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What Business Leaders Need To Know About Artificial Intelligence

Mastering AI by Jeremy Kahn is absolutely a must-read for every business leader who wants to better understand the history and evolution of AI (Artificial Intelligence), and more important, the promise and perils of AI for businesses and society. Even if you think you have a basic understanding of AI, this book is an essential resource for you. 

That is because Kahn delivers not only a timely, thorough and thought-provoking examination of AI’s benefits to humanity as well as its potentially chilling dangers, but also and vitally, a declaration for how we should proceed as AI evolves.

Reading Mastering AI reminded me of the popular The Popcorn Report by Faith Popcorn – where in 1992 she identified and forecasted trends to chart the future's impact on our businesses, our lives, and our world. 

Similarly, Fortune magazine journalist, Kahn, draws on his expertise and extensive contacts among the companies and scientists at the forefront of artificial intelligence to offer dramatic predictions of AI’s impact over the next decade, from reshaping our economy and the way we work, learn, and create to unknitting our social fabric, jeopardizing our democracy, and fundamentally altering the way we think.

Kahn explains that AI depends on three components:

  1. Algorithms
  2. Computing Power
  3. Data 
What AI does:

  • AI processes massive amounts of data, looking for patterns to model decision-making. 
  • AI enables computers and machines to simulate human intelligence and problem-solving capabilities 
  • AI technology can process substantial amounts of data in ways, unlike humans. 

Within the next five years, Kahn predicts AI will disrupt almost every industry and enterprise, with vastly increased efficiency and productivity. 

For example, Kahn foresees that AI will restructure the workforce, making AI “copilots” necessary for every knowledge worker. 

“Almost every professional, in fields from accounting to medicine to architecture, will be using an AI copilot, helping to automate many routine tasks in their jobs and acting as a kind of digital colleague,” says Kahn. 

And away from work, Kahn forecasts that AI will:

  • Revamp education, meaning children around the world can have personal, portable tutors.
  • Revolutionize health care, making individualized, targeted pharmaceuticals more affordable.
  • Compel us to reimagine how we make art, compose music, and write and publish books. 

“The potential of generative AI to extend our skills, talents, and creativity as humans is undeniably exciting and promising,” shares Kahn. 

However, “while this new technology has a bright future, it also casts a dark and fearful shadow,” warns Kahn. 

Kahn explains that if not carefully designed and vigilantly regulated AI will deepen income inequality, depressing wages while imposing winner-take-all markets across much of the economy. 

Also, continuing a process begun by the internet, AI will rewire our brains, likely inhibiting our ability to think critically, to remember, and even to have a good relationship with one another—unless we all take decisive action to prevent this from happening. 

“Yes, this technology is strange and frightening, but it is also exciting and fabulous in equal measure,” says Kahn. He adds that “like every technology that has come before, we can master AI. But to do so, we must master ourselves. We must apply our own natural intelligence, creativity, and wisdom. If this is indeed the last invention humanity ever creates, we’d better make it good.” 

Jeremy Kahn

Today, Kahn shares these additional insights for business leaders: 

Question: In general, what are the most important factors to consider when thinking about how a company can use AI to gain a competitive advantage? 

Kahn: For most companies, their competitive advantage will come from any proprietary data they have that can give them a competitive edge. 

For large rights holding organizations—such as publishers, movie studios, record labels, pharmaceutical companies, and others with big IP (intellectual property) libraries—this advantage could potentially come from this back catalog of intellectual property. 

But for the majority of companies, the really unique data they have is their own customer data. If they can use that data correctly, AI should allow them to do a better job of market segmentation and then targeting those segments with much more personalized advertising and offers, and possibly, depending on the business, with more personalized products. 

Then the other kind of data that organizations have that might give them a competitive advantage is all the tacit knowledge that is not documented anywhere but exists in the minds and experience of their best performing employees—the people who are true experts and masters of their professional craft (be that sales or operations or legal work). 

Until now, there was no good way to turn that tacit knowledge into data that a company could use. But AI offers a way to potentially capture that tacit knowledge and turn it into data that AI can then process and use to help uplift the performance of workers across the organization. The only big question will be, how best to capture that data so that tacit knowledge can be extracted? The businesses that can figure this out first will have a competitive advantage over others. 

Question: How should a business leader incorporate thoughts of AI into his/her five-year planning? 

Kahn: Leaders need to start thinking now about how AI could potentially reshape the competitive landscape of their industry: 

  • How might it upend existing business models?
  • Are you ready for that shift?
  • How can you defend your business and position it to excel if AI does become the dominant technology platform in the next five years? 

For many leaders, they should begin experimenting with AI now and see what they can do with today's software. But they should also realize that the AI being used today will probably be the worst AI they will use. 

So, they need to project ahead and plan for AI that will be much more capable within five years. For most businesses, this means they should not train their own models, but should instead look to buy from outside vendors. They should also try to architect the use of AI in their systems so they are not locked into a particular model or vendor over the long term but could potentially, in a modular way, slot in different models into that architecture. 

What they should definitely do is make sure they have a good handle on all of their data, make sure it is cleaned up, and make sure it is in a form that can easily be accessed by AI to perform useful tasks. That digital transformation is the fundamental foundation on which all else will be built.

___ 

Reading Mastering AI will improve your understanding of the technology (pros and cons), spur your imagination for what is possible, and encourage you to embrace what is necessary to keep AI at bay. 

Kahn is an award-winning journalist for Fortune magazine, where he covers artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. In addition to cover stories and features, he writes Fortune’s weekly Eye on AI newsletter and cochairs its Brainstorm AI technology conferences. 

Previously, he wrote about technology, including AI, for Bloomberg. His writing on a range of subjects has also appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Smithsonian magazine, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, and Slate

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.

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