Primary role of Artificial Intelligence is to abet workers and not to replace them, says Ashok K Laha

There are diverse views on Artificial Intelligence, one emanates from a threat perception and the other perceives it as a panacea for all. AI is there to stay. But the primary role is to abet workers’ efforts to deliver excellent experience and not to replace those workers. Therefore, leaders must accept that uncertainty will surface on the path toward understanding and applying AI, says Ashok K Laha, President and COO, Interra Information Technologies Inc., and Former President of Indo American Chamber of Commerce. In a free-wheeling chat with the Editor of The News Hour India, Jayashankar Menon, he dispels all the cloud of darkness that is gripping the Artificial Intelligence arena and explains in a nutshell, whether AI is hype or real. InterraIT has been a leader in the Information Technology Industry since its founding in 1996. The company is a Global Software Services organisation that delivers innovative business and technology solutions to Fortune 1000 companies. Headquartered in California, InterraIT is the largest privately held offshore consulting company with operations in India. The company offers a comprehensive portfolio of IT and IT-enabled services with a distinct focus on providing product engineering services, ERP solutions, web-based custom enterprise applications and mobile application development. Having worked with customers from varied industries in over the last 13 years, the company consciously aligned itself with specific industry verticals which include Telecom, Retail, Financial Services, Logistics and Independent Software Vendors (ISV). This has helped InterraIT in developing tremendous domain specific knowledge and subject matter expertise resulting the ability to deliver in delivering innovative solutions and enhanced business value for its customers. Excerpts from the Interview:

TNHI: How do you foresee the growth of AI?

AKL: One has to be circumspect while analysing the pros and cons of intelligent technologies. Undoubtedly, AI can replace many jobs that are being done by the human beings. Sectors like banking, insurance, software development and similar type of jobs, which employ millions of people across geographies can be the first causalities of AI. A robot fitted with right configurations or Internet of Things or Machine Learning etc. have the potential to replace jobs in millions. AI also gives innumerable benefits in healthcare, education, carrying out hazardous works in places like mines, accident prone areas etc. Let us take a living example. Every year, we hear many lives are lost while cleaning the sewerage in Delhi. We assign such hazardous work to robots or machines configured to carry out such works?  What I am driving at is scientifically AI will be able to give us the best results. But we cannot ignore its social impact in replacing employment, particularly in countries like India, China and Africa, where there are teeming millions to be employed productively.

TNHI: What will help leaders to manage adoption of AI with clarity?

AKL:       Think holistically about opportunities across the value chain, and P&L

Leaders discover new revenue streams and increased profitability. They reap greater rewards via inter- industry collaborations, such as retailers, telecommunication companies, banks, IT companies.

Make diversity a priority beyond gender and race: It links to the ability to attract top talent and greater profitability.

Over communicate the change: Employee adoption of new analytics tools will create fear of losing jobs to robotics.  The leaders must communicate why AI is important to company goals and how it will augment employees’ work.  Nothing will beat a dedicated workforce and a commitment to high-quality service or products.

Empower decision making: The traditional hierarchical approaches are becoming obsolete and are replaced by “Individualised Corporation”.  Leaders should view themselves as architects, creating a comprehensive plan while empowering decision-making.

Internalise the technology: I believe that machines will not replace humans:  it will augment our intellectual reach, as happened in the past when personal computers were adopted by enterprise.  Where Humans are better than AI and vice versa, need to be clearly articulated.

Make data security as a part of habit and culture: Information Systems Security group must provide pertinent training to employees so that they can understand the importance of data security

Create a learning culture: Data does not provide the answer, but provides a valuable feedback mechanism for continued learning and improvement.

TNHI: What is our level of preparedness? 

AKL:  In India we have started thinking about intelligent technologies much ahead of most of the countries. Yet, we are far behind the US, Russia, China and some of the Scandinavian countries. China’s stated policy is to become the world leader in AI, semi-conductors and intelligent technologies. Many attribute the trade war between the US and China to their efforts to become intelligent technology leaders. Recently, some of the large multinational corporations like Amazon, Walmart, Boeing have launched a plan to recruit people from IITs, IIMs, NITs etc. to train them on AI, robotics, IOTs, Big Data, Machine Learning etc. since these corporations will be heavily dependent on automation. IIT Delhi, I read the other day is launching a certificate course in AI. I am sure many engineering colleges, management schools, corporate and government bodies in future will give a lot of importance to intelligent technologies.

TNHI: Does AI create the potential to create high value jobs?

AKL: According to a Capgemini report, 83% of firms that have implemented AI said that it has led to the creation of new jobs within their companies. As part of their AI investments, 71% of those surveyed said they had invested in re-training initiatives to ready their employees for utilising the AI tools. In my viewpoint, in economic terms, automation will either lower prices, which makes its products more appealing or create an increased demand that may lead to the need for more workers or generate more profit or pay higher wages. This may lead to increased investment or increased consumption, which can also lead to more production and employment. Additional economic growth, including from business dynamism and rising productivity growth will even continue to create jobs. Many other new occupations that we cannot currently imagine will also emerge and may account for as much as 10 percent of jobs created by 2030, as suggested. Entrepreneurship and more rapid new business formation will not only boost productivity but also drive job creation. The future with automation and AI will be challenging, but a richer and prosperous one if we harness the technologies with assurance and confidence and mitigate the negative effects associated with the same.