The premise of Blade Runner is that robots have become indistinguishable from human beings and having decided that this isn’t perhaps the greatest idea; the decision is made to get rid of all the robots. However, precisely because they are essentially identical it’s a tough job and because they don’t know they are robots, it’s even harder. There are a range of moral and psychological discussions which have spurred many a student conversation.
However, I’m a management consultant so I care more about the managerial and leadership implications of AI and robotics.
Let’s start with a spectrum of AI starting with me (just my brain and my experiences), and then there’s me with a knowledge base (laptop + phone), then me with some AI (Augmented Reality, AI engine, VR maybe), then there’s robot me 1985 Short Circuit version; ability to learn (input, input), process and rationalise and then there’s 2049 Blade Runner me, two of me slightly refined and programmed to be more effective and manageable.
Along that spectrum, each version of me requires different management to take best advantage of my skills and potential but for my manager, she’s going to have to change her approach by the time we get to 2049.
Individual decision making – in a world where everything happens faster and faster, there is a requirement for decision making to keep pace. As the saying goes, ‘a bad decision is better than no decision’. However, the process for individual decision making relies on taking on board information, advice and environment and then doing what you think is best. When you have AI which assesses all possible outcomes and factors, how brave will you have to be to go against the advice? In all science fiction films ever, the role of the computer/robot is to say ‘there’s a 92% chance that we will die in a massive fireball’ but without exception, the human protagonist will say something like ‘never tell me the odds’ and then does it anyway.
The situation will be that either you have to take the advice from the AI because you yourself can’t work it all out or we’ll all need to be Han Solo, ignoring the odds and therefore the value of the advice? What does the robot do when you ignore them? Do they apply the escalation protocol or take over themselves?
Instinct and accident – there are many a good things discovered by accident; penicillin, post-it notes, the microwave, America. There is also the 400 popular motivational quotes showing how instinct is incredibly important to decision making and success. With experience, most people will make decisions because ‘it feels right’ or ‘smells wrong’. With immense AI, will we ever do anything by accident or instinct anymore and how might we direct our team. As every consultant will tell you, the greatest invention in human history is the post-it note. A 3M guy invented some sticky stuff, a church goer friend wanted to stick bookmarks in his bible and hey presto, a legend was born. Now the robots can probably do the sticky bit but perhaps not the church bookmark bit?
In the future team, how do you direct the AI what to do. It’s already happening that machine learning means that you don’t always have to in the first place but the there needs to be either a genesis for an idea or human link to do something with it. Will AI take away our need for instinct or an approach to try something without seeing the value?
Emotional connection and personalities – there is a strength of leadership which comes from supporting and developing people. Building an emotional connection, making people feel safe and valued, and contributing to their development and learning; these are requisite in an effective leader. With those things, people work harder, do better and add more value. This requirement is not one a robot has, but as with Blade runner, the robots are better when they are given the connection to a past and some emotions. You can accordingly download the ‘your manager is great’ patch and realise the same value.
If you are spending 20% – 50% of your time working with people to develop them (as you should) you will in future, have 20 to 50% more time. You will be used to managing the flow of requests and instructions which will be done quicker, will require less supervision and won’t need the pesky personal development time. (my own coffee budget will reduce by at least 80%, decimating the local economy).
Assuming then, there will be a mixed team of humans and (androids), what is already a hard dynamic to get right will be made much harder (or easier). Will your new management role as a benevolent dictator to the AI machines go alongside the training of a smaller team of humans in how to be they too can become an authoritarian despot.
In Blade Runner, everyone is ruthless and contains their emotions as they don’t quite know what is real and what is not. It is perhaps this type of manager who will be successful in future. Life in management consultancy is to expect to work in many teams for many managers. A resource request is not for a person but a set of skills. E.g. I need a senior con with HRM experience in the public sector. This approach to resources as a commodity is only likely to become increasingly the norm.
Work structure – we essentially work 9-5 with grey areas around starting early and finishing late. Even after 50 years of working broadly to those times to match with sunrise and sunset in the northern hemisphere, we are still following that standard. This tradition completely changes with increased use of AI. There will be a big block of work running 24/7 so what will the role of manager be to oversee the work? Will everyone’s day be 2 hours in a block or will we all be on-call all of the time waiting for the 2 hours whenever its needed?
Now, we aren’t going to be living in a Blade Runner world immediately but you can already see the parallels in the corporate world.
Decision making is increasingly being driven into centralised buckets by project management tools which support the process.
The access to reports and information means senior people can more quickly make lower level decisions.
The focus is on efficiency and effectiveness with reduced time for making valuable ‘accidents’ and instinct is increasingly taking a back seat to information.
There’s also a reduction in direct leadership and development with inspiring leaders more readily available online and we are already working through the clock in India, the US, Europe and Asia.
We just need the androids and their electric sheep.