As AI goes mainstream are you ready for it? - Michelle Gibbings

As AI goes mainstream are you ready for it?

Over the summer holiday, it felt like one conversation kept appearing in articles I was reading… and that was ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is an online tool where users can ask questions and get intelligent responses. It’s heralded as the best AI chatbot ever released to the general public, while others suggest it can be dangerous and could even impact democratic processes.

One of the most amusing stories came from someone who asked ChatGPT to write a biblical verse in the style of the King James bible explaining how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR. It’s good to see humour is always on hand.

As with everything new, particularly with technology, people will view it and use it at all extremes of the spectrum: good, not-so-good and harmful. There is nothing new about technology, artificial intelligence and automation changing the type of work we do and how we work together.

For example, AI is already being used to generate news articles, and McDonald’s just opened their first fully automated restaurant in the US. If you want a unique picture, you can use DALL·E 2 to help you. If you are seeking a picture of a fish drinking a beer or a dog doing a handstand, this is the technology for you.

If you have never used either of these two open-source AI platforms (ChatGPT and DALL·E 2), it’s worth experimenting with them, so you understand what all the fuss is about.

There are two critical considerations – how you use this technology wisely and how you can be ready to make the most of it. Both those questions are vital. The first question is because you want to recognise technology’s consequences and realise that those consequences can be unintentional. Hence, the need to be mindful and consider how and where you use it. The second question is about being ready for the technology change because it’s coming whether you like it or not.

Here are five steps to take to help you work through these considerations.

Step one – Elevate your acceptance
Back in 2017, Genpact research found that only a quarter of people surveyed were concerned about AI’s impact on the workforce right now; instead, they were more concerned about what it meant for their children or later generations.

Regarding AI at work today, Australian senior leaders are ahead of other countries in welcoming its use. In research released late last year from SnapLogic, they found that 72% of Australians interviewed welcomed its use in their role, compared to an average of 66%, with the UK respondents the least inclined at 61%. However, 34% of respondents felt that very few people in their organisation had the skills required to implement and adopt AI.

Undoubtedly, AI and robotics will impact the type of jobs available and the skills required. We are already seeing this with the recent announcements from some of the big tech companies about downsizing. The classic human behavioural trait of ignoring the change and thinking (or perhaps hoping) it will go away won’t help you (or your team or organisation).

Step two – Use scenario planning
Just as organisations undertake scenario planning to help them investigate and plan for potential changes and risks, it can help to do this with your career and profession.

Look ahead, examine where your industry, organisation and profession are heading, and consider possible pathways and options that could eventuate given the technology available now and in the future. Using those insights, determine how far you need to pivot and adapt.

As part of this, get clear on your value and keep it current. Everyone brings specific skills and ways of operating to the work they do, and you must be able to articulate that value and know when it is getting dated.

Step three – Leverage the benefits
You can ban using ChatGPT, as is being done in NSW and Qld schools or find a way to work with it. The latter is a better strategy because banning often doesn’t work as people find ways to work around the ban. Instead, it’s better to adapt and find ways to work with the technology as Professor Aumann from Northern Michigan University did. In this interview in The New York Times, he explained how when he found a prevalence of its use, he changed student assessments, weaved ChatGPT into the lessons and even asked the students to evaluate the chatbot’s responses.

Once you understand the technology, consider how to use it best. Ask yourself:

  • How can it save time?
  • Where could it improve processes and output?
  • How can it be best blended into my work and that of my team?
  • What are the ethics associated with these decisions, and is this approach wise?
  • Are there any downsides or potential unintended consequences that are yet to be considered?

For example, you may have a report to write or an email to respond to. You could use ChatGPT to create an initial draft or framework for the response. Try it. Test it. Refine your approach.

Talk with your team about how and where it can be helpful. As this article in The Conversation explains, when employees see the benefits of working with software robots, they recognise the benefits to innovation and work quality. As the authors advocate (and I agree), leaders must consider how different employees will feel about automation. Don’t dismiss their concerns. Work with them and help them to navigate this changing landscape.

When a person can see the benefit, it’s far easier to be willing to adapt.

Step four – Know the point of difference
Not everything can be outsourced to technology, and nor would you want to.

Technology can be great with activities that are process-based, but it is not helpful with emotions and creating human-to-human connection. A robot can’t hug you or provide the emotional connection needed to survive.

So, there will be areas where technology will never replace what we can do as humans. That ‘special sauce’ that makes us all unique becomes even more critical in an AI world.

Step five – Find your learning edge
The quest for knowledge and understanding never ends, particularly in a world of increasing connectedness and complexity. It’s not enough to hone and refine your capability in your technical and professional areas of expertise. Instead, it would help if you go broad and deep in your search and acquisition of learning.

Yes, you need new skills, but you also need new insights.

And let’s remember the importance of the old skills too. As this article reminds us, being able to write well, express yourself and articulate your thoughts in words will always matter.

So, what are the next steps for you?

Always remember, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”, as was wisely advised by the Cheshire Cat from the children’s book Alice in Wonderland.  You need to know where you want to end up because if that isn’t clear, it’s very hard to wisely decide how to use this technology.

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