Artificial intelligence: good, evil, or just a great business tool?

It is hard to find any technology article these days that does not have some reference to artificial intelligence (AI). While one writer touts the amazing powers of AI for good, others are equally passionate with warnings of its potential to destroy the world. It is not often that one topic creates such polarized opinions from equally learned and visionary people. So what is a business leader to do when faced with the inevitable decisions about adopting AI in their enterprise? Who can you believe?

Like every major innovation, AI can be used for evil as well as for good. But for most businesses, bringing in AI based tools will not be a choice but a necessity. Why is that? Today’s agile businesses rely on data analysis to constantly adjust strategy, delivery, and product development.

In his August 2016 article, fellow IT World contributor Stephen Ibaraki summarized the business areas relying or soon to be impacted by the AI of Everything. Ibaraki is very clear when he describes the current state of AI driven disruptive innovation. According to Stephen, “AI is driving new innovation business strategy due to machine learning integration into all nine areas of Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas that is the foundation of agile enterprises.”

“In particular, machine learning can significantly increase delivery on the enterprise’s unique or differentiating value propositions of: First mover on something new; Outstanding capabilities; Ease in tailoring to individual needs; Speed in initial usage; Attractiveness; Desired brand and associated high status by association; Best price; Lower operational costs; Risk lowering and mitigation; Ease of access and continuing use.” Really every aspect of most business verticals is or will soon be impacted by AI.

So does this avalanche of AI driven disruption support the good or the evil camp? From a business perspective, AI, in the hands of skilled business and technical teams, can do nothing less than make a business more successful by helping them serve customers better with better products produced with the highest quality control.

True, some of our modern visionary leaders such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking caution us that AI could be one of the greatest threats to humanity. They are not wrong. AI can and may well find its way into weaponry if it hasn’t already. It will likely find its way into the hands of criminals who will use it against financial markets and other civilized institutions. We will eventually have to address these challenges and work together globally to do so.

Personally, I look back at the history of great inventions (I see AI as one of these) and see that all found their way to good and evil use. As a believer in the overall positive nature of the human race I am drawn to a recent posting by the ITU proposing a standards approach for managing AI and in that approach enabling AI to support achievement of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). The ITU, formed in 1865 is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies and allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develops the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strives to improve access to ICTs to under served communities worldwide. This group more than any other has guided our use of technology for over 150 years. Its membership includes 193 Member States and around 800 public and private sector companies as well as international and regional telecommunication entities, known as Sector Members and Associates, which undertake most of the work of each Sector.

If anyone can plot a positive and productive path for AI the ITU can. As one way to building that path, the ITU plans to hold a series of talks on AI at the upcoming ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in Hammamet, Tunisia; as well as at ITU Telecom World and the ITU Kaleidoscope academic conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

So with all of this global wondering going on around AI, what is a business leader to do? Learn and understand AI as quickly as you can and figure out how it can make your business more competitive. As for the future of the world and AI, find a way to support the ITU and the UN SDGs and in that you will make a solid contribution to AI as a force for good.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Dave O'Leary
Dave O'Leary
Dave is a founding managing partner of REDDS Venture Investment Partners ( His career in post-secondary education included roles as CIO, Vice-President and acting President. Dave is a member of the Practitioner Board of the Association for Computing Machinery. He chairs the ACM Practitioner Board Marketing Committee and is also a second term member of the Board's Professional Development Committee. (ACM - Association for Computing Machinery--official IFIP international member representative, largest and most respected international computing science, research, education, innovation professional association well known for their AM Turing Award (Nobel of computing) with 1 million USD prize, 1.5 millions user digital library, 2 million reach, learning center, Applicative conference, Queue magazine, 200 conferences/events, 78 publications/news, 37 Special Interest Groups). He is a board director of the Global Industry Council and the immediate Past President of the Canadian Information Processing Society of British Columbia. Dave is co-founder and director of an ISV computer technology business and is currently leading and advising start ups in the USA, China, Europe, and Canada. He serves as a task force member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and is the past chair of the Canadian National Council of Deans of Information and Communications Technology. He served two terms as a director of the Canadian National Information and Communications Technology Sector Council advising on National technology and economic strategy. Dave has appeared as a panel member in a number of Microsoft webcasts and has presented globally on the business and technical impacts of technology in training. He is the recipient (2002) of the highest national award for leadership in post-secondary education.

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