AI seems to be omnipotent. It can read, write, drive, monitor, and communicate, and it may offer newer and shinier capabilities tomorrow. However, in reality AI, like its model the human brain, has limitations. While many believe that AI will never to be good at replicating or understanding emotions any time soon, its limitations are in fact much wider.
If we take a theme of leadership, one of the most authoritative authors on the subject – Keith Grint, Professor Emeritus at Warwick University – believes that all problems managers face can be divided into three types.
Taming the Wicked & Critical
The first is dealing with common problems that have a precise and correct solution that can be known from the very beginning – problems that an existing algorithm can act on to reach the desired outcome. They’re so-called tame problems. An example would be scaling out production from, say, 1,000 to 10,000 pieces.
The second type is concerned with issues of a much more complicated nature. Think of hunger or poverty, or crime – there’s no simple solution for such problems and arguably – and certainly at present – there’s no definitive solution, either. The best that the leader can do is to listen to all stakeholder opinions, achieve a consensus, and move forward. These types of problems are called wicked problems.
Finally, we have the last type of problem. According to Professor Grint, this type deals with emergencies that occur when time and resources are limited. Any natural disaster or software hack can be classified as so-called critical problems.
AI’s efficiency at solving any of these three problem types may vary considerably.
In the case of tame problems, an artificial intelligence system is the the right fit. If the solution is known, researchers can dig from a pool of existing business knowledge to create a model that predicts the optimal course of action. This is where AI shines and proves to be better than its human counterparts.
In the case of wicked problems, AI is unlikely to be much help. Most global issues are wicked. Public healthcare improvements depend on collaboration between different countries, companies, funds, and the public itself. People tend to be skeptical about AI’s ability to make decisions, and that’s why it is unlikely to have a voice at the table in the foreseeable future.
Leaders dealing with critical problems that often require risk-taking often need to make a decision based on intuition or experience. There isn’t enough time to ask everybody’s opinions when every minute counts. AI can likely contribute to management efficiency by recognizing a risky course of action. It can notify the manager or implement emergency mechanisms similar to an airbag in the car.
As outlined above, people tend to distrust AI solutions. Fear to accept artificial intelligence technologies in certain aspects of management may occasionally be the right call, but sometimes it can actually limit the ability of humans to manage companies efficiently – with AI. Developing an understanding of which problems AI can solve should dissolve uncertainty about the technology for the good.
It’s worth noting that whether we face a tame, wicked, or critical problem, the burden of decision-making starts with a human. Knowing the limitations of human abilities to find solutions and having an awareness of where AI fails to serve well, managers may develop a new style of leadership that leverages modern technologies to achieve higher efficiencies, build trust, and mitigate risks.
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