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Views from the Prairie

April 2024

Chat AI isn't the Answer.

Chat AI is solving the wrong problem. While there is a lot of hype about AI, we have yet to see the AI that will have the most impact. The current AI tools are only increasing the productivity of creative folks. The AI that will have the impact is the one that transforms how we do business. It will be the AI that changes how CEOs operate that will change our world.

The situation with AI is very similar to how personal computers impacted business. The first Apple II computers were shipped in 1977. The IBM PC was introduced in 1981. The famous Macintosh ad was aired in 1984. The hype was huge for years. Creative writers, artists, and musicians became more productive. Yet, by 1990, still much of business was still being done the way it had been for decades.

Business was still being done via letters sent in postal mail. Salespeople made personal calls and in person visits to get business. CEOs rarely knew how to find the letters on a keyboard. Instead, they would dictate letters and memos to a secretary. Personal computers had not made any measurable difference in business productivity.

When corporations brought in computer networking and internal electronic mail, that increased the capability of personal computers and transformed how business was done. Connecting internal email systems via the Internet transformed business to business communications. All of a sudden, CEOs needed to know how to type, how to communicate to workers, and their productivity went up dramatically.

The current "chat AI" is not transformative because it is only helping one person at a time. It will be transformative when AI is used while communicating between people, change how projects are managed, change how people are managed, and change how companies interact with each other.

Implementing new technology often follows this type of pattern. We think of it first in terms of replacing existing technology and try to fit it into existing business practices. Rarely does that replacing make much difference. It often takes a second or third technological innovation before the first innovation shows its real value. And then, it is in the redesign of business practices that the first technology shows its real value.

AI is being used right now to replace some effort. There has been no redesign of standard business practices to incorporate AI. We are still waiting for the second or third innovation to show the real value of AI.

AI will have its greatest impact when it changes how CEOs and top managers operate. When AI can help managers with all their tasks, when it can help them manage remote workers, when it can replace some of the meetings they have to endure, and when it can help businesses manage vendors, then it will have productivity changes that justify the hype.

Let's keep looking for new ways to use AI to transform business practices.

The Speed of Change

For thousands of years, humans lived by the cycle of the seasons, planting in the spring, harvesting in the fall, and change happened slowly. Many want to continue to have slow change. But complex societies can change rapidly. We need resilience to cope with rapid change.

With any change, a few will always resist, more will object to the change, others will grudgingly accept the change, and a few will always embrace change. When the pace of change is more than what someone expects, they can feel overwhelmed.

To help people with change, the starting point is communication, both speaking and listening. People need safe spaces where they can talk about the feelings of overwhelm.

When we can help people take ownership of the new situation, then they are able to accept the change. This can take different amounts of time and effort with different people.

People need information when change is happening. When no information is available, people create and spread rumors as fact. Others will react to the rumors and panic. Still others will look to a "loud speaker" who confidently asserts nonsense. Such leaders tend to lead the team into trouble.

We can help others with the change by showing them a clear path to success through the changes. We help them cope by caring, listening, and hearing their concerns.

Change is happening. Most of us do not have the power to prevent the change. We do have the power to react in positive ways, find a path to success, and work to build a better society as we deal with the changes.

We can be positive in the midst of change.

Risky World

There are companies still using floppy disks even though most systems dropped the floppy disk years ago. The San Fransisco Metro Muni train system is still running on DOS systems booted from old 5 inch floppy drives (along with some slow networking cables). The expected conversion date to something more modern is sometime near 2030. Let's hope it holds together till then.


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