Why AI changes everything

Think:Act Magazine "It’s time to rethink AI"
Why AI changes everything

May 15, 2024

Leadership strategy. Work. Society. Life. Is there any aspect of our lives that AI hasn’t touched?

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by Steffan Heuer
Artworks byCarsten Gueth

Artificial intelligence is opening up a brave new world. Think:Act assesses four key areas which the nascent technology will transform: the boardroom, the workplace, society and ourselves. How we respond collectively and individually to intelligent machines is set to have a long-lasting impact.

The rapid rise of artificial intelligence, or AI, was the headline news of last year with a number of major breakthroughs that have resonated into 2024. These systems can now compose marketing campaigns and analyze medical imagery. They can comb through resumes and purport to better match applicants with required skills. But they also invent statements and can provide guidance on building bombs and bioweapons. They repeat and amplify toxic tropes, giving long-standing biases a deceivingly factual facade. And they use absurdly large amounts of computing power, all of which has implications for carbon footprints. Yet the enterprise world as well as private users can't get enough of AI, with each week bringing more news of breakthroughs and such systems – for the most part based on large language models – going off the rails or leaking proprietary data.

Abstract artwork in neon colors by Carsten Gueth

The big question hovering over the coming age of AI continues to both intrigue and torment. "I fear none of the existing machines; what I fear is the extraordinary rapidity with which they are becoming something very different to what they are at present. No class of beings have in any time past made so rapid a movement forward. Should not that movement be jealously watched, and checked while we can still check it?" That's how British writer Samuel Butler put the dilemma in his satirical 1872 science fiction travelogue Erewhon about a realm whose population eventually destroyed its machines when they had gained consciousness and became an existential threat.

AI will radically transform four key areas of life: the C-suite and boardrooms, the workplace, society at large and, of course, our personal lives.

The world in 2024 seems far from that. If all goes well, AI will usher in another industrial revolution marked by increased efficiency, productivity and creativity. If things don't turn out that rosy, however, the world will be facing widespread worker displacement, a rising level of mistrust regarding the outputs of our new machine sidekicks and, perhaps, even a fundamental disconnect between what we perceive as human agency and what inscrutable, black box systems decide for us and could ultimately do to us.

AI will radically transform four key areas of life: the C-suite and boardrooms, the workplace, society at large and, of course, our personal lives. But how can we equip ourselves to master the coming disruptions in decision-making and strategic planning? Will workers have a say in adapting long-standing routines and roles? And what to make of multimodal, generative AI tools such as Sora that are capable of spitting out text, images and video which can affect – and even disturb – societal cohesion and civic discourse? Regulators and governments are waking up to the challenge of reining in this powerful technology.

Technological revolutions tend to unfold with dizzying speed, and this latest one is no exception. Large corporations have begun to evaluate which positions they can eliminate thanks to AI. UPS, for instance, used its earnings call in February to announce 12,000 job cuts. That's music to the ears of Alphabet and Microsoft, which are integrating ever more powerful features to tap new revenue streams. Rising star OpenAI, which kick-started the frenzy, stands to take in an estimated $2 billion this year and has signed up hundreds of enterprise customers.

At the cautious end of the narrative arc sits Europe's Artificial Intelligence Act; a chorus of academics who warn of imbuing such systems with memory that may further inflame the already volatile privacy debate, as well as legal scholars who are wading into the swamp of ubiquitous copyright infringement.

Whether we race ahead or hit the brakes, revolutions need manpower. That is probably why the University of Pennsylvania has stepped forward as the first Ivy League school to offer an undergraduate degree in AI starting this fall, churning out engineers who will be eager to push the envelope even further.

This edition of Think:Act – It’s time to rethink AI – is your guide through this emerging landscape. Our explorative journalism will steer you through four key areas that AI will impact: the boardroom, the workplace, society and you. We've set out to explore how AI could profoundly affect all these facets of our lives. And to get us started right away, some leading figures and thinkers are here to set out the stall. Please click below to find out more.

Key takeaways
It's about cultural evolution:

Embracing AI tools is the latest wave of organizational change, calling for leaders who are curious, fast learners.

Focus on machine usefulness:

AI exists to empower and complement workers, not to fulfill engineers' wild dreams of ­surpassing the human mind.

AI governance is your business:

All of us have a responsibility to lead efforts at containing novel systems while we still can.

Chatbots are a substitute:

But for how long? AI will redefine the meaning of human relationships.

The Al impact on the boardroom, the workplace, society and you. Please click below to read the other parts of the cover story:
About the author
Portrait of Steffan Heuer
Steffan Heuer
Steffan Heuer has been covering the intersection of technology, commerce and culture in Silicon Valley for more than two decades. His work has appeared in The Economist, the MIT Technology Review and the German business monthly brand eins. He currently divides his time and reporting between Berlin and California.
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