Future-Proof Your Leadership: Embrace AI and Emerging Tech

That Artificial Intelligence has been making a splash this year is undeniable. In an era where technological advancements are often keenly anticipated, the relatively rapid recent advancements in generative AI are eliciting a much more mixed – and emotional – response, sparking excitement and anxiety in equal measure.
Diane Nowell
Oct 06, 2023

Forward-thinking leaders are already aware of AI’s potential to impact the world of work – even if estimating the ultimate scale and extent of this disruption may lie beyond most people’s predictive powers. What’s clear is that most organisations will need to help their teams adapt and reskill in the here and now, as well as navigating the longer-term risks and opportunities.

But there’s a bigger conversation to be had, too: how will AI impact humanity? Should we view it as a force for good or a harbinger of decline? Is it possible to use AI not to replace human endeavour but to foster greater and more productive collaborations between humans and technology?

It’s a question we put to panellists at a recent Headspring event focusing on the impact and implications of AI in the modern workplace, moderated by Financial Times columnist Jemima Kelly.

A case for cautious optimism?

The panel broadly agreed that AI could be both a threat and an opportunity, depending on how it was deployed.

Piyali Mitra is a non-executive director at the University of Nottingham and a senior leader in strategy, investments and transformation in financial services.

‘We’re probably still thinking about what AI can do in terms that are too narrow. If we consider the impact of the smartphone, we’re not just looking at the how the tech has transformed individual tasks but at how pervasive it’s been in the way we live our lives.

‘It’s the same with AI. What we perceive right now are the operational efficiencies that can, for example, augment customer services; we can see those use cases which look at reduction of cost.

‘But I do think there is a whole host of second-, third- and fourth-order business models that will emerge as data quality and integrity gets better.’

Simon Barna, Programme Director, BT Group, believes that although AI is already returning operational efficiencies, greater potential benefits can’t yet be quantified – and possibly won’t be realised unless the technology makes further incremental advances.

‘AI can’t yet strategise. It’s completely dependent on data sets and use cases. Which means that while it can be highly productive in a narrowly defined field, it can’t think like a human. Those transformative applications are still in the future.’

Panellists’ overall optimism was tempered by the difficulties around regulating AI-led decision making.

Piyali: ‘Regulation could have an important part to play in verifying the decision-making process – especially when it comes to environments such as healthcare. AI’s success in complex areas may rely on the implementation of effective controls and guardrails.’

Applying workable regulations – and appointing appropriate regulatory bodies – may be tricky, though.

Alberto Levy is an associate professor and startup mentor at IE Business School.

‘Who’s going to regulate? Will it be a governmental responsibility? A multidisciplinary team? It won’t be easy, but humans will have to deal with these challenges or risk losing control over our own future.’

Expanding the scope of human contribution

In a world where AI interventions become commonplace, how humans (re)define their own existence will be crucial.

Much of the current anxiety likely stems from a common belief in the corporate world that we are ‘only worth what we know’. When humans no longer gatekeep the knowledge, will there be a resurging value in what we think of as peculiarly human virtues? How will we survive and thrive in the future?

Cristina Criddle is a technology reporter for the Financial Times.

‘The fact is that humans designed AI and we still have the ability to shape its role in society and in our lives and businesses.

‘While it’s natural to think about the broader existential questions, I think it’s actually more productive to look at where we are and how this technology can be useful right now.’

Alberto acknowledges that while we need to embrace new technology, we also need the human intelligence to optimise its benefits.

‘I’m seeing this amazing transformation, a moment in time that’s a great opportunity for us human beings.

‘Absolutely, life and work will change, not only in processes, but in the way we think, the way we work and the way we spend our free time.

‘The modern education system focuses on specialised, siloed learning based on competition. In the future, we will need to value human skills, rather than training for jobs that will disappear – to promote a ‘human renaissance’ in the era of AI.’

Cristina agrees that this AI-influenced skills adjustment will inform both what and how we learn.

‘Considering reskilling strategies will require a lot of personalised thinking within the organisation.

‘We don’t yet know the extent of AI’s impact, but we know – at least with generative AI tools – where the strengths currently lie. So, when you’re thinking about training, it’s not just about how to use AI in your specific application. It’s also, what part of your job can AI not do? And how can I get better at that?’

Taking responsibility

If we accept that the ‘AI monster’ is out of the box, issues around the thorny issue of accountability must be considered. Should the corporate leader simply focus on the immediate opportunities for profit or try to grapple with its wider social impact?

Some leaders will feel their main responsibility is towards their shareholders and that using AI to reduce their cost base or improve the speed of production in the short term is essential.

Simon: ‘I’d like to see how this impacts the established monolithic organisational model. As a leader, you always have to see how you can apply it to achieve your goals – generating operational efficiencies, managing your software transformation and making your workforce more resilient.’

But there’s a broader case for widening the scope of responsibility to ensure boards are held accountable for decisions that affect the communities in which they operate. Some might say that CEOs have a duty to think beyond the normal borders of businesses.

There are no clear answers for leaders, but it is crucial that we keep talking about the philosophical, corporate and individual implications for everyone.

Alberto: ‘Now we have these very powerful tools, we need even greater accountability; in fact, we need go back to the human basics of education and ethics.

‘Ironically, in the era of AI, there’s an even greater need to be human.’


Diane Nowell

Writer and communications consultant