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Insight: There is No Need to Wait for Standards to Manage AI

AIHaving started my career in publishing writing about business using manual typewriters at Fairchild Publications, and having since witnessed more hype, frenetic predictions, venture capital pitches, booms and busts than I can count, and based on almost a year of using Chat AI in business and play and reading dozens of reports and research results, here is one observer’s take on the hype surrounding AI and how organizations can address the growing opportunities and concerns.
By Bruce Bolger

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AIHere’s the Enterprise Engagement Alliance’s first take on the Chat AI revolution.
As publisher of a media platform focused on engagement across the enterprise, I feel like any other publisher that it’s the obligation of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance to continually track trends and when possible provide some suggestions on what the future will bring. The EEA’s three-year series on the Covid-19 pandemic provided many accurate predictions about the impact on business and people, with only a few bloopers that still may come true. (No, retailers did not as we predicted embrace video technology to create remote in-store shopping experiences, but in fact I have heard that it is now being tested.) Given that Linkedin and our own media properties ESM at and RRN at preserve predictions for all to evaluate in the future, it’s fun and gratifying to take a stab at predicting the future in a way that is easily auditable later.
Background. The general hype about AI is probably a year-old now but for me it began in spring 2016, when a keynote speaker at Columbia University's engineering school graduation--the CEO at a major China-based AI company—boldly predicted that at least 50% of all jobs would be wiped out 10 years from then. Today, almost eight years later, US unemployment is at historic lows. Partly because of false predications such as that, I have been cautious to weigh in on this issue because I am not trained in computer science and can only evaluate it based on its potential for impact relative to the impact I have witnessed of other technologies before it. Similarly, I weighed in on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, about which I have even less scientific expertise.
Perhaps the biggest question about AI is related to the theory of Future Shock author Alvin Toffler, who predicted in 1970, before PCs and the Internet, that the pace of technological change in society is overwhelming the ability of most people to adapt and cope, leading many to a sense of disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, and others to simply withdraw.  So here's my take so far on a journey the EEA will be covering along with an important recommendation: every company needs to establish and publish a policy related to the use of Chat AI technologies now.

Every Company Should Publish Written, Auditable Disclosures on Their Use of AI

Ethical companies do not have to wait for government action. There remain enough unknowns--and there already are many examples of AI producing terrible results in the various forms of hallucinations, inept virtual assistants and bots, fraud and recalcitrant driverless cars—every organization using AI for almost any purpose (Chat or otherwise) should publish a disclosure on their web sites, auditable for any organization with broad impact, that states:

1. What the organization is using AI for, by stakeholder: customer, employee, distribution and supply chain partner, communities, government, etc.
2. What is the primary purpose for using AI at the organization.
3. Who in the organization, if anyone, is monitoring its use and applications, in terms of the company, stakeholder privacy, and unintended consequences.
4. If the organization is conducting research on AI, for what general purpose and who is in charge.
5. What opportunities and risks does the organization believe AI could create for its stakeholders and how it is attempting to enhance the opportunities and reduce the risks.
6. How does the organization authenticate any information it shares or processes.
7. If the organization uses AI to manage client data, how is that data being protected from being inappropriately used for machine-learning purposes or exposed to external systems.  
In addition, social media sites, search engines, and other Internet publishers should disclose whenever they are using any content generated by AI, how it is monitored for accuracy or its sources, and when monitoring this occurs, ie., before or after publication.
They should explain how they validate the information and images they are displaying on their platforms. The disclosure can be included in the organization’s Corporate Sustainability report, which can also include its policies related to speaking out on political and social issues. Click here for the EEA’s policies.
While AI standards probably warrant the force of law, there is no reason to wait for governments to act, as audited disclosures can provide some degree of safe harbor, attorneys advise. Organizations large enough to affect the welfare of customers, employees, and other stakeholders should voluntarily reveal whatever risks and opportunities AI is creating for their stakeholders. Any organization large enough to affect a community through its actions should have their reports independently audited by ethical, qualified practitioners, as will be required of organizations with 250 people or more or with $44 million in sales in the coming years under the European Union Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.
 As many other industries have done in the past, AI leaders on their own should step up to create auditable standards and technological verification processes to help people confirm how information is generated. Note: by requiring verified organizations to clearly disclose their purpose, goals, and objectives, liberty of free expression can be maintained, as the source of libelous or fraudulent information can more easily be identified when abuses occur. Organizations that publish information without verification will automatically have less credibility.

Organizations Should Build Stakeholder Voice Into the Process

Given the concerns about AI, beyond disclosing clear policies, organizations should establish an open process for all stakeholders to express concerns, feedback, or suggestions on the proper use of AI for the benefit of customers, employees, supply chain and distribution partners, and affected communities. The feedback system should specify how the feedback will be used and should include a process to respond promptly to concerns or suggestions. This can also mean including relevant employees in the development of the purpose, goals, and objectives of the AI processes being developed.

AI Will Once and For All Require a New Level of Information Verification on the Internet

The flood of misinformation has become so rampant, the traditional methods of validating and assessing information to determine the nature of its source, if one cares to do so, have become increasingly difficult. AI now requires the technology world to create a system of verification to ensure they know the true source of the information.

AI Will Have Enormous Impact, But How Much on the Unemployment Rate?

Before addressing the many issues of AI, it’s important to put transformation and innovation in perspective. More than ever, media makes money by alarming you to click through to something. I am old enough to have been alarmed by the coming of a new Ice Age thrown about in in my early childhood which obviously shows no signs of happening now; the fear of a domino effect in which communism would rule the world that prompted at least one a tragic war; predictions of nuclear war and of the long-predicted collapse of the dollar that have not yet happened; predictions by major media in the 1970s of colonies on the moon and a world with no oil by 2000; the Internet would destroy jobs etc.—all these big predictions I’ve heard turned out much differently than predicted.
Only a few of the alarming predictions from decades ago are panning out--when scientists predicted more extreme and localized weather events, that ocean waters would rise, and that the world would warm rapidly. (When predictions come true, those who made them generally should receive some deference.)
In terms of innovation and disruption, as a very young man, I watched the linotype printing and then the film business evaporate in publishing with the arrival of desktop computers; the large business forms and slide production businesses go away because of software; records, music tape cassettes and the Sony Walkman, VH1s, CDs and players, etc. come and go (and sometimes come back again); fax machines, pocket cameras, four-hour film processing, and iPods, many lauded as game changers, until they too they came and went. The industry I built my career on—print publishing—was transformed and still hasn't found its way, and yet through the pain I have personally benefited from the disruption. Despite all that innovation, change, and all those jobs lost and lives disrupted, here we are with labor shortages in the US, and I'm still in the publishing business in a way that would never before have been possible. Many individuals surely were hurt along the way, including me, but those who are able or fortunate enough to grasp the opportunities of disruption thrive.
We know that with proper management AI can effectively automate many functions done by people in almost any profession to a disruptive degree by processing enormous quantities of information with the ability to identify correlations more rapidly than would be humanly possible. Beyond that is the capacity to rapidly create content, images, software, web sites, logos, book cover designs, etc. in the time it would have taken weeks or more. We also know that, unlike the Internet, which took nearly a decade to mature because of bandwidth limitations, AI innovations will occur much more rapidly.
Early users of AI also know that is in most cases a tool whose effective use is heavily guided by the person using it. I have tried almost all available services for Chat to create, edit, and find content, and find it of use but still primitive and often dubious or downright wrong. 
What we don’t we really know is whether the ability to automate many manual tasks will permanently deprive millions of employment or create such new potential for productivity and quality that the same thing will happen as with almost every innovation before it: new opportunities will be created far outstripping those that were lost. If the bold prediction of that Columbia University AI expert eight years ago has come true, it doesn’t show up in unemployment numbers. Will the technology eliminate the need for creative people, developers, and legal associates or will it empower them to take their crafts to the next level?

Beware of Hype and Sucker Traps

Every disruption comes with people who seek to profit from it. Just beware of the hype, because with every past transformation has come opportunists who jump from one fad to another now using social media to make you feel you are missing the next best thing and that the train is leaving the station unless you jump aboard with them. You often see these people sharing videos of themselves on stage exhorting you to sign on to their vision--think crypto currency.
Beware also of bright shiny objects and sucker traps. During the dot-com boom, I personally witnessed large companies and their CEOs get ripped off by well hyped technology companies and advisors taking advantage of both the lack of knowledge of senior management and their fear of getting left behind. Yes, almost every organization needs to mobilize a task force to evaluate the application of AI to performance improvement and better stakeholder experiences, but a measure of caution is required: turning to "friends of friends" of insiders for guidance is usually a red flag.

AI is Not the Hal of 2001 a Space Odyssey Unless We Allow it to Be; But Abuse Is Already Rampant

Only people stupid enough to turn over their businesses or lives to a technology that still can’t answer a basic customer service question on the web sites of Fortune 500 companies must worry about the consequences of having their organizations or communities hijacked. AI is a powerful tool with as many disruptive elements as the Internet or more, but it will only dominate humans if we allow it to. On the other hand, the very real fear that AI will be used for disinformation purposes, fraud, or worse, has come to pass. As noted above, the social media sites and search engines will have to come up with means of authenticating information or at least its source for accountability purpose, or no one will believe anything they see online anymore, unless they want to believe it anyway. Surely it will be used by criminals to find suitable marks on social media in a way that will be difficult to stop.
Another serious risk is that companies are using AI before it's ready both because of pressure from the hype and investors and because the system only learns by usage, and the more the better. All the self-driving cars and automated bots and other applications for AI are one grand, frequently annoying and sometimes dangerous experiment on us. Microsoft’s AI platform recently got called out and the company potentially will be sued for the apparently inappropriate placement of a poll based on AI.

The No. 1 logical rule for effective and ethical use of AI use it would appear to me is to verify its functionality or validity before being deployed with a clear monitoring plan, rather than deploying it and waiting until something goes wrong. It appears that many are not following that approach. (The Linkedin AI feature to create posts provides some interesting suggestions, but takes more time than it's worth for this user.) 
Given the degree to which AI is susceptible if even only rarely to hallucinations and bloopers, it requires the same backups and duplicative processes used by everyone from engineers to legitimate publishers to ensure quality control. The ease and speed with which AI spews out results will inevitably lead to complacency, especially because many organizations will turn to lower level employees to monitor it for accuracy when these people might not be qualified to look for the right problems. 

Expect the Inevitable Aggravation and Setbacks Caused by Vaporware

Every related company is so desperate to have a foothold in AI, they are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. So far, my personal experience using any of the popular options feels a little like using the Internet in 1996, when it took an hour to get online to find little of use. Yes, this time with AI, it's easy and the answers come fast and furious but are not so useful when it comes to anything I am knowledgeable about. (Research a subject you know well, and you will be dismayed.) As more people recognize the fallibilities, they will become more cautious, using it as one of other tools to find information or create tools. No doubt it will become better over time—much faster than the Internet evolved--and already it is useful for everyday citizens for brainstorming and composing initial texts, finding information in a more friendly manner, and for more advanced practitioners to automate increasingly complex tasks, with most people recognizing that at best it can only get the user 80% to finding the best answer or solution.

The Disruption Will Be Enormous, But Will it Exceed Past Disruptions in Human Impact?

By automating and enhancing the preliminary information search process, enabling programmers to much more rapidly spin up code or even complete web sites or applications, and artists to ignite, conceptualize, and implement a concept, AI is already significantly improving both productivity and quality of human endeavors—if properly managed by humans dedicated to using it as a tool rather than as the solution. The creative people who just won a strike in Hollywood protecting them from AI surely are already at work figuring out how it can make them even more creative and productive. On the other hand, there is already proof that many companies will use AI to squeeze value out of customers, employees, supply chain and distribution partners, and communities, by finding more subtle ways to take their money or extract resources in other ways.
As with past innovations, AI will enable people to start enterprises that might have required many people and large sums to launch in the past. The process that takes years for drugs to be conceptualized and analyzed for risks undoubtedly will be greatly reduced. Today in the publishing industry, even before the advent of AI, one or two people can start a publication that would have required a team of multiple people and a lot of money to pay for printing and distribution back in the day of print media. These new economies of scale and technology already apply to countless professions because of the enormous gains in productivity due to technology.
By putting such powerful tools into the hands of people who know how to use them wisely, the ability of one person to enhance the value they create is significant. In the same way, as AI enables companies to reduce the number of lower-level people needed to sift through enormous amounts of information, it will in turn enable these same people to be more valuable by mastering the skills required to get the best out of AI through the right query process, along with the ability to sniff out AI hallucinations and falsehoods, just as senior people should check the work of junior people today. 

Assuming productivity, quality, and innovation continue to foster a growing pie, as they have always done in the past, there should continue to be enough wealth to go around. One can even envision ways in which AI can create new opportunities for disabled, mentally impaired, or neuro-divergent and others tragically under-utilized today. 
So, while there will be short-term job losses, just as occurred when so many other professions went away, new ones will emerge. The question is: will AI defy almost all the disruptions before it? Those who promote the hype would have us think so, and with the pace of usage and innovation perhaps faster than any technology before it, it will be a game of cat and mouse as to whether job destruction will outpace job creation.
If I had to guess, and it's at best an educated guess, AI will be a net win in terms of jobs in the long run because of the enormous potential gains in productivity that will free up people to do even more great things, but that there will plenty of pain to go around as has occurred with every major disruption in the past.

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