There are a lot of great books being published these days on the subject of artificial intelligence, as human authors attempt to tackle the technical, philosophical, and societal challenges posed by our growing reliance on smart machines.
One I have recently enjoyed and also found highly thought-provoking is Radically Human: How New Technology is Transforming Business and Reshaping our Future, by Paul Daugherty. Regular readers of my posts will know that Daugherty is CTO at Accenture, and in fact I recently enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation with him on the topic of the Metaverse Continuum – Accenture’s top four tech trend predictions for 2022.
While we were together (virtually), I also took the opportunity to talk to him about this latest book. It aims to explain many of the cutting-edge technologies that are revolutionizing business today – from AI to blockchain and the metaverse – but crucially to do it in a way that highlights the roles that humans will have to play if organizations hope to use them to their full potential.
In many ways, it is a follow-up to his previous book, 2018’s Human + Machine, Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, and like that book was also co-authored by H James Wilson.
Daugherty tells me, "We were really pleased with the reaction to Human + Machine … which we wrote because we wanted to correct the narrative we were hearing back then … that all the jobs were going to be destroyed and AI was going to be bad.”
Daugherty says that since then, he feels that the key messages of the book have played out fairly well, with most people coming to understand the potential benefits of AI rather than being fearful of the dangers.
Where Radically Human differs, however, is that it takes in a broader range of new and transformative technologies, including cloud and other developments which have been adopted with greater enthusiasm than even Daugherty expected.
“We saw how fast trends were advancing, and some things were moving even faster than we thought," he said, when he joined me for a conversation, which you can watch in full here:
“We wanted to write Radically Human to talk about where this is really going and broaden the dialogue … think about the intersection of technology and human ingenuity [putting] together with the best of humans and the best of tech."
Establishing the Radically Human narrative involved researching a whole array of different elements around technological adoption across business and society. It soon became apparent that what they were actually digging into was new paradigms for building organizations capable of leveraging the wealth of opportunity offered by digital transformation and overarching concepts such as the “fourth industrial revolution” and the metaverse.
One of the key findings that convinced them they were on the right track to understanding how the future will evolve was the realization that while pre covid, digital leader organizations appeared to be outperforming digital laggard organizations by a factor of two in many metrics, post-covid it increased dramatically to a factor of five.
Another key insight was the identification of a category that the authors considered as “leapfroggers” – those that managed to increase the distance between themselves and their competitors even more dramatically.
“Looking at how those companies operated, you really validated a lot of the ideas we had,” Daugherty said.
This led to the creation of a framework the authors termed “The IDEAS framework," – encompassing intelligence, data, expertise, architecture, and strategy. By quantifying the progress that leaders and leapfroggers were making in those areas, it becomes possible to understand the roadmaps they were following towards the future.
“That’s what we’re laying out for people – how to reframe some of the assumptions and think differently about how to get to the future.”
The book covers complicated and emerging topics such as artificial emotional intelligence and is focused on a number of case studies, including companies that the authors have worked with during their time with Accenture. It also touches on subjects like edge computing and small data – situations where, though an organization may have access to potentially unlimited amounts of information, the truly valuable insights might lie within a much smaller and more concentrated pool of data.
“For many organizations and for many things companies need to do, the small data could be what makes the biggest difference … and the trends in technology are leading in this direction … more technology is being pushed to the edge, and more algorithms are going to need to run on the edge, not back in your centralized data lake … how do you filter the right data … rather than going back and forth to your data center environment?”
A core component of the book’s messaging is the huge importance of building sustainability into everything that we do with business and technology. To this end, it goes into detail on the environmental impact of many of today’s key trends, from cloud computing to electric vehicles. Disturbingly, one statistic they uncovered suggests that while the tech industry probably accounted for around 4 percent of global CO2 emissions ten years ago, today it's probably more like 6 percent – with projections saying that by 2040 it could be as high as 14 percent. Doesn’t this seem somewhat contrary to the promise of many of today’s technology leaders that they are “making the world a better place?”
“It would be disastrous if that were to happen,” Daugherty says, “it would be counter to every more we need to make as a society in reducing emissions.”
Again, he suggests the answer lies in turning established ideas on their heads in search of more radically human innovation.
"The last one-tenth of one percent of the precision you drive in your deep learning model could use three of four times the carbon capacity – do you need that precision? Is the tradeoff worth it? Those are the types of questions we’re asking … we don’t have all the answers – the answers aren’t obvious yet in terms of all the things we need to do, but there are some things that are clear.”
You can click here to watch my webinar with Paul Daugherty, CTO of Accenture and co-author of Radically Human: How New Technology is Transforming Business and Reshaping our Future. We dive deeper into the IDEAS framework and the sustainability implications of digital transformation, as well as cover issues such as the importance of trust in the digital age.