The case of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one that is being increasingly considered in business schools. It has been claimed that AI will bring the next radical societal revolution. From Putin warning that the current race to supreme power is based on who gets to AI first, to Bill Gates claiming that most human jobs will be lost to AI in the coming decades, and Elon Musk warning the world about the dangerous threat of AI, it is certainly clear that if a full AI revolution ever happens, then, organisations as we know them would radically change.
One thing is for sure, the future is uncertain. No one really knows how the future will be. However, it is clear that there are strong indications that automation will reach –or is reaching– unprecedented levels. In his brilliant The Rise of the Robots (2015), Martin Ford describes different cases of robots, some can handle and organize things in warehouses, others can flip hamburgers in fast-food restaurants; some can write newspaper articles, and others can even mark essays and do some research on their own. According to Ford, the latter will change the global economy, as jobs of all types, from manufacturing to sophisticated and specialized ones, could be lost in no time. This, finally, might clash with an already struggling 'market-economy', including countries such as the UK and the US. According to Ford, due to deregulation, economic liberalization, and excessive labour competition (including the offshoring of many jobs), wages for the middle class in the UK and the US, for instance, have remained stagnant since the 1970s in real terms. Additionally, in these countries and many more, it takes nowadays longer and longer to recover from recessions, unemployment and especially underemployment have reached alarming numbers, and inequality is simply astonishing. This already existing complex scenario could provide a harsh backdrop for a final and ultimate automation revolution that could change us forever.
The reason why a new automation revolution could be different is because machines are now starting to learn, after all, that is the point of AI. In the past, technological revolutions destroyed some jobs but created others. But, as machines become better at learning, who knows what will happen. Perhaps, new jobs will be created, but these will also be performed by machines. The truth is we are still far from a future with all of these characteristics. Yet, some claim we are not that far, and that given the pace at which technology advances the future will reach us actually fairly soon. In his spectacular Superintelligence (2014), Nick Bostrom precisely argues that there is strong evidence that machines are getting better and better at learning, and that in the future a machine could exceed human intelligence in every single way you could imagine. According to a survey Bostrom did of AI experts, the results showed that these people claim there is a 50% chance that human-level machine intelligence could be developed by as soon as 2050, and 90% chance that this would have been accomplished by 2075. Of course, regardless of when we achieve human-level machine intelligence, the point is that the road to it will change organizations, as it will continue, one swift step at a time, replacing humans with machines. Making, then, of the human resource, perhaps no longer the key and most strategic resource of an organization.
Bostrom, N. 2014. Superintelligence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ford, M. 2015. The Rise of the Robots. London: Oneworld Books.