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In a recent Fireside Chat, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nigel Vaz, the visionary CEO of Publicis Sapient, to delve into the burgeoning world of generative AI (GenAI) and its profound implications for the business landscape and the broader world at large. As we unpacked the complexities and potential of AI, Nigel’s dual sense of excitement and caution resonated with the current sentiment in our industry, as the GenAI hype and fear are reaching a fever pitch. Companies like Publicis Sapient are thoughtfully leading the GenAI charge by developing toolsets and talent, evolving their mindsets to embrace a culture of learning and unlearning, and being mindful of the risks and downsides so they can help their clients do the same.
From predictive to generative: GenAI is enabling a new wave of creativity to drive business transformation
Nigel’s enthusiasm was palpable as he described how GenAI goes beyond traditional predictive AI—potential outcomes based on data—and adds creation. This means, Nigel says, you get a powerful combination of decision-making and creativity, which will be a powerful catalyst for enterprise transformation. It could dramatically affect enterprise efficiency and growth, particularly how companies create new products, services, and experiences.
His excitement is tempered by a healthy dose of anxiousness fueled by ethical and regulatory issues and concerns related to how companies think through re-inventing business in the context of GenAI. Much like the advent of the internet and the mobile and social waves that followed, enterprises won’t get everything right with GenAI right off the bat. It’s creating a need to consider the risks and downsides as companies examine how this will play out within their organizations.
GenAI is here and now, and production at scale is on the horizon
At HFS, we’re cutting through the GenAI noise to understand what action is truly happening and what’s hype. Nigel tells us the difference between now and one to two years out is seeing GenAI move from primarily experimentation and prototyping to production at scale. He currently sees very real GenAI progress, particularly in content generation, software development, language translation, data augmentation, chatbots and conversational AI, and product design. These experiments are becoming increasingly optimized, meaning that proofs of concept get into production much faster. For example, in data augmentation, synthetic data based on an organization’s internal inferences can be used to train AI models to eliminate problems inherent in generic language models, meaning they can move to prototyping much faster. Publicis’ software developers now have tools such as a proprietary code library for all to contribute, significantly speeding up coding time. All of this means we’ll have a greater scale of GenAI examples in production at an increased level of scale in the not-too-distant future.
Perpetual evolution requires constant learning
To embrace these new tools and ways of working, Nigel urges a culture of perpetual evolution within organizations. Leaders must champion a cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning to stay relevant. The strategic vision is paramount, but so is the seamless integration of AI into the business fabric. It’s about preparing for an AI-infused future where technology and strategy dance in lockstep. From a talent standpoint, everyone needs to learn the tools, accept that the tools are constantly changing, and get ready to learn again. Taking pride in being able to adopt new tools and learn quickly versus having knowledge is a cultural mindset shift. As Nigel says, Gen AI demands people who are “learn-it-alls” rather than “know-it-alls.”
So, how do you influence your people’s mindsets to embrace change? First, says Nigel, it is important to look at GenAI in the light of digital transformation, which means it is about way more than implementing new technology. You have to start with a vision of how you want things to look in the future to re-imagine how your business looks in the context of Gen AI.
This clear vision, which Nigel likens to a “North Star,” must be clearly articulated to employees so that they have the impetus to develop a common set of platforms and toolkits for people to experiment with. Publicis Sapient is creating these “sandboxes” of platforms and toolkits while being clear about the priority focus areas. The goal is to create a culture that embraces iterations as technology advances and goals and outcomes are achieved or missed. This is a constant evolution without a beginning or an end. At Sapient, Nigel and his team know that if they don’t embrace this change in mindsets and way of working themselves and embody the transformation, they won’t be able to help clients do the same.
Developing the right strategies to mitigate ethics, data privacy, and security risks is critical to success
While it’s easy to get excited about potential opportunities and cultural shifts GenAI offers, the risks are very real. Not having a robust strategy to evaluate and address these risks is a recipe for failure or even disaster. Ultimately, we must control AI in a way that is responsible, fair, and aligned with societal values. Nigel outlined the following key issues to consider:
- Develop oversight and understanding of ethical and legal considerations. Companies need a framework to think about data privacy and security to address data protection regulations and ensure responsible AI guidelines and transparency in decision-making. This is a fundamental cornerstone for a safe and effective AI strategy.
- Think about data in the context of bias and fairness. There’s a big issue around bias and fairness because the training models rely on potentially biased data. Particularly for hiring or bank lending, it’s essential to consider the implications for potential bias and carefully examine the training data for potential bias to eliminate it.
- Enable transparency in AI systems. The “black box” nature of some AI systems can make it difficult to understand their decision-making processes. Ensuring transparency in AI models is essential for accountability, regulatory compliance, and ensuring you are building on datasets you want to propagate versus potentially biased data to avoid.
The future of tech and humanity is a platform effect fueled by increased computing power.
While GenAI is a transformative tool, like many other emerging technologies we’ve seen, it is only optimized in combination with other tech; Nigel sees an emerging “platform” effect. Technology such as 5G, cloud, and big data act as one layer of the platform, building on the internet and mobility, and now GenAI is an added layer for greater value. He predicts that the third wave to further expand AI to its full potential will be exponentially greater computing power, such as quantum. Adding this tremendous power will allow us to process and train models significantly faster, enabling changes such as the ability to focus on bigger problems, develop hyper-real augmented environments, and advance physical robotic capabilities.
Nigel’s future view of the platform effect is very optimistic for humanity in general; first, he mentions the increased ability to tackle big planetary and social issues like climate change and food security. He also thinks the platform will supercharge virtual and augmented reality, characterized by a significant increase in immersiveness and interactiveness, making the distinction between physical and digital experiences increasingly seamless. Lastly, he anticipates advancements in robotics and automation to extend the digital automation we’ve seen into the physical world, overcoming current physical technological limitations.
The Bottom-Line: Design your future state “North Star” and align your firm to navigate to it efficiently
Inevitably, GenAI’s evolution will not just change business; it will change how we live and work. It could also significantly impact our lives and the planet, but we have to shift our mindsets and be wary of the pitfalls to get it right. GenAI has ushered in the potential for us to become more efficient—and more creative and impactful. Nigel reminds us that we must develop a culture that embraces adopting new and changing tools, applies that new knowledge appropriately to realize the “North Star” vision, and remains willing to evolve once we get there.