The lack of ethics in enterprise AI and intelligent automation

July 30, 2015 | Phil Fersht

A raft of luminaries ranging from Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak to the figureheads of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Facebook and Google, Yann LeCun and Demis Hassabis, have signed a petition warning of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” and calling for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons.”

Meanwhile, among the developer community, the discussion on the ethics and ramifications of AI has been as intense as it has been far reaching. Yet in the discussions around the notions of RPA and process automation, the issue of ethics and the impact on the future of work are (still) largely absent.

A dichotomy of ethics is in play:  Outsourcing is viewed as somewhat evil, while labor elimination via technology is barely an afterthought

One main observation we, at HfS, are beginning to notice is that many enterprise clients are showing an increasing willingness to invest in technology-based (rather than people-based) solutions. You only have to revisit our Value Beyond Cost study, which we ran with KPMG earlier this year, where we asked 168 senior executives about the priorities of their C-Suites with their operations:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

What is startlingly apparent here, beyond the fact that well over 90% of C-Suite directives are obsessed with cost and flexible services as operational priorities, is that less than half (48%) view improving their operational talent as important, 65% are exploring efforts to restrict the recruitment of labor where possible, and 62% are looking, with varying levels of interest, at automation and robotics with the specific purpose of reducing their reliance on labor. The bottom line here is very clear—C-Suites are caring less and less about their people, and more and more about their services.

The big question many enterprises are facing now is not whether to invest heavily in their people. Rather, it is whether to invest in technology to replace staff or use outsourcing partners to reduce the burden of inhouse staffing cost, while improving their access to flexible services. Many enterprises are exploring a combination of the two, or merely leveraging an outsourcer which is using robotics on itself and is willing to pass on the benefits to its clients desperate to move from a legacy labor-centric operational infrastructure.

Suffice it to say, within the context of process automation, the arguments are contingent on the points of view as to the validity of the various approaches and on the assessment on timelines for reaching maturity. Ananth Krishnan, CTO of TCS, offered food for thought at a recent conference where he outlined that in 5 to 10 years’ time we need HR policies for (software) robots. Despite the mainstream narrative that—through the implementation of RPA robots will replace FTEs—Krishnan’s argument was decidedly more thoughtful. In the medium term, future software robots will be a blended reality in the back-office. Therefore, HR policies among other issues need to proactively deal with this development. And crucially, he has started to engage with this stakeholders around these challenges.

While in the context of RPA and Autonomics, the narrative is maturing and we appear to be moving toward emphasizing transformation over simplistic arguments of replacing FTEs, we urgently need to follow the broader developer community and discuss the implications of these approaches. Whether we call it “ethics” or something else is largely semantics. What is completely lacking is how these approaches will impact the future of work.

The Bottom-line: We need to talk more openly about the future governance of artificially intelligent environments

Robotics vendors and service providers need to engage with clients around how all these disruptive approaches will affect talent management as well as organizational structures. Even without apocalyptic scenarios, many job functions are likely to either disappear or be significantly diminished. Equally, we need to talk about governance of these new environments, touching upon ethical but also practical issues. This is not only a necessity for the broader adoption, but also offers high value opportunities.

You can download the POV on this topic, authored by HfS analysts Tom Reuner and Phil Fersht, here.

Posted in: Analytics and Big DataBusiness Process Outsourcing (BPO)Buyers' Sourcing Best Practices

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1 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Durgesh
    Posted Jul 30, 2015 11:50 AM | Permalink Reply

    Interesting topic Phil.

    I don’t think it’s something new. Robots have been replacing human workers since the start of industrial revolution. Examples from beginning when Power looms replaced weavers to more recent ones when banking software replaced thousands of clerical jobs. And the debate has been going on without any easy answers. If you dig up the issue further, the debate involves capitalism, socialism and overall objective of economical development.

  2. Staffing Solutions Enterprises Facebook | Renewable Energy Solutions
    Posted Sep 19, 2015 01:07 AM | Permalink Reply

    […] The lack of ethics in enterprise AI and intelligent automation – A raft of luminaries ranging from Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak to the figureheads of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Facebook … the burden of inhouse staffing cost, while improving their access to flexible services. […]

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