I Blame Bladerunner, a Mix of Mind and Machine.

Would you let a machine make decisions for you? It’s something that makes a lot of us feel vaguely uncomfortable – we can blame Blade Runner and Terminator for that. The fact is however that much of our lives and many of our decisions are already heavily influenced or controlled by technology, algorithms and machines.

Allowing machines- or artificial intelligence (AI), to be more precise- to entirely take over business decisions is another matter. Our Data and Analytics Survey 2016 clearly showed that most executives prefer to rely on human judgment and their experience rather than on machines (only 35% said they often relied on data and analytics when making decisions). The recent advancements in AI raise the question of whether that approach is still well advised however, and whether a new generation of leaders would see this as best practice.

As our new report sets out, we’ve come to the point where AI can help businesses make better decisions in a quicker manner. This is because AI can learn from massive amounts of data and see patterns a human couldn’t possibly hope to; it’s time to welcome science into the C-suite.

The problem with human decisions is that they come with a natural and unavoidable bias. If you’re making a decision alone, it’s easy to cherry-pick data that supports your already held views, or to discount information that contradicts your gut feeling. Therefore, whether it be conscious or unconscious, even collaborative decision-making is subject to bias as the outcome is somewhat dependent on strength of personality; somebody with the right answer can easily be drowned out by the crowd.

Technology provides the opportunity to bypass human bias, which has important implications for decision making and the opportunities to strengthen diversity. AI doesn’t suffer from confirmation bias or wishful blindness; algorithms give decisions discipline. But they also lack something - the instinct for inquiry and experimentation. Machines can process enormous amounts of data to give us the facts on which to base a decision, but they don’t know how to ask the right  questions. That’s what we do so well, and that’s why working together with technology in a new type of partnership will be the way forward for leading organisations.

We believe this is the inflection point for a step change in organisational performance, brought on by faster, more diverse and effective decision-making. Executives will fundamentally change the way they make decisions if they supplement their own judgment with insights driven by data and technology. But to achieve that, we need to be far more comfortable with working in collaboration with machines.

We need a change of mindset and culture in our organisations and leaders as, until now, we’ve tended to treat technology as either a servant or an overlord. We need to open our minds to the possibilities technology provides and to learn to trust machines; trust will only arise gradually and in conjunction with investment in teaching them. The more we work with AI and see their algorithms in action, the quicker this trust will develop and the faster they will learn to solve our most complex and urgent problems. But if we’re going to make the most of this opportunity, organisational culture needs to adapt – and that’s a leader’s job.

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