AI: Revisiting Future Shock | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On February 28, 2017

In his 1970 book “Future Shock,” author and futurist Alvin Toffler made the argument that the modern world disorients people as it creates so many overwhelming changes that we are unable to handle them. Almost 50 years after the book was published, I was struck by Toffler’s argument during a recent client engagement in which we were helping an enterprise identify virtual agents/chatbots for its customer-facing processes. All of the bots contained a healthy dose of artificial intelligence (AI), and each one was trying to push the envelope.

Is AI starting to overwhelm people to the point that they may get frustrated with developments they cannot fathom or use?

Every day we see and read about new use cases that “wow” us. We are amazed and bedazzled by advances in AI. And some are becoming increasingly commonplace in the consumer arena…just think smart homes.

On the flip side, there have been instances in which consumers have found dealing with these omnipresent home devices scary and frustrating. Humans have already strongly voiced that they don’t need bots to shop. And, feeling the need for peace in their home, they have switched off many of their home assistance devices.

Some may argue that the technology industry, driven by the high intoxication from the ivory towers of Silicon Valley, is getting way ahead of the people who are expected to be the eventual consumers of these technologies. The amount of new AI research and products coming every day out of these factories is mind numbing. A significant number of such products may not have any immediate utility, but they do indeed demonstrate the far-reaching power of such advanced systems.

There is an unending scare around AI, cognitive, and other advanced systems taking away jobs from human beings. In the case of virtual reality, people are entranced by engaging with virtual objects as if they are real. It’s fun, until they realize the negative impacts it can have on their day-to-day lives. And, instead of assuaging such fears, the technology industry continues to create use cases to replace human tasks with robots.

From an enterprise perspective, organizations need to proactively create an AI adoption strategy for their business. Though most now have some vision around using AI technologies, frighteningly few are preparing for the massive change management aspect. Their employees must be comforted around the impact AI can and will have on their lives. Indeed, the significant disruption AI technologies can create within a business context may require a very different approach than other technology adoption we have ever witnessed. Technology vendors need to focus on how AI-enabled systems are assisting or helping human beings. The use cases need to be very precise, clear, and friendly, not overwhelming and complex, which they currently are.

The problem is not AI technology. The problem is the way it is being introduced, and the hyperbole around it that may end up overwhelming a significant portion of the human race, leading to eventual burnout. We are humans, and should create technology for humans. If the very technology we create results in alienating a large percentage of us, we will have failed as a human race. AI systems need to be leveraged for enhancing human lives, not for creating technology marvels that overwhelm people and create the future shock.

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