A Better Way to Onboard AI

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

In a 2018 Workforce Institute survey of 3,000 managers across eight industrialized nations, the majority of respondents described artificial intelligence as a valuable productivity tool.

It’s easy to see why: AI brings tangible benefits in processing speed, accuracy, and consistency (machines don’t make mistakes because they’re tired), which is why many professionals now rely on it. Some medical specialists, for example, use AI tools to help make diagnoses and decisions about treatment.

But respondents to that survey also expressed fears that AI would take their jobs. They are not alone. The Guardian recently reported that more than 6 million workers in the UK fear being replaced by machines. These fears are echoed by academics and executives we meet at conferences and seminars. AI’s advantages can be cast in a much darker light: Why would humans be needed when machines can do a better job?

The prevalence of such fears suggests that organizations looking to reap the benefits of AI need to be careful when introducing it to the people expected to work with it. Andrew Wilson, until January 2020 Accenture’s CIO, says, “The greater the degree of organizational focus on people helping AI, and AI helping people, the greater the value achieved.” Accenture has found that when companies make it clear that they are using AI to help people rather than to replace them, they significantly outperform companies that don’t set that objective (or are unclear about their AI goals) along most dimensions of managerial productivity—notably speed, scalability, and effectiveness of decision-making.

In other words, just as when new talent joins a team, AI must be set up to succeed rather than to fail. A smart employer trains new hires by giving them simple tasks that build hands-on experience in a noncritical context and assigns them mentors to offer help and advice. This allows the newcomers to learn while others focus on higher-value tasks. As they gain experience and demonstrate that they can do the job, their mentors increasingly rely on them as sounding boards and entrust them with more-substantive decisions. Over time an apprentice becomes a partner, contributing skills and insight.

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