How machine learning will change the way executives do their jobs

There are some things about running an organization that I don’t think are going to change, even in the face of these crazy, powerful technologies: articulating a compelling vision that will attract talent, customers, and stakeholders; being true to that vision; and managing the culture that you’ve created to go tackle those visions. Those are deeply human skills, and leaders who are good at them are going to become even more valuable.

A lot of executives who I talk to think that a big part of their job is making the tough calls; relying on the experience, industry knowledge, and judgment that they’ve built up; and having a clearer crystal ball of things that are going to happen in the industry or in the future than other competitors have.

While I value those things, I value them a lot less than I used to, because of two fundamental changes that are occurring. Number one, over and over again we’re seeing that technology is better at human-judgment tasks than humans. To me, it’s the most unsettling by-product of the machine-learning revolution.

And number two, I was just on a panel earlier today with a set of machine-learning all-star geeks, and when talking about the future of the technology, one of them said, “Well, as far as we can see into the future. I’m talking three to five years.” And I’m thinking, “Hold on. What? Only three to five years?” We used to think about business generations being a lot more on the timescale of human generations—a decade or two. He said, “Why even think about what might be happening 36 months from now because so much is going to change between now and then.”

Both of these developments are pretty profoundly upsetting to the kind of Industrial Age. I don’t mean that disparagingly, but these are both really, really deep threats to the model of running an organization that we’ve built up over a couple of centuries.

Competing in the AI economy: An interview with MIT’s Andrew McAfee

 

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