Surely, our most valuable quality as humans is our human-ness; our diversity of thought, our ability to empathise, to feel emotion, to influence and debate, and to care. Yet, as technology advances and artificial intelligence becomes more and more a part of our everyday life, how might the ‘robot revolution’ impact on society and on the workplace?

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is defined as the science of making computers do things which, when done by humans, require intelligence. It may seem a futuristic concept but AI has actually been around since the 1950s when US Dartmouth College professor John McCarthy proposed a project to explore the idea that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to do it,” (CNBC). Nowadays, AI is big business, with all the big players in technology investing heavily in AI and its possibilities (think Google’s StreetView, Amazon’s virtual assistant ‘Alexa’, Apple’s equivalent ‘Siri’ and any website that offers product predictions to your taste). Technology giant Alphabet (Google’s parent company) reportedly paid $500 million in 2014 (CNBC) to purchase DeepMind, a neural network that learns to play video games in a similar way to humans – and beat them. So, AI is already an important part of our technological product base, a key financial investment and is creeping into our daily lives without us even realising.

What’s The Future Of AI?

With technology improving constantly, there are many possibilities as to where AI can go. Primarily, these possibilities are focused on automating manual processes currently undertaken by humans. This has already happened with self-service tills in shops and supermarkets, check-in machines at airports and call-centre phone-bots. The next step up from this is to release advanced decision-making AI such as self-driving cars or intuitive translation systems that not only have a wide vocabulary, but understand syntax and context in language.

But there is a more extreme theory of the future of AI, one which sees AI take centre stage with humans side-lined in favour of technology. According to bestselling historian Yuval Harari, an AI revolution is on the way, rendering mere mortal humans redundant. He offers the example of the self-driving car which will take away jobs from human beings, but will also diminish their economic earning power and their political influence (in terms of industrial action, strikes etc.) All the economic and socio-political power will sit with the small minority of humans who own the algorithm that runs the vehicles, rendering everyone else impotent and disposable. This, he argues, is a perilous position for humans and will result in a huge underclass of fairly useless people, not worthy of education, investment or advancement.

If you think that it is only the low skilled worker at risk of redundancy to AI, then think again. This scenario isn’t limited to manual tasks such as driving but, due to the development of thinking technology that can actually learn, it could apply to professions such as legal roles, accountancy and medicine and many other professional services. With the rate at which technology is advancing, it’s hard to think of any role that could not be done, at least in part, using AI. Not only is this scary stuff for the man (or woman) on the street, it also begs the question of what type of world we’re building for our future generations – potentially one that is robotic and emotionless, instead of richly diverse and human. Are we really willing to pay such a high price for the uber efficiency of automation?

Building Super-Humans

Biological enhancement, i.e. taking a human and using AI to make the human more intelligent, or healthier and able to live longer is another side of AI. This could result in a super-class of humans who are cleverer, fitter and therefore more powerful than their natural peers. So, in this scenario, we are not just talking about robots versus humans, but a three-tier society: robots, enhanced humans and then normal Joe Bloggs humans. It’s easy to see who will dominate in such a society and difficult to see how unenhanced humans may survive. Just think, in harsh objectivity, of the lifecycle of human beings: we take a relatively long time to be created, and a really long time to mature – 20 years or so. Even then, we are by comparison quite slow to learn new skills and a human is generally slower at completing most tasks than a computer. Compare that with AI which may be evolving over a long time period but which is ready to launch and be active within a relatively short period from its conception.

Surely, though, our most valuable quality as humans is our human-ness, i.e. our ability to empathise, to feel emotion, to love, to fear. Researchers in Germany are currently working on building an artificial nervous system that will allow robots to feel ‘pain’ and there are already algorithms in action that predict love, as used by online dating sites.  But it is hard to conceive of a robot, however ‘intelligent’ truly capable of the depth emotion and empathy that makes humans so special.  Above all, it’s hard to imagine that there would be much scope for many of the important human qualities that enable ongoing progress and change; such as the ability to influence, debate, change one’s viewpoint, share experiences, and collaborate effectively.  Arguably, among the limited pool of ‘super-humans’ created in this ‘Tomorrow’s World’, there simply wouldn’t be sufficient diversity to make up for that which we significantly benefit from in today’s working community.

What Place Does AI Have In Modern Society?

The rise of AI as a class within society has far reaching consequences. As Harari points out, it is human beings that have built structures that enable us to communicate and cooperate in the modern world: countries with defined borders, elected leaders, financial currencies, languages, religion, societies, all of which govern our behaviour and conduct. The question is whether any of these boundaries will be respected or necessary if AI becomes a larger part of society. This is where we are exposed as humans, as most of us are incapable of rationalising a world without such boundaries. We see the world only as we live in it. What we humans don’t have the capacity to do is to imagine just how smart and advanced AI can become. Smarter than us certainly. But to what degree, we can’t imagine.

Before we all sink into a pit of despair at the fruitlessness of our very existence, a reminder that AI is not all bad. There are many ways that AI has already enhanced modern life and many possibilities for how it can improve our lives as humans in the future, including saving lives with medical advances, taking away the burden of manual processes, reducing dangerous driving and the resultant car crashes and fatalities. It’s also a growing sector which means a growing number of job opportunities and revenue generation for those with the right product.  Currently, Facebook alone employs over 17,000 people worldwide.

Moving Forward: Combining The Best Of AI and Human Diversity

One thing is for sure, whether you welcome or fear the rising robot revolution, AI can’t be un-invented or forgotten; it’s down to us to embrace technology and use its power responsibly. We will also have to integrate AI into our world as it grows in prevalence and importance, accepting that there are some areas where AI will dominate and diversifying as humans to move with the times. The benefits (both in economic and moral terms) of diversity and inclusion in the workplace are indisputable.  And, if you buy into the more extreme prophecies of Yuvan Harari, they might be our last bastion of hope in an increasingly automated world!  Regardless, there’s no question that what makes us human – such as the experiences that shape us, the culture that defines us, our capacity to empathise and care, to agree or disagree, to influence and debate – is what makes us unique.  In societal terms, it makes the world a far more interesting and progressive place to exist.  And in corporate terms, it builds business growth, generates increased profit & productivity, and creates a working environment in which an engaging organisational culture is as important and fulfilling as process and outcome.

Here at great{with}diversity, we believe passionately in the value of a diverse and fully inclusive working world. That’s why our employee opinion audit tools are specifically designed to delve into your employee engagement levels in minute detail, across every element and aspect of your business community.  We believe that knowing how the minority of your employees feel about their working environment is as important as knowing what the majority think.  So, whatever your organisational demographic, we can help you slice through the data and make the workplace a better place for everyone in it.  Our products are all facilitated by technology and we are always on the lookout for smart new systems that can make things run more efficiently and smoothly for our customers. If there is a way to use AI to reduce administrative burden, freeing up your time to do something more interesting and driving profitability as a result, then we’re in. But we’re also human, not artificial (although we’d like to think we are intelligent). If you call us, you’ll speak to a real person, not a phone bot. We understand that the human element still has a vital part to play in service delivery and that machines just can’t generate the same passion we have for our business. Besides, we haven’t yet found one who really gets our sense of humour.

If you are interested to hear more about how diversity & inclusion can positively impact your business, get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.