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Don’t fear the robots, manage them


By Ian Lavis on behalf of Praxity Global Alliance


Artificial intelligence (AI) doesn’t mean the end of humans in the workplace, it means working alongside robots to do smarter business.

That was the upbeat message at Praxity Global Conference for business leaders and accounting professionals worried about job losses and disruption on a global scale.

The inexorable rise of AI – where machines mimic the cognitive functions of humans – is causing alarm in many industry sectors despite the opportunity it brings to transform business processes.

The fear of AI is fuelled by estimates that between 32% (OECD) and 47% (Oxford University) of jobs are at risk of being automated. Some analysts put the risk as high as 94% for professions such as legal assistants, accountants and auditors.

The march of AI looks unstoppable. It is being made a national priority in some countries and is already mandatory in certain schools in China.


Nothing to fear

But the adoption of AI isn’t something for businesses to fear, according to Dr Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and CEO of artificial intelligence specialist ADDO AI, based in Singapore.

In a keynote speech at Praxity Global Conference in Athens, she said AI should be embraced as an opportunity to:

  • Understand customers and automate work
  • Explore new markets and territories
  • Comply with regulations
  • Recruit and retain staff

Dr Khanna has been a strategic advisor on AI, smart cities and fintech to leading corporations and governments. She was named by Forbes magazine as one of South East Asia’s ground-breaking female entrepreneurs.

She told conference delegates in Athens almost every profession “is hounded by this fear of AI” which overshadows the benefits of AI in enabling business transformation and growth.


More thinking

Commenting on the benefits of using AI to automate mundane tasks in the workplace, she said: “I see that when companies use artificial intelligence, their employees – accountants, business people, whoever they may be – benefit from doing less routine work.”

Citing an example from the US, she said newly qualified lawyers used to manually trawl through previous cases for precedents. Now, using AI technologies, they can access every legal case there has ever been in the US at the click of a button. Instead of leading to redundancies, this has enabled young lawyers to focus on what they were trained to do.

“Routine groundwork is now replaced by thoughtfulness, creativity, strategy and the ability to empathise with clients. It not only frees up your time to help clients, it helps you understand your clients better,” Dr Khanna said.


More opportunities

AI is also being used to access new markets. When China’s largest fintech firm spotted a gap in the market to provide banking in Pakistan, it didn’t partner a bank in Pakistan, it partnered a Norwegian telco company, Telenor, which developed an AI-based mobile app to identify consumer profiles. This revealed a vast untapped market that traditional banks had ignored.

The use of AI technologies to disrupt markets is also a warning sign to those businesses “sleeping at the wheel” and yet to exploit the power of AI to gain competitive advantage. Dr Khanna warned firms to be alert to “competition from where you don’t expect it”.


More compliance

Another benefit lies in compliance. AI is increasingly being used to detect fraud and anti-money laundering activity.  Among the early adopters was HSBC after the company was fined almost $2bn for failing to stop criminals using its banking systems to launder money. Today, HSBC uses an AI system to help identify fraudulent transactions, money laundering and suspicious activity.

“This is going to be the trend more and more,” Dr Khanna told delegates.  “Where people used to sit and try to figure things out, they are now assisted by AI engines that are actually not only a competitive advantage but frankly you can’t not have them. Otherwise the regulatory bodies will be breathing down your neck.”

AI engines are also being used by companies to trawl emails, the web and social media to identify any changes in regulation around the world. Accounting firms are using this data to alert clients and change accounting practices and business practices as required. Globally, AI systems can alert businesses to the dangers of political risk and events happening anywhere in the world.


Recruitment and retention

One of the more creative uses of AI technologies is to help HR managers with recruitment and retention programmes. Rather than replacing people with robots, AI is being developed to match people with the positions they are more suited to within a company.

Skills are uploaded into a machine and AI is used to automatically match an individual with a position. The aim is to aid retention, prevent attrition and find a pattern to save on the cost of recruitment and training replacements.


Managing robots

While there are clearly many benefits of using AI, it needs to be handled with care. Robots are not infallible. They are prone to bias as humans are, and this is where humans have the upper hand. The knack is to be critical of bias and make judgements based on the intelligence supplied.

This is where the fear of jobs being lost may be over-stated. Used effectively, robots should work alongside humans, opening up opportunities for humans to govern data and develop relationships with clients and suppliers.

Dr Khanna urged delegates at the Praxity Global Conference to treat AI engines as colleagues and to focus on judgement work, adding: “Reduce your work as much as possible when it relies on information and make it a lot more about creativity, strategy and about giving advice that is empathetic and that is ethical.”


Developing a strategy

The keynote speaker stressed that working with AI is not about letting robots take over, it’s about managing robots and governing data properly. It’s about being transparent and informing clients and other stakeholders how AI is being used.

Dr Khanna urged delegates to adopt an AI strategy with clear processes outlining exactly where humans fit in the loop to make creative, ethical and strategic decisions.

AI is already changing the way we live and work. The question facing organisations globally is not whether to invest in AI but how to do it effectively.

The challenge facing senior business leaders is how to use AI to improve business operations while focusing on the human qualities needed to develop relationships and achieve growth.

If you don’t have an AI strategy, it’s time to consider one. If you are already on board with AI, it may be a good time to tweak your strategy to make sure it works for your business and your people.

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