By Akua Sencherey, Senior Product Marketing Manager
The Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo in Orlando and Barcelona drew more than 15,000 CIOs and Senior Corporate IT leaders from all over the world, engaging in content-rich sessions, intimate roundtables, networking, and analyst interactions. The event did not disappoint in the quality and depth of insight focused on artificial intelligence (AI) ambition, readiness, governance, and how to build an adaptive workforce. As a Product Marketer, I had a specific goal in attending - to better understand how CIOs are deciding how best to invest their time and resources in shaping the future of AI for their organization.
Re-evaluating the human-machine relationship
The conference kicked off with an opening keynote, “The Next Era - We Shape AI, AI Shapes Us,” highlighting Gartner’s advice about where to focus to unleash the power of AI. Mary Mesaglio, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner, and Gabriela Vogel, Sr. Director Analyst at Gartner, urged the crowd to think more critically about the human-machine relationship and how it has impacted the way we work. It’s not new that machines have done the work of our teachers, therapists, coaches, even friends, but the increasing nature of AI in the workplace – as a teammate, as a boss, even as a customer – shifted my view of what machines have become.
An example from an MIT study on social robots helps to paint the picture of this “relationship” embodied more clearly. In 2021, Dr. Kate Darling, Robot Ethicists and Research Scientist at the MIT Media Lab, conducted a workshop on “Harming and Protecting Robots” in Geneva, Switzerland. Five baby dinosaur robots were given to five groups of people to name, play with and interact with, even having a fashion show with the dinosaurs to personify them. After about an hour, the groups were told to torture and kill the robots with toy hammers. The researchers thought the participants would be split in their decision, but it was unanimous that no one wanted to even hit the baby robot dinosaurs. The participants' reluctance to harm the robot dinosaurs, despite their mechanical nature, shows a deep, albeit quickly formed, emotional connection and humanization of machines.
Dr. Kate Darling has showcased similar examples in workplace settings. For instance, at a Japanese manufacturing company, employees participate in morning stretches before starting their assembly line work. Interestingly, robots on the assembly line are programmed to join in these exercises to include them in the routine and position them more as colleagues in the eyes of their human counterparts.
These examples, revealing our treatment of machines as human-like despite knowing they are not, helped make a clear connection with the complex and evolving human-machine relationship. Machines can increasingly supplement, rather than replace, human skills and relationships.
The AI Imperative for IT Leaders: Identifying AI Ambition
This exploration of the human-machine dynamic in the realm of robotics, provides a foundational context for the opportunities and challenges that exist for IT leaders as they navigate decisions about AI in their organization.
On the side of opportunities, Mesaglio and Vogel, Analysts at Gartner, posed two types of AI ambition: everyday AI focused on productivity and game-changing AI focused on creativity.
Everyday AI leverages machines as a productivity partner, often using existing budgets to make back and front office operations more efficient with AI tools. This tends to have an internal benefit, like when AI is used by software engineers to write better code faster, and external benefit, like when a content team uses gen AI to create content in minutes. My favorite example of everyday AI is from a company called Be My Eyes, as they introduced Be My AI. The feature allows you to take a picture using the Be My Eyes App and gives you a detailed description about the picture, allowing you to chat and ask Be My AI further questions to get more information. One interesting use case is taking a picture of your refrigerator and asking the app how the ingredients in the fridge can be used to make a meal on their own.
Gartner reports 77% of global CIOs and tech leaders are focused on the opportunities of everyday AI, though Mesaglio notes that it won’t create a sustained competitive advantage, “Everyone will have access to the same tools… Everyday AI is the new table stakes.” The gains of everyday AI are apparent for you, but will also be apparent for everyone else.
Game-changing AI is primarily about creativity, where core capabilities will be reinvented and whole new products and services will be created, often reshaping entire industries. A noteworthy example of game changing AI shared was about Insilico Medicine’s Pharma.ai based in Hong Kong. They essentially accelerated drug discovery without being one of the big name pharmaceutical players in the game. On average big pharma companies nominate 4 or 5 new drugs per year and Pharma.ai was able to nominate 9 drugs just last year. They identified target diseases, generated new molecules, and predicted clinical trial outcomes. Gartner predicts that by 2025 more than 30% of new drugs and materials will be discovered using Gen AI.
The tough endeavor with game changing AI is that it takes high risk tolerance, executive patience, and resources, aka lots of money. Additionally, it takes more than just the IT department to deliver on game changing AI, but the work of the entire organization. CIOs have a unique role in helping to guide the conversations around how AI will be used in their organization. They’ll begin to field questions like: Will AI drive us out of business? What is our risk reward appetite? Do we have the resources needed?
With 74% of CIOs planning to increase their investments in AI in 2024 and 80% of tech executives planning to fully adopt GenAI within three years, it’s clear that CIOs will need to have a perspective on the answers to these questions and fast.
Even in an AI world, it's all about the people
Though complex, the question of finding the right tech resources to staff your team has become an interesting one. The technical skills gap is growing and, in fact, 78% of CEOs surveyed by Gartner believe talent scarcity is reaching crisis proportions. While I’ve outlined the CIOs imperative to address how AI will be invested in and adopted at their organization, AI also presents a unique solution in the form of being or supporting the humans on the job.
Helen Poitevin, VP of Research at Gartner, put into pragmatic terms how IT leaders can plan for a workforce that leverages both AI and human capacity in her session titled, “AI and the Future of Work”.
Poitevin started by calming our nerves, demystifying the impact of AI on work. There’s a myth that whoever does the work better - humans vs. AI - will be assigned the work. In 2023, there were instances where even when ChatGPT didn’t perform as well as a copywriter, e.g. “hallucinations” and lack of citations, the technology would still win over a human getting the task. In most cases, humans will choose AI even if AI is faulty at doing a task. There’s a myth that we can predict future jobs by analyzing the tasks that go to humans vs to AI. This fails to take into account how quickly jobs change and that today’s skills and roles don't tell us about tomorrow’s needs. The final myth, which I think is the most enlightening is that we will manage a human and bot workforce where bots are included in payroll and org charts. Poitevin’s perspective is that AI will take many shapes and play many roles and we’ll likely not identify bots as our co-workers.
What brought everything together for me was the importance of focusing on the AI ambition CIOs choose - whether everyday or game changing AI - and the impact that business direction will have on jobs. If a company is operating within boundaries, they’re focusing on operating better, and AI will largely take tasks away from workers. Poitevin warns that taking so many tasks away from employees may break down the organizational structure and team cohesion. If a company is pushing boundaries in everyday AI, new ways of operating may necessitate configuring roles differently and developing work patterns that weren’t anticipated before. Jobs and tasks will have to be reworked. When a company is breaking boundaries, similar to game changing AI scenarios, they’re charting new territory like finding completely new materials to work with and AI is helping discover new ways of working.
Poitevin emphasized, "More important than what AI can do is how we choose to use it. We might choose AI even if humans do it better, and vice versa."
In short, Poitevin’s advice is to optimize your organization's AI investment strategy, begin by mapping out the current AI investments across different teams, with a focus on those making significant contributions, such as IT. This mapping should include a comprehensive view of the investment portfolio in relation to the overall business context and demand volumes. It's crucial to anticipate unique talent challenges specific to each context and prepare for them. Additionally, establish a proactive plan to identify the pivotal moments when collaboration with HR becomes essential to either redesign or completely overhaul roles to align with evolving AI-driven needs and objectives.
The insights reveal that CIOs can strategically plan their AI-driven workforce by aligning technology investments with evolving human resource needs and anticipating future talent challenges. For a product marketer like me, this highlights the importance of offering adaptable, holistic solutions that support both current and future organizational needs in the context of AI integration.
Embracing the Future of Human-AI Collaboration
As the symposium concluded, it became evident that the journey into the AI-driven future is both challenging and exhilarating for IT leaders. Throughout the sessions, a recurring theme was the immense responsibility shouldered by CIOs in leading their organizations through times of change. I have a new level of respect for these leaders as they make pivotal decisions about AI investments while managing risks and orchestrating a workforce that combines human ingenuity with AI efficiency. As AI continues to reshape our professional landscape, the real game-changer will be the strategic, thoughtful, and human-centric approach IT leaders adopt in integrating this technology into the very fabric of their organizations.
I’m newly inspired from the sessions and conversations about talent agility at our exhibitor booth to continue to listen and learn to better connect the dots about how Andela can be a solution partner. Our mission is to connect brilliance with opportunity, so everyone wins. By aligning with Andela, companies can strategically build their tech teams and navigate the complexities of AI integration and innovation to set themselves apart in an ever-changing market.
If you are interested in learning more about embracing adaptive talent strategies with Andela, get started here.
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