In the workplace of the future, “humans may supplement the skills of machines — and not the other way around,” predicts Columbia’s Bernd Schmitt.
Is the convergence between artificial and human intelligence, which once seemed like just a gleam in the eyes of computer scientists and science fiction authors, almost upon us? And if robots become as clever as we are, how will the role of managers change?
Bernd Schmitt, the Robert D. Calkins Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School, thinks the convergence is coming, and that managers have to start preparing now.
Schmitt comes at the questions not as a computer scientist but as a marketing expert. He is faculty director of Columbia’s Center on Global Brand Leadership, a forum on branding issues for researchers and executives. He conducts research on people’s perceptions of cyborgs and robots, and has launched a project entitled “Possible Future Worlds” that explores the impact of technologies on business and consumers. He presents his own brand with a little bit of a lighthearted robotic edge, too: His website is called “MeetSCHMITT.com”.
Schmitt spoke with MIT Sloan Management Review about how artificial intelligence is advancing, and how it is likely to impact the workplace and even managerial creativity.
For decades, computer scientists have referred to the merging of human intelligence and computing as “the singularity.” How do you define the concept?
Technological singularity is typically defined as a point in the future when IT systems become as sophisticated as humans or even qualitatively more sophisticated and superior to humans. It is often discussed in the context of robots that are supercomputers but also have a human appearance. It’s when humans and robots cannot be distinguished from each other because the computer or robot has passed the Turing test, meaning if you ask it a series of questions, it answers like a human being.
It’s quite likely that robots, or systems, will at some point have all the capabilities — or more — that we normally ascribe to humans.