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The value of not knowing

Highlights from our Thought Leader Interview with Infineon CEO Dr Reinhard Ploss on Leadership and the Rise of Intelligent Machines.

Dr Reinhard Ploss has been in the microelectronics business for more than three decades. When he started his career, after having received a doctorate in process engineering in 1986, the internet was just taking-off. During his time as an industry leader, technology has fundamentally changed both the economy and society.    Dr Reinhard Ploss was one of 25 global thought leaders who the Future of Leadership Initiative’s research team interviewed in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of this year’s focus topic: “Yes, Mr. Robot!” – Leadership and the Rise of Intelligent Machines.”


ABOUT THE PROJECT

Each year, the Future of Leadership Initiative selects a Grand Challenge of Leadership – a pressing global and complex issue that requires an interdisciplinary understanding and a participatory approach to tackle. An integral part of this process is engaging in dialogue with global thought leaders to learn from their experiences and insights.

Our goal for 2019: To explore how the rise of technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, will impact the future of our global society and economy.

1. THE HIGHER PURPOSE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES 

When asked whether the rise of intelligent machines is primarily a development for its own sake or whether there is an essential, higher purpose behind all the investment, Dr Ploss took a thoughtful pause.

“There is one fundamental contradiction today,” he explained. “Almost nine billion people live on our planet. Most of them should have the chance to experience a similarly high standard of living as we do. Only intelligent applications can help us achieve this without further destroying our natural resources.”

KEY TAKE AWAY 1

Machine Intelligence can and should be used to help humans level-up the global standard of living, without destroying the natural resource base.

2. THE DANGER OF A MONOCHROME SOCIETY

According to Dr Ploss, the fact that it is almost impossible for a normal user to understand the decision process of an intelligent algorithm combined with the tempting convenience of intelligent systems bears high potential for unconscious manipulation. Many users are not aware to what degree their online decision-making is driven by AI. At the same time, the convenience provided by AI systems is just too tempting.

“Why do people use Google? Because it delivers the best results,” continued Dr Ploss. “You have to ask yourself, where do I pay for this convenience?”

In the long run, being attracted by the easiest option, utilising AI, could lead to increasingly monochromic behaviour based on dominant algorithms. “The world today works because it is colourful,” said the good doctor. “We have to avoid monochrome, overly optimised systems.”

KEY TAKE AWAY 2

The human tendency for convenience can lead to an unequal balance of power, favouring those with the best data and algorithms. It can also lead to monochromic user behaviour.

3. THE NEED FOR MORAL LEADERSHIP

“Artificial Intelligence is just as good as it is trained,” Reinhard Ploss stated. “It is biased by the data you provide and by the mindset of the people that have programmed the algorithms.”

The implementation of machine intelligence demands a high level of consciousness and moral judgment regarding the possible consequences of relevant algorithms. Individuals and organisations must make conscious decisions on how much data they generate and provide to others. This is a vital leadership task and leadership must create clear guidelines on the do’s and don’ts.

KEY TAKE AWAY  3

The purpose of leadership is to ensure and foster moral judgments on how to develop, train and use intelligent machines.

4. NEW SKILLS NEEDED: FUSION THINKING, CURIOSITY AND EXPLORATION

How can leaders prepare everyone to work with intelligent machines? Dr Ploss demands a, “fusion (of) thinking between technology and business.” The opportunities and challenges of machine intelligence require a high level of interdisciplinary understanding, collaboration, and mutual learning. Anybody in a business who requires a digital solution should be able to understand the logic behind AI and the possible ethical consequences, use cases and algorithms. 

KEY TAKE AWAY 4

Everybody should have a basic understanding of how intelligent machines think and process data.

To enable ‘fusion thinking’ corporate leaders should stimulate curiosity and interest in the topic, maintain open and honest debates and ensure best practice sharing. For Dr Ploss, exploratory thinking starts with open-mindedness. This means participants should enter a process with curiosity and feel encouraged to speak out on what they do not know. Answers to the unknown can then be searched for by the team as a whole. Participants should also be willing to take a step back, to experiment, reflect, use moral judgment and create knowledge as they learn. This knowledge can then be used when starting the process again, with an iterative approach helping to eventually master the task at hand.

5. THE VALUE OF NOT KNOWING 

With increasingly complex technological systems that exceed human understanding, the ability to cope with the unknown will become more and more important. Today, many people, especially in leadership positions, perceive the unknown as a threat. But the unknown provides the potential for innovation and improvement. To intentionally appreciate the unknown unleashes curiosity and creativity. “There is a fundamental insight in valuing ‘not knowing’,” Dr Ploss concludes.

KEY TAKE AWAY 5

Curiosity and using an explorative approach will become important individual capabilities.


Veröffentlicht in Corporate Leadership am 28.09.2023

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