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Why ethics are the only way businesses can survive AI and keep our morality

Business Team Meeting

Organisational change is rapidly accelerating, where a 2018 McKinsey report indicated that 80% of executives were concerned about the emerging risk in their business models. This new age is now characterised with greater speed, combined with greater uncertainty and risk. This new environment includes the almost daily presidential tweets, trade wars, and tariffs, not to mention the vast array of emerging new technology on offer. To avoid issues in the future, and to cope with all this change, new business decision-making models and processes are required.

It is not merely the pace of change that is important, as recent research at Western Sydney University of 2017 indicates that some organisations are undergoing over 50 changes in just a 3-year period. This has led some academic researchers to question if the rate of change is now beyond human capability.

According to a KPMG article in 2018, by 2040 artificial intelligence (AI) may have advanced far enough for it to be mainstream and be used everywhere. The promise may not be too far-fetched as we already can see the algorithms in social media, where the rollout of 5G and faster speeds will transform technology further. Despite the potential uses of AI, many organisations are still not seriously considering the broader related issues that may affect their use.

The introduction of more advanced AI, and even robots, will likely see human work partially eroded over time, so creating management issues of integrating human and AI work responsibilities. The changes may be so swift and ongoing that staff may become unsettled, tired and even angry if the preparation and negotiation are insufficient. Management has so relied on formal, written structures, processes, and governance over the past 100 years, yet they may no longer be kept up to date due to the ongoing change.  Staff will still likely need guidance on organisational operations, even if documents cannot be kept up to date, so it may be that management needs to create adaptive operating models to cope with change.

Blair Sheppard, PWC Global Leader, Strategy and Leadership noted in the “Workforce of the future” report that we should continually adapt, whilst maintaining a sense of values and identity in a technology changing world. A 2019 PWC global survey of 2,000 executives also noted that organisations performed better in digital transformation if they were regulatory aware, where they also performed better on risk and opportunity identification if there was digital ethics training.

It is possible that AI could soon identify new opportunities, even new types of transactions in its pursuit of optimization and efficiency. Without human values in AI decisions, any new AI concepts could inadvertently hurt the poor, the less educated or society as a whole. To avoid public embarrassment and loss of organisational value, leaders will need to undertake a broad and comprehensive assessment of AI issues before adopting it.

It is easy to imagine what stress and confusion may arise if the old organisational written procedures and structures are not available during change, so staff training ethics may be a useful countermeasure. With ethics, staff will be able to make decisions without necessarily referring back to their managers or the written procedures.

Despite the potential benefits of AI, organisations will need to retain a human presence, as AI will not have the values of humans for some time to come. Leaders need to empower staff to intervene over the AI decisions on ethical grounds, so reducing the potential for AI to breach society values, or harm the less fortunate. Advances in AI are unavoidable, but leaders need to ensure they’re implemented with the highest standards.


Written by Dr. Mathew Donald’s (Dr Mat).
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Dr. Mathew Donald
Dr. Mathew Donald’s (Dr Mat) specialist topics are leadership, management and organisational change and has over 35 years of business experience. He is the principal of Dr Mat – The organisational Health Doctor™, available globally for consulting, mentoring, presentations or use of his change monitoring tool. Author of “Leading and managing change in the age of disruption and artificial intelligence” (Emerald $100). Dr. Mathew Donald is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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