INTERVIEW: With Gerd Leonhard Part One

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We all see how technology is impacting society, business, and service divisions. And how exponential it is growing. But what should we really look out for in the near future? Are machines really intelligent, or are they as dumb as a toaster? Are 3D printed steaks any good? Is AI life-threatening, or just job-threatening? Read on more as I chat with Gerd Leonhard, Service Mastery Day host at this year’s 12th Aftermarket Business Platform in Berlin, October 17-19.

Thomas Igou (Content Director at Aftermarket): Gerd, what’s the biggest trend impacting manufacturing organizations today, from a Service perspective?

G.L: Data and intelligence is the biggest trend happening right now. Every process is completely tracked and monitored, made intelligent. As Kevin Kelley likes to say, “first we digitize, now we cognify.” The problem is that there is too much data but not enough precise information in aftersales, no linking of online and offline. Intelligent machine (misnomer, intelligent, not smart), can look at a trillion facts of data and give you on demand answer in 14 seconds. Humans can’t do that; for huge amounts of disparate and unstructured data, you need artificial intelligence to structure this. And it’s important to remember that these machines are not thinking machines, they are giant neuro applications like super software, and that is what AI is bringing to us, and I sometimes call it IA, Intelligent Assistants rather than AI. It creates a huge change. You have to train these machines, put all the good data in; only then can you get machines to create a huge amount of value by recognizing patterns and suggesting other ways of doing things.

A problem that will arise is that it’ll be widely used because AI is superior to humans in analyzing data. This will create the black box problem: you don’t know why a machine will decide this because it’s beyond human understanding, you have to trust the machine or not. But I think it’s important to keep humans in the loop to question the machines because they will not understand human components and reasoning; it’s important to have a counter balance. It’s a bit like the trip advisor problem: it can be really great, but you still need to check it against reality.

When you talk about aftersales, a lot of this is manual work shoveling data and facts, and that is going to dramatically change. This is like the doctor looking at IBM Watson who must scan a million MRIs to figure out if there’s cancer; the doctor can just push a button and ask Watson to take a look at this picture, what do you think? And 14 seconds later he gets an analysis of millions of facts. That’s going to be the same in Service. Also, the cloud means everything is becoming virtual, paper is on its way out, everything is connected. Of course, that leads to another problem: security and surveillance. When everything is in the cloud, it becomes attackable. And that becomes an issue, not only in terms of technology but also regulation like GDPR, keeping data safe, that is quite an effort. You get the benefit of connectivity but also the responsibility.

One of the key challenge, when you’re in technology, is that you make ethical decisions all the time. In 10 years from now, we’ll be in a world where machines will be able to do things unthinkable for us, then we’ll have to decide what are the guidelines, what’s fair use, what is the authority of users, do I have permission… if something goes wrong, it could kill the bank, it will be much bigger than what’s happening with Facebook right now

You have amazing technology, but you need to have the right guidelines and processes in place. Accountability is a big deal. We used to have wars on oils, now we’ll have wars on information. If you look at the food chain complex, once you’ve sold something, who owns the data and who gets to do what? You need to be hyper collaborative, not compete, because in the end it won’t be on ownership of the data because we are moving to a world of APIs where everything is connected, it will be about the license to operate, to use the data, not locking it up. For example, in the healthcare system, it will be about the health cloud which puts all people’s data in the cloud, so the question is what kind of permission do I have to read? The data we’re going to get will be mindboggling; it will be bigger than oil.

T.I: Should we fear the rise of the machines?

G.L: We’re far away from machine becoming conscious or sentient, for machines to have this capability they would need to go way beyond the current binary operations. One of the biggest problem is that machines will become so narrowly intelligent, we’ll give them too much power because we think they are so intelligent; we’ll give them too much authority in terms of analytics. The biggest issue in the foreseeable future is displacement of work. Any work that is automatable will be lost. Bu that’s not life threatening, it’s just threatening our jobs! To change our jobs, we need to move up the food chain to valuable things humans do, like understanding, negotiations, planning, innovation. We’re 30-50 years to any potential existential threat of AI, where AI can supplement or surpass humans. The most important thing will be regulation and safety. It’s like nuclear power, if you’re not doing it safely, it’s very bad.
Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkins are on the right track, if we’re going to have intelligent machines like we are, we’ll need to contain them. But it’s not an issue today, these machines are as dumb as a toaster, compared to human brain and human thinking, because they don’t “think” at all. It’s a danger, but not next week.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Coming Soon


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