Navigating AI and Its Impact on Business and Society

By on
Read more about co-authors Jason Foster, James Lupton, and Keith Goldthorpe.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a distant concept – it’s already here, and it’s reshaping the way businesses and society operate. This presents both challenges and opportunities, and as a business leader, your ability to keep up with the intricate world of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence is crucial. Preparation and execution are both critical to navigating AI’s ongoing impact on the world.

Navigating the AI Boom: Utopia or Dystopia?

AI has, of course, seen deep and far-reaching expansion, impacting every business sector and also showing up in the hands (and pockets) of consumers. But is this boom leading us to a utopia or dystopia? Does this incredible technology present a good enough opportunity-to-threat ratio to make it worthwhile? 

Despite its potential for misuse, AI can be a force for good, significantly enhancing productivity and capability. However, its unchecked use could also lead to significant disruption, particularly in the job market, making many roles redundant. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s call for AI regulation highlights the need for guardrails and accountability in the AI sector. But it also raises questions about timing and motives, since regulation, with its high compliance costs, could potentially work as a protective barrier for the biggest players. 

While some see AI leading to a dystopian future, others hold a more optimistic view, focusing on its potential to help solve global problems like hunger and climate change. The way AI is used, either for good or ill, depends heavily on societal, organizational, and governmental choices. The use of AI could potentially transform healthcare, education, and infrastructure if leveraged properly. However, it can also lead to significant disruption if misused or left unchecked. Ultimately, it comes down to how humans direct and interact with AI, and whether they ask the right questions and set the right parameters to avoid harmful outcomes.

This underscores the critical need for thoughtful interaction, regulation, and ethical use when navigating toward a more promising AI-driven future.

AI’s Potential: Catalyst for Change or Catalyst for Division?

The implications of AI, and increasingly generative AI, on our society are immense. Will it be a catalyst for change or create further division?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish human-written text from AI-generated content, for example. The widening divide between those who can afford such tools and those who can’t begs the question, should these technologies be considered utilities, possibly governed by public entities? Another consideration: As more tasks are automated with AI, particularly in the creative and knowledge industries, layoffs could climb, in much the same way that previous technological advancements impacted blue-collar jobs. As AI advances and has an increasing impact on employment, societies may need to consider policies such as universal basic income. 

On the flip side, there is potential for AI to enhance productivity, leading to improved outcomes in numerous sectors. Individuals and organizations need to use these powerful tools responsibly and for the greater good.

The Ethics and Accountability of AI: Who Is Responsible?

Mustafa Suleyman, the co-founder of DeepMind, a company set up to replicate human intelligence, recently advocated for a concept that he called “containment” in his book “The Coming Wave.” He sees containment as a connected set of technical, social, and legal mechanisms that constrain technology to keep control of the most powerful technologies in history, like AI. (This is from a man who became incredibly wealthy and influential from building AI.) But who will be in charge of this containment?

Discussions about the ethics of AI highlight that there is a lack of accountability right now. Who should be responsible for regulating and ensuring ethical use of AI – government, businesses, or individuals?

Businesses and governments are clearly struggling with the ethical responsibilities of using AI. Some have argued that minimum standards, or “guardrails,” for AI usage should be established, perhaps even in the form of legislation, while also recognizing that ethical and moral perspectives can vary greatly between countries and even between government departments and businesses in the same country.

Perhaps governments should set minimum standards for AI usage and companies should be left to make their own rules beyond those minimums, based on their individual ethics and cultures. Maybe we need a central certification body for ethical AI usage, similar to the B Corp certification for businesses. This could be a way to provide an external standard and validation for ethical AI practices. Regardless, there will still need to be individual responsibility and personal accountability when interacting with AI, much as we expect when it comes to safe driving practices. 

The impact of AI on business and society is significant and complex, and it is clear that the questions surrounding its ethical usage and regulation are critical and must be addressed by all stakeholders.

AI Unleashed: Navigating the New Tech Landscape

The reality is that AI has been unleashed and many organizations are already in the thick of AI implementation. The biggest issue right now is the lack of understanding and awareness within the non-technical community about the impact of AI on society. There is not enough advocacy for education around AI, not just for those directly involved in its implementation, but also for the wider society. Education will help society cope with the rapid changes brought about by AI. Recent calls by Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak to pause AI development for six months highlight this point. However, given the ongoing economic and intellectual competition in the field of AI, it’s unlikely this will happen. So, it’s important for leaders to educate themselves about AI, given its wide-reaching implications. 

In Summary

As a data leader, while you may not be able to control everything, you can do some things to have an immediate impact when navigating AI:

  1. Set policies and guidance for your teams and continue to update them to reflect the rapidly changing nature of AI. 
  2. Educate yourself and your colleagues.
  3. Look ahead. AI will be disruptive, so it is imperative to think about how it will impact your company.