Fear not, AI doesn't have to lead to a bleak world

New study says business leaders think artificial intelligence will help diversify human thinking and bolster collaboration between people and systems.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will not wipe out the need for human workers and create a dystopian environment run by evil machines. Instead, the technology will help diversify human thinking and bolster collaboration between people and automated systems.

That's the view of a newly released report from consulting firm Tata Communications, which is based on a survey of 120 global business leaders. It includes input from in-depth interviews with entrepreneurs, executives, and thought-leaders, as well as discussion forums featuring internationally renowned experts from the fields of AI, machine learning, design, art, government, politics, ethics, entrepreneurship, behavioural economics, journalism, engineering, and human resources.

Also: What is AI? Everything you need to know about Artificial Intelligence

The study envisions a positive impact of AI in the workplace of the future. Among the key findings of the study: A huge majority of the leaders surveyed (90 percent) agree that cognitive diversity is important for management; three quarters expect AI to create new roles for their employees; and 93 percent think AI will enhance decision making.

"The prevalent narrative around AI has focused on a 'singularity'--a hypothetical time when artificial intelligence will surpass humans," said Ken Goldberg, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and co-author of the report. "But there is a growing interest in 'multiplicity', where AI helps groups of machines and humans collaborate to innovate and solve problems."

The survey of business leaders indicates that the concept of multiplicity, the positive and inclusive vision of AI, is gaining ground, Goldberg said.

AI is now being viewed as a new category of intelligence that can complement existing categories of emotional, social, spatial, and creative intelligence, noted Vinod Kumar, CEO and managing director at Tata Communications and also a co-author of the study.

Multiplicity is transformational because it can enhance cognitive diversity, combining categories of intelligence in new ways to benefit all workers and businesses, Kumar said.

Another key finding of the report is that AI can enhance cognitive diversity within groups. There's a growing consensus that diversity of thinking on projects can yield better outputs, it said. Business executives in the survey think AI could help create and maintain working groups that optimize this cognitive diversity.

In addition, AI can help workers become more agile, curious, and nimble. A large majority of those surveyed (93 percent) agree that AI can enhance employee engagement. "AI has potential to assess each employee's skills and innovation priorities, and suggest activities to spark creative thinking throughout the organizational hierarchy," the report said. This can democratize the creative process and increase engagement of all workers.

Also: The ethical challenges of artificial intelligence

And AI can enhance human collaboration. Although business is increasingly multicultural, a lack of understanding of languages and cultures can be a barrier to collaboration, the report noted. Most of the leaders surveyed (80 percent) agree that AI could facilitate team composition, organization and communications, especially for global teams.

Finally, the structure of work will change and require greater agility and flexibility. Three-quarters of the executives envision AI creating new roles in their businesses. "AI has potential to free employees from tedious repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus much more on communication and innovation," the report said. "Work will move from being task-based to strategic, enabling workers to enhance their curiosity and creative thinking."

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