What does a healthy partnership between humans and artificial intelligence look like? Technology investor Ed Watal has a proposition: Symbiosis, in which interaction is mutually beneficial, is a model business leaders should consider.
A variety of factors make it difficult to be a doctor. Work hours can be long and irregular, and the decisions that must be made when it comes to patient care are often high-stakes and complicated. To stay up-to-date on best practices, doctors must constantly track the latest developments in medical technology — the list goes on.
In recent years, the introduction of electronic health records has added another challenge to the work doctors must do, as the systems that manage these records are complex and often fragmented. Finding the information needed to make informed diagnoses is a time-consuming and cumbersome process.
The frustrations doctors and other healthcare professionals feel regarding electronic health records recently led Google to suggest a solution. In October 2023, Google announced it had “medically tuned” its Vertex AI service to empower users to “find accurate clinical information much more efficiently.” Vertex AI search uses artificial intelligence to enhance the speed, efficiency and accuracy of efforts to access medical records. Vertex AI is a generative AI platform that provides developers access to over 100 foundational models in a unified way to build search and conversations with AI applications.
Vertex AI search provides a timely illustration of the way in which AI can be partnered with human workers to create a symbiotic future for the workspace. Rather than supplanting human workers — one of the chief fears AI has brought to the workplace — AI applications like Vertex AI search show how artificial intelligence can support human workers.
Ultimately, the symbiotic future many are envisioning brings together human and artificial intelligence to make business more efficient, workers more effective and the customer/client experience more beneficial. As the business world seeks to move into this symbiotic future, certain key concepts must be considered.
Pursuing a collaborative relationship with AI
If you’ve drafted an email in the past week, you know what it’s like to collaborate with AI. It will help you to compose your message, predicting where your sentence is going after the first few words, as Gmail’s AI-powered “smart reply” takes care of the entire message for you. AI will even suggest recipients for your message based on your past messaging history.
As humans collaborate with AI, the technology enhances human capabilities and productivity. The key is identifying opportunities where AI can be effectively applied.
Data analysis is one of AI’s key strengths. It can process vast amounts of data at superhuman speeds, detecting patterns and making data-based predictions with unparalleled accuracy. The marketing field is a great example of an area in which AI can collaborate with human workers to enhance efforts through data analysis.
Language processing is another area where collaboration can be effective. In the legal, education and publishing industries — to name just a few — AI can automate transcription services, converting audio recordings to written texts much faster than humans can.
The key with transcription, as with any collaboration, is defining a process that leverages AI’s strengths while acknowledging its weaknesses. This leads us to the next factor that must be considered.
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Keeping a human element in AI collaboration
AI brings a lot to the collaborative process because it is fast, accurate and always available. It doesn’t get tired, bored, distracted or overwhelmed.
Still, a symbiotic relationship must be mutually beneficial, meaning humans need to bring something to the equation as well. Identifying and leveraging the human side of the collaboration is critical to building a symbiotic future.
For example, interpreting communication often involves understanding nuances in language and cultural context. The facial expression that accompanies a statement can change its meaning significantly from one culture to the next. Human intelligence must help AI to navigate situations when AI is used to interpret human communications.
A good approach is to always have human intelligence involved in final decision-making. AI can analyze data to identify patterns and develop suggestions based on those patterns, but humans can assess the suggestions and select which is most appropriate.
It’s also important to recognize that artificial intelligence lacks emotional intelligence, which goes beyond simply identifying someone’s emotional state — something AI can do — to empathizing with that emotional state. The human touch is influenced in a big way by emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is extremely important in the workplace, with stats showing it drives retention, productivity and employee motivation. As we move into a symbiotic future, humans must never fail to bring emotional intelligence to their collaborations with AI.
Creativity is another area where AI requires human support. While AI is making huge waves in creative industries — writing novels, designing illustrations and producing songs — it’s limited to generating content from what it has been taught. A true creative spark, which brings into existence something that has not been before, is uniquely human.
Developing frameworks for ethical use
A number of ethical considerations emerge when leveraging AI. For example, AI’s decision-making process is driven by algorithms that evolve as part of AI’s learning process. If the content utilized for learning is biased, then the AI’s algorithms will also be biased.
What happens when AI is used to guide decisions in hiring or finance? If it’s operating with an algorithmic bias, then its processes could drive biased — even illegal — business practices. To develop a healthy symbiotic future, those types of ethical failures must be guarded against.
Lack of transparency is another ethical concern that has emerged as AI has gained traction in the workplace, with AI engines often perceived by some as a “black box” that spits out decisions that are difficult to explain or justify. An ethical framework must include transparency and accountability to ensure AI does not inspire unfair or unintended results.
Committing to continuous learning
While few deny the potential artificial intelligence brings to the business world, we have only begun to figure out the practical ways in which it can be applied. Developing a symbiotic future requires humans and AI to learn together in an ongoing, dynamic and mutually beneficial partnership. The relationship can only reach its full potential if it’s cultivated over time.
As with any partnership, defining clear roles and responsibilities will be critical to the ongoing involvement of AI in the business world. The task at hand for business leaders is establishing an approach to AI that ensures the human touch is not discounted. Only by working together can humans and AI shape a future in which the technology is used responsibly and effectively.