Presented by The Gordon Institute of Business Science

Three Lessons for (Business) Leaders in the Age of AI

 ·11 Mar 2024

Conversations surrounding AI often gravitate towards conspicuous harms, like algorithmic bias and job displacement, drawing attention from leaders and regulators.

While strides have been made in addressing these concerns through regulations and ethics, there’s more to consider and these three key lessons will help leaders navigate AI’s complexities.

Lesson 1: Everything is connected

The call for ethically developing and deploying AI systems is constant but often neglects contextual factors, treating AI in isolation.

Research by Funda Ustek-Spilda et al in 2019 revealed three common “action positions” among IoT developers regarding ethics: disengagement (viewing ethics as detrimental to business), pragmatism (seeing ethics as a means to satisfy customers and drive profit), and idealism (prioritising ethical concerns over business interests).

These positions highlight how context shapes choices, influenced by organisational rules and values.

Profit-centric cultures hinder just AI deployment, necessitating a deeper commitment to individual respect and community responsibility beyond mere adherence to ethical codes.

A systems thinking approach is essential for AI to benefit society.

Leaders must prioritise understanding complex system interactions, moving beyond narrow focus on efficiency and profitability.

They must embrace systems thinking as a guiding philosophy, making tough decisions to ensure long-term sustainability.

This commitment requires cross-sector collaboration and incentive alignment around justice for people and the planet, challenging the competitive status quo.

Without such frameworks, businesses lack motivation to prioritise ethical AI in a competitive landscape.

Lesson 2: Don’t be fooled by the speed and scale that AI guarantees; complex problems require that we think and act slowly

AI’s speed and scalability offer tantalising possibilities, such as expanding educational access in rural areas like Limpopo.

However, viewing AI as a universal remedy for complex societal issues—ranging from climate change to inequality—ignores crucial nuances.

Approaching AI as a panacea akin to Procrustes’ bed, forcing all problems to fit a predetermined solution, risks oversimplification and neglect of systemic complexities.

In tackling issues like gender-based violence or food insecurity, we must resist the allure of quick fixes and embrace a slower, more deliberate approach.

While urgency is paramount in addressing pressing concerns like climate change, hasty solutions often prove inadequate.

Sustainable development demands a paradoxical blend of slowing down to understand systemic roots and speeding up to enact meaningful change.

AI’s dangers lie in its potential to centralise power, marginalise alternative knowledge systems, and perpetuate surface-level solutions that fail to challenge underlying structures.

Real progress requires amplifying diverse voices, interrogating entrenched systems, and fostering collective action beyond technical fixes.

As Audre Lorde cautioned, relying solely on the master’s tools risks perpetuating existing power dynamics rather than effecting genuine transformation.

Lesson 3: Create the future you want

In the coming decade, robotic surgeries may become routine, while AI advances could reshape job markets.

These rapid changes evoke both excitement and concern.

Yet, it’s crucial to recognise that humans drive AI innovations, albeit amid widening power disparities between tech giants and other stakeholders.

To shift from passive recipients to active citizens in shaping AI’s trajectory, we must unite diverse voices.

As Peter Drucker famously said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Rather than resisting AI, we’re urged to shape a future centered on justice and equity.

As AI continues to evolve, including models like ChatGPT and Bard, we must navigate its potential by understanding its complexities and acting deliberately.

By embracing collective action and wielding our influence, we can steer AI towards a future that serves humanity and the planet.

Learn more about Strategies for Effective AI Leadership in Africa.

This article first appeared in GIBS Acumen Magazine.

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