The One Artificial Intelligence Book Every Finance Leader Should Read

Surviving AI

If you plan to read only one artificial intelligence book, read "Surviving AI." Here's a look at what you can learn from it.

If you plan to read only one artificial intelligence book, consider "Surviving AI: The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence," by Calum Chace. In it, Chace takes a deep dive into AI, looking at the current state of technology as well as where it's going.

"AI is everywhere," Chace writes. "Some organizations base their entire existence on it." As he points out, your smartphone is probably the first device you touch in the morning and the last device you touch at night. AI-powered apps become adaptively smarter, increasing our dependence on them. Artificial intelligence touchpoints are everywhere, even if we may not consciously think of them as AI: It's AI that determines the products on store shelves, autoadjusts financial markets and powers robots for manufacturing.

According to Chace, today's AI "outperforms humans in many intellectual tasks," from math to chess. And tomorrow's AI capabilities could replicate the human brain, achieving technological consciousness.

This first installment in a three-part series on must-read books for finance leaders explores the implications of Chace's argument that AI is "humanity's most powerful technology."

Master the Six D's of Digital Disruption

AI entails significant business implications. Engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis has identified six — the six D's of digital disruption. As Chace notes, along with the idea of being data-driven, these considerations constitute the cornerstone of today's disruptive businesses and drive today's economy. The six D's are:

  1. Digitized: Processes become digitized, exploiting the ability to share information quickly.
  2. Deceptive: They go through such explosive growth that their impact "comes out of nowhere."
  3. Disruptive: They take significant market share from competitors.
  4. Dematerialized: Their value is in information rather than in assets.
  5. Demonetized: Things that once cost money are now provided for free.
  6. Democratized: Products that were once only available to only a few consumers are now available to a much larger selection.

Understanding disruption is relevant for one strategic reason: Business leaders need to determine how their industry might be disrupted and whether they can create the business model or algorithm to win that race.

The Economic Singularity

But according to Chace, "AI presents ... an even bigger concern than digital disruption. It may render most of us unemployed, and indeed unemployable, because our jobs have been automated."

Automation has already led to a significant reduction in administrative and manual jobs. Chace notes, however, that until now that reduction has been gradual. There's generally been opportunity for individuals to retrain or move to different fields. If automation renders us unemployed — and unemployable — en masse, the picture shifts.

Big Think reports that experts predict that almost half of all jobs may disappear in the next 25 years. Even as Uber and Lyft disrupt traditional taxi and transportation industries, self-driving cars may soon put everyone out of business. Along with significant long-term political and social implications, finance leaders have three questions to consider immediately:

How can AI "assist" your most skilled workers and free them up for higher-value work?

If certain positions will be eliminated due to automation, does that create the opportunity to invest in other areas of human capital by creating entirely new positions?

Which employees are likely to be affected by automation — and can you create programs now to help them reskill?

The Technological Singularity

Chace moves beyond the economic impact to describe a future where AI technology reaches the point of achieving consciousness. Neuroscientists suggest that "building a technological brain" could happen in as little as 50 years. While that's intriguing in theory, Chace notes the potential for serious negative consequences: "Elon Musk has made a name for himself as a Cassandra about AI ... with remarks [about it] being akin to summoning the demon and how humans might just be the boot loader (startup system) for digital superintelligence."

The development of superintelligence will mean that people are no longer the only individuals capable of abstract thought — and with that come significant questions about how the future will take shape. Business leaders should consider how their AI is becoming smarter and faster at using the data they collect to improve their performance.

And in the even longer term, there are even larger issues to grapple with. In part, it's how you think about the possibility of what technology can achieve and how that might impact your business. Chace notes that Silicon Valley largely views technology as a positive force, and though "if you work there you don't have to believe that technological progress is leading us toward a world of radical abundance," it certainly helps.

What does this mean for business leaders? It suggests a number of potential conclusions and actions. For one, don't just think about the economic potential of the technology you create. Ask how it can make the world better. For another, what role does your organization want to have in the long-term development of artificial intelligence?

As this artificial intelligence book suggests, the potential and perils of AI are rich. For finance leaders, it's a subject worth considering from a long-range strategic point of view, especially since what used to seem like the distant future may actually be closer than we've anticipated. Everything's still theoretical, but there are different trajectories where AI could lead, positive and negative. From the HCM implications to how your organization's AI strategy aligns with your organizational values, it's valuable to consider what type of impact your organization would like to make.