In January, we introduced our 2023 Strategic Agenda based on in-depth conversations with top CSOs in our Outthinker Strategy Network. We will be expanding on one of these trends every week with the intention of supporting your organization’s strategy for the next year and beyond. This is our second installment.
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One of the joys of parenting is that it offers a glimpse into the future. Our kids are using the technologies and platforms, adopting mindsets and habits, that will become familiar to us years from now.
For example, when my family and I returned from vacation a few weeks ago, my son completed a school assignment in a way entirely alien to approaches my wife and I grew up with – an approach that could foretell the future of work and creativity and AI.
Strategic parenting in the days of generative AI
We had pulled our kids out of school a week early for a three-week trip to Qatar for the World Cup and then to Bangladesh to visit their grandmother. Back home, with a few days until classes began again, my 7th grade son, Makar, was working through a list of make-up assignments, including five poems he needed to write for his English class. When he showed “his work” to my wife and me, it was clear that the words were not his. He admitted to having used ChatGPT to rush through the assignment.
If the news of the past few weeks hasn’t caught up to you, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence model developed by the company OpenAI that answers questions in a conversational manner. It can learn, provide detailed responses, and answer just about any academic question in a well-organized way.
Of course, as parents, our first reaction was to object. My wife and I value learning above just about anything else.
“What would your grandfather say?!” I asked him in disbelief at the thought of my late father, a University of Pennsylvania tenured professor of communication, reading the AI-generated poetry.
Proximity technologies alter our everyday lives
As artificial intelligence arrives to the mainstream, educators and parents will be forced to reckon with new tools available to our children. The technologies are part of a bigger strategic trend impacting our lifestyles and industries – a trend that Rob Wolcott, co-founder of The World Innovation Network (TWIN) and my co-author for an upcoming book, calls proximity.
Companies are using digital technologies to push the production and provision of products and services ever closer to the moment they are demanded in time and space. In the realm of access to information and knowledge, that looks like ChatGPT (or competitors like Google’s Bard and Baidu’s Ernie Bot.)
The availability of such tools is rapidly expanding. They may still make mistakes and reveal glimpses of not being exactly human, but they are already coming remarkably close. The first instinct is to reject them, mistrust them, ban them outright.
But they are here, and technologists and investors don’t seem to be locking them back in the vault anytime soon; Microsoft aims to invest $10 billion in OpenAI, and venture capitalists have increased investment in generative AI by 425% since 2020. With the popularity of ChatGPT on the rise and this week’s OpenAI announcement of a $20 per month subscription to guarantee access to the service at peak times, total societal rejection seems unlikely.
Expanded potential for human and machine collaboration
The next reasonable solution is that we might adapt to incorporate these generative AI technologies into our lives. Throughout our human evolution, tools have made us more effective and cleared up brain space for further advancement. The abacus extended the capacity of our working memory. Teachers who warned students of becoming too reliant on calculators for simple math are proven wrong when today we in fact do all have calculators in our back pockets at almost any time.
As strategists, we must move away from the black and white argument of machines as good or bad and the conflict between humans or machines to complete tasks. This will hold us and our companies back and cloud our vision for a further evolved future that combines the utmost capacity of humans and machines working together.
I interviewed Tony O’Driscoll, professor and research fellow at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Pratt School of Engineering, on the possibilities for combining humanity and technology. He told the story of AlphaGo, the first computer to beat a professional human player at the abstract strategy board game Go.
The machine played against itself for about an hour, learning the rules and strategies that humans have practiced and studied for 4,000 years. In the game, the machine intelligence made a move – fully legal and within the boundaries of the rules – that no human had ever conceived of, thus winning the game. According to O’Driscoll, instead of turning our backs on the technology, we’ll learn to leverage its capabilities and affordances to do things we previously thought impossible.
Another thought leader rewriting the human vs. machine story is Michael Schrage, from MIT Sloan School’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. He says we’ll never fully trust AI to tell us what to do. Instead, we’ll learn to lean on machines as recommendation engines that offer suggestions based on our data and the history of our past choices. We do this already, using our phones to suggest a restaurant for dinner tonight.
But Schrage’s view accounts for increased complexity, for the multiple versions of ourselves — where I eat with my family might not be where I host a business dinner, which may not be where I grab a quick bite by myself, for example. AI and machine learning-fueled recommendation engines will have an understanding of these different characteristics of who we are, and even more who we want to become.
Proximity’s digital technologies will not be limited to manufacturing and delivering products and services. They will infiltrate every walk of life, as we are realizing through the expanding use of ChatGPT and other generative AI technologies.
For fun and the purpose of this article, I checked with the software for advice on parenting a teenager. Here’s what I learned:
- Encourage open and honest communication: Luckily, my son was honest with my wife and me about using AI technology to complete the assignment.
- Allow your teenager to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions: The jury is out on this one, but we decided to give him another chance to rewrite the assignment.
- Set clear and consistent boundaries: We established that cheating and copying another’s work, human or machine, is not allowed. However, in his next attempt, he didn’t need to throw out what the AI had written. We suggested instead that he use it as a template to structure his poem.
- Show empathy and understanding: It wouldn’t be fair for me to interview thought leaders daily about advanced technologies only to come home to forbid them in our household. I tried to be empathetic to the fact that perhaps advanced technologies might help make Makar’s work even better.
- Provide emotional and practical support: We were all tired from traveling and it would take effort to complete the assignment on his own. We waited patiently to see if he could leverage the generated poems to enhance his work.
- Lead by example: My wife and I try to do this every day, by highlighting the power of learning, and at the same time embracing new tools and technologies to work more efficiently.
- Offer encouragement and praise: Researchers have noted that providing restraints can boost creativity. For Makar, the blank page and an open assignment to come up with five poems was intimidating. But once he had a few examples of what a poem should look and sound like, he took off running. I believe that what he ultimately produced was made stronger by the fact that he had seen some structure to direct his creative thinking. I’m proud that he was able to turn in the assignment on time and in his own words, bolstered by a new type of support that he may have access to for the rest of his life.
When new technologies arrive, we are given a choice to fear and reject them, or to embrace and learn to use them. Proximity research advises us that we can leverage them to distribute sensing to new information, data, and analytics—in business to produce and deliver goods and services ever faster, and in life to make ever better decisions for every version of ourselves.
What trends are on the minds of the Outthinker Strategy Network’s chief strategy officers? Find out here: 2023 Strategic Agenda.
Image created with DALL·E, an AI system by OpenAI