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Tobias Häckermann

Artificial Intelligence: bringing machines into the boardroom

A venture capital company in Hong Kong appointed to their Board of Directors an algorithm called Vital. And from its ‘hiring’ moment, the program has already approved a few investment decisions. Taking into consideration this peculiar fact:

How (un)realistic is it for humans and machine to team up and make the perfect collaborative team?

Artificial intelligence (AI) supports fruitful collaborations. Computers can skim through huge databases and do the ‘heavy lifting’, leaving humans the invaluable part of the work: the non-transferable ability of qualitative evaluation and judgement. Machines can also contribute to memory and deep learning, by correlating information and providing outputs which enable decisions. Possibilities are endless.

There are different types of artificial intelligence, some of which can also intercept and decipher great amounts of information and spot market trends. By embracing such technologies, Boards expand their insights and data management. And, as a result, they become better predictors of possible scenarios and make substantiated decisions. In the process, a bonus: they get back more time to focus on other matters of importance for their companies.

Some companies are already incorporating artificial intelligence into Boards’ decision making processes, and Executives and Board Members alike are starting to adapt to the new technological trends. Access to information is easier. So is communicating and connecting with each other, regardless of geographical boundaries.

In reality, technology contributes to the collective decision-making process, by adding one more voice. In the case of the Hong Kong firm Deep Knowledge Ventures, the 'voice' votes on whether an investment is a good option or not. It makes recommendations by shifting through large amounts of data. Thus, allowing for more objective decisions while freeing invaluable meeting time. And it also adds hard analytics to human judgement and experience. This, in return, allows Board Members to focus on strategy and decision-making. Technology can be a great influence.

And so, one significant question remains: will artificial intelligence be able to replace humans? The answer depends on where you look to.

Perhaps one day, the Turing Test will reveal that more than interacting with computers, we will not be able to make any difference between human and machine. Yet, this might not be the case. The Chinese Room theory says although computers may mimic human intelligence, they will remain unable to develop consciousness themselves. It states that a computer cannot have a 'mind, no matter how intelligently it may behave.

Thus another, much more insightful, question arises. Is artificial intelligence just a stimulation of intelligence and not intelligent in itself?

Nonetheless, no matter how many things will change on the Boards, one aspect is certain. Artificial intelligence has not reached the level of development to replace humans. People can manage ambiguity, whereas technology cannot cope with that yet. What artificial intelligence can do is support. A great deal.

Nobody can deny that Ray Kurzweil’s ideas were not spot on, radical or not. He is a strong believer that in less than 30 years, robots will have the power to apparently ‘outsmart’ their makers. Machines can accumulate the repertoire of thousands of references, articulating them; of course it will produce more interesting outputs than a single person, alone. Examples such as voice-recognition technology Siri make tangible we are one step closer to having his predictions come true.

In the end, no one can predict the future. But forecast has it artificial intelligence will have an influence on business decisions, and may well complement Boards. Until then, there is plenty to learn about what it means to create the perfect collaborative team: humans plus AI.

For more about technological developments, I invite you to also read Smart Technologies’. The words that define 2016.

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