estimated cost of ending world poverty and hunger by 2030.3

If AI can deliver value of such magnitude to companies alone, can society also stand to benefit?

The EY response is simple: it can. Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to make this happen.

For today’s innovative work to continue, AI must be at the forefront of an ongoing conversation. Artificial intelligence is still relatively uncharted territory in business and elsewhere, so leaders need to share their insights and help each other take advantage of the technology’s full power.

To drive this discussion and support efforts to improve lives through AI, the EY Global Innovation team has established key relationships with groups such as AI4ALL, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the field through diversity and inclusiveness. AI4ALL introduces underrepresented students to the world of AI through educational programs and mentorships with current industry professionals.

AI4ALL introduces underrepresented students to the world of AI through educational programs and mentorships with current industry professionals.

A core driver of the EY-AI4ALL relationship is the shared belief that diversity of thought empowers leaders to develop trailblazing solutions.

To explore this mindset and other pressing AI topics, EY Global Chief Innovation Officer Jeff Wong, who serves on the AI4ALL Advisory Board, reached out to three fellow board members — Lili Cheng, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft AI and Research; Lili Gangas, Chief Technology Community Officer with the Kapor Center; and Rodney Sampson, Chairman and CEO of Opportunity Hub — who shared their insights into factors affecting the world’s ability to benefit from AI-driven solutions. They each discussed the importance of the human element in AI implementations, diversity as a means of minimizing bias and shifting societal perceptions of artificial intelligence.

A people-first approach is a big step forward

AI is becoming a common theme in stories about companies’ responses to disruption. Stronger employee engagement and immediate growth are just two outcomes that organizations can trace back to AI.

But to get to this point, companies must first address complex issues, such as cultural alignment, talent, buy-in and trust. And to do this, they need to view an AI implementation through a human lens rather than treat it as a strictly technological effort.

Lili Gangas said that C-level executives should ask themselves a crucial question as they make decisions and as plans progress: “What are the unintended consequences that this technology is creating” for employees?

Leaders must also collaborate with their workers in developing and implementing integration plans. “CEOs need to be aligned with the feedback of their employees to be able to truly scale and integrate AI technologies into their infrastructure,” Jeff said. Without such support, it may become difficult — or even impossible — to transform AI’s potential into a reality.

Inclusiveness is a key element in battling bias

In addition, decision-makers’ plans must cover bias, a challenge with far-reaching impacts. By nature, machines themselves don’t have prejudices. However, data and AI technologies can reflect the biases of the humans who created and control them.

People often use data to inform their decisions, and they expect this information to be unbiased. That’s why detected bias can erode the trust an organization has established with its employees.

Preventing bias is dependent upon having the right people in place. This doesn’t mean just hiring the highest-skilled candidates (although that, too, can be an obstacle), it involves keeping the community in mind. And that’s where AI4ALL’s work comes in.

I think trust and diversity, having a wider set of people looking at the data, the type of data, the bias in data, all of these things are really essential for big companies.
Lili Cheng
Corporate Vice President of Microsoft AI and Research

“I think trust and diversity, having a wider set of people looking at the data, the type of data, the bias in data, all of these things are really essential for big companies,” Lili Cheng said.

“We’ve seen a lot of different cases where, as we’re starting to develop this new technology, there are errors. There’s a lot of bias in AI,” Lili Gangas said. “And unfortunately, if you don’t have the voices … that are representative of the community that’s trying to use it, you are going to have limited technology.”

She said that without this representation, teams lack the guidance they need to develop AI solutions that put communities’ most urgent priorities first.

“It really matters that you have a diverse team, not just at one end, but from the beginning,” Lili Gangas continued, adding that a variety of perspectives provides insights into something that all teams should consider: “How is this going to help improve somebody’s life?”

Rodney also emphasized the importance of inclusiveness, explaining to Jeff that technology hubs are presenting great opportunities, but not all communities are benefiting. And when tech teams don’t reflect the populations around them, they run the risk of developing products and offering solutions that don’t meet their communities’ needs.

“It impacts our voice. It impacts our politics. It impacts our health, education and really everything,” Rodney said.

Through boot camps, mentorships and other initiatives, organizations can prioritize inclusiveness in hiring, product development and decision-making to remedy this inequity, he added.

It’s time to realize the power of the human-AI connection

Artificial intelligence and people have something in common: they need each other to succeed.

“I think that’s how we create a collective good,” Rodney told Jeff. “Humans and machines working hand in hand to solve problems.”

Technology can power solutions to open up opportunities for businesses and people alike. Humans can benefit from technology while driving it, and technology can unlock human potential.

The sheer possibilities are inspiring. And because technology and innovation are essential to achieving this goal, EY has made them top priorities.

As an example of the EY commitment to technology, the organization hosted a Global Innovation challenge, asking internal teams around the world to pitch their best ideas for bringing AI into new environments. A team in Australia was then awarded US$100,000 to develop their winning concept, an automation tool for cybersecurity management.

Through similar initiatives, more organizations are exploring how to extend the benefits of AI beyond the bottom line. Such work is encouraging because it reflects another EY belief: artificial intelligence can — and should — be used to drive human advancement, not just business successes.

That’s why EY is focused on harnessing technology to power human enterprise. When organizations use today’s tools to boost human ingenuity, resourcefulness and experiences, business results aren’t the only potential by-product: new solutions for the better working world of tomorrow can materialize.

For society to keep moving forward, people must believe in the power of the human–machine connection rather than viewing technology as a replacement for humans. This shift in thinking is what drives the EY-AI4ALL relationship and other collaborations.

Summary

AI4ALL not only drives an innovative dialogue on a hot topic in technology, it also empowers next-generation AI experts who will solve the problems of the future.

About this article

By

Jeff Wong

EY Global Chief Innovation Officer

Innovation aficionado and change agent at EY. Technology enthusiast. Passionate supporter of STEM and women in technology.