Friday 01 December 2017, Bristol

On a beautifully crisp winter’s day, PM Forum South West members gathered together at Bevan Brittan’s waterside office in central Bristol.

This month we were exploring the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence in the world of work, particularly in the professional services sector.

Our speaker was David Gilroy from Conscious Solutions. And while to some the subject matter might have sounded as if it was straight out of a sci-fi movie, as we would go on to find out, this was science fact rather than science fiction.

 How humans work today

David started by looking at how humans work in the 21st century. And one of the most important aspects of humans in the workplace is culture. Through a series of enlightening references to business books and quotations, David communicated the value that a good culture and great people have to organisations:

  • “Who’s on your bus?” - an observation from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. The point is to look around your organisation and see who is truly coming on the journey with you, and who doesn’t have that buy in and will be “getting off your bus”.
  • A quote from Simon Sine – “Our aim is to do business with people who believe what we believe” modified by David to “Our aim is to WORK with people who believe what we believe”.
  • And another quote - “Good people get good from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Great people get great from 5:00pm to 9:00am.”

All three points illustrate the value that humans can add as individuals and collectively.

Human productivity

Then the talk moved on to productivity. Homo sapiens are sure to have fluctuating levels of productivity. Particularly if we are having personal issues, which is when we may see our productivity decrease. And then there is workplace distraction with culprits like Outlook, Slack and meetings!

David worked through an example of this based on how many instant messages his workforce got through. There was a sharp distinction between the average and top users which may or may not be satisfactorily explained away. But it certainly showed the potential for human workers to be drawn away from core productivity.

The machines: Machine learning and artificial intelligence

This brings us on to the machines. In case anyone wasn’t aware, AI is already very much with us. David hit us with some facts:

  • 63% of us already use AI tools without realising it.
  • 47% would buy items from a chatbot.
  • Live chat is a close third place behind email and phone for how we like to communicate with companies.
  • Companies with clear AI leadership show a significant benefit gap over those that don’t, in a range of organisational functions from legal compliance to operational efficiency.

Machine learning

Google’s DeepMind is at the forefront of AI – famously beating the world champion at the game of Go in 2016. David showed us a video of DeepMind learning to play the basic computer game Breakout (batting a ball against a wall until you have disintegrated all the bricks).

At the very beginning it can barely reach a score of five. After two hours it was pretty good. And after four hours it had developed tactics to win in super-quick time.

DeepMind is an example of AI that actually learns. You feed it a data set and it will analyse it gain knowledge and understanding.

Some AI is being taught to understand emotion.

Augmented intelligence

The other type of AI attempts to understand certain inputs like spoken or typed questions through natural language processing, and then responds from a library of fixed responses. They know their limitations and ‘fess up if they do not know the answer. Typical chatbots are a good example of these.

Real-world application of AI

David went on to examine some real-world applications of AI. It’s currently being used by some companies in hotel receptions and concierge, customer service, and even in processing certain legal roles such as fighting parking fines and helping individuals sue Equifax after a data breach.

AI and marketing

That moves us on nicely to professional services and the marketing of them. We were shown a long list of functions that AI will be able to perform: content curation, social semantics, website design, ad targeting, content generation among many others. In one specific example, David showed us an advert that was actually directed by AI. It was, predictably, Japanese!

So, do we all need to be worried for our jobs? Thankfully, no – with one caveat. If your job is rule based and target based, beware of the role starting to look like an algorithm. If your job is just hitting a series of targets and ticking boxes, you maybe should worry.

Pitfalls and opportunities of using AI in marketing

Throughout the talk, David highlighted the opportunities and pitfalls of using AI. Let’s have a quick summary:

Pitfalls of AI

  • Presenting chatbots badly to customers or clients. For instance, deceptively trying to make out it is a human and getting found out.
  • Having machine learning AI manipulated by the public. Microsoft’s Tay was quickly taken offline as people taught it to be racist and abusive.
  • The wider economic issue of a robot tax. Should the use of AI be taxed to make up for the lost tax revenue from humans not performing traditional roles.
  • Developing useful chatbot AI is REALLY expensive. Is it worth it at this stage? 

Opportunities of AI

  • Having an AI strategy will give your business a competitive advantage over businesses that do not.
  • Right now, there are big PR opportunities for the clever use of AI and bots.
  • Rather than being seen as a threat, AI can take away the mundane aspects of many job roles freeing up humans to do more interesting, productive work. 

It was a fascinating talk, that helped prep us for a brave new world. Now, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said in a famous AI role: “Hasta la vista, baby”.

Written by Huw Bendon, South West Regional PR
Managing Director and Founder, On Point Copywriting