CES: Why partnerships and shared values must be rewritten for future commercial and cultural prosperity

CEO and industry leaders look at how technological and societal change are changing the nature of market and economic forces and why partnerships and values are being disrupted as a result

The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology, globalisation and cultural conscience is creating a perfect storm of economic and societal change businesses and consumers must navigate.

And if several CEOs and industry leaders speaking at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show are to be the guide, seeking out and rewriting the rules of partnership and pursuing value alignment not just between companies but also humans and machines will be vital to ensuring cultural equality and in turn, commercial success.

Righting cultural wrongs and pursuing equality

For Accenture CEO, Julie Sweet, 2020 was a year when many looked to right historical wrongs and escalate their pursuit of equality. In a corporate context, this has seen the importance of diversity and inclusion programs of work – internal and external – increase.

“We believe as a company that we must start with ourselves. We have to ensure we are focused on equality, fighting racism and providing the opportunity for advancement,” Sweet said during a CEO panel focused on reimagining the future.

To get there, it’s vital to partner with communities and, as much as possible, other companies for scaled impact, she said. Sweet pointed to Accenture’s Business Roundtable as one such example.

“Even with competitive dynamics, companies are saying we have to work together where we have common interests,” Sweet said. “In the past, people oftentimes talked about the principles of free market needed to have the economy flourish. I think those principles are changing.

“Whether it’s data privacy, or how you bridge the digital divide to make sure you have Internet access so everyone can participate in ecommerce and remote jobs, to providing the foundations of equality – there are new rules being written. I hope they will be global and there is certainly more interest in that.

“The fundamental principles of what is needed to make a digital global economy work are different than in the past.”

What’s also clear is the issues around digitisation and equality are crossing. For example, Sweet noted one-third of US black families don’t have access to the Internet. “The implications of that for education and employment are enormous,” she continued.  

That’s also why Sweet expects companies will need new and different forms of partnership and collaboration. “A rewriting of what is needed to support a thriving global economy provides an opportunity for companies to work together with governments and NFPs in a different way,” she said.  

AI and the human-machine value exchange

Rethinking the nature of partnership and value exchange was also front and centre during a CES discussion between CEO and president of Intel’s Mobileye autonomous vehicle systems producer Mobileye, Professor Amnon Shashua, an AI expert and Dan David Laureate professor; and author and New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Thomas Friedman.

According to Friedman, the current technology revolution is reflective of three simultaneous accelerations: Market, mother nature and Moore’s Law – in other words, globalisation, climate change and technology.

“All three are accelerating in non-linear fashion. What that’s doing is making the world fast, fused and deep to a difference of degree that’s… forcing us to change everything, including how we govern ourselves,” Friedman said.  

“Look by comparison at the Industrial Revolution: That was a destabilising moment when capitalism met that industrial disruption, and it took us over a century to figure out how to govern that. What we came up with in response was the welfare state. And that had three elements – walls to protect against transfer of trade and human beings; floors to cushion people; and a ceiling. Left and right politics was a debate on how high walls should be, how thick the floor should be, and what ceiling to put on change, limited by industrial revolution.

“Because of advances in software chips and AI, we have blown away the walls, crashed through the floor and blown off the ceiling.”

Friedman saw new forms of partnership across industry, government, educational institutions and cultural groups as critical in response. For example, with the shelf-life of skills getting shorter and shorter, the old-world approach of governments educating and businesses employing requires a rethink.

“When the pace of change in jobs changes as quickly as it is now, I as an organisation have to be educator and employer at the same time. I have to offer not just in-case learning, but just-in-time learning,” Friedman said. He pointed to the education approach taken by IT services giant, Infosys, as a great example of this in practice.

“I think we’re going to move to an ecosystem between businesses education and employing and government and educating and partnering with businesses for educating.”

Alongside this, Friedman saw the fusion of technology and environmental / societal change requiring partnerships across business and industry to exist in “multiple states”. By way of example, he pointed to Qualcomm’s partnership with Huawei. Borrowing the words of Qualcomm’s CEO, Friedman said the relationship is “customer, partner, competitor, supplier and shared global standard centre” all in one.

The third string to this current revolution’s bow is what Friedman described as technology going “deep” into everything from systems to businesses and bodies. This again has profound implications for the nature of government and industry partnership.

“In the old world, governments regulated and companies innovated. But what happens if you are innovating so deep I don’t even know who you are?” he asked.

As a way forward, Friedman referenced self-driving vehicles and the insurance protocol co-developed by Israeli-based Mobileye with an ecosystem of partners including Volkswagen, local cultural leaders and Israel’s Ministry of Transportation.

“You need ecosystems to find solutions. We need to be in multiple states at the same time,” Friedman said.  “I’d argue in the world we’re going into you’ll need to exist in multiple states – innovator and regulator, innovator and educator. To do that, you need complex adaptive coalitions. And to get there, you need to have shared values.”  

Shared values between man and machine

Shared value isn’t just required between companies or people. In this new world order, it’s also needed in the partnership between man and machine.

According to Mobileye’s Amnon Shashua, understanding the values driving increasingly sophisticated AI applications and ensuring they align with human interest is going to be vital if we’re to avoid catastrophic cultural consequences.

“With the abundance of data, machine learning and AI, computers have transformed to become much more than a tool. And it effects our lives deeply and daily. When it does that, you have to ask: What are the values of this thing?” he asked.

As Shashua explained, as the number of AI agents deployed in the real world grows, alignment with human interests is going to increasingly need focus. “We need to convince ourselves that while these agents are interacting and improving themselves, they will converge into a state in which they’re aligned with human interests,” he said.

“Say we are building an advanced chatbot and put in a reward function we want to optimise, such as something altruistic like making society happy. While it’s interacting, that chatbot is going to improve to make the people it’s interacting with happier.

“But what if, at some point, it figures out if you lower people’s IQ, they tend to have fewer worries and are happier? That’s not something we anticipated as engineers when we programmed AI and it may not be evident for decades… Over time, people might get dumber as a result. It could take decades to understand that. So the AI, with very good intentions, could result in catastrophe.

“That’s why understanding what AI will do is very important because it’s values that are going to be needed to drive it.”

This balance of advancement and value is something that can already be seen in autonomous driving. While robotic drivers are predictable, once it’s deployed among human drivers, accidents will happen.

“As we drive, we as humans make judgments and assumptions. We have traffic rules, but we also have a duty to be careful,” he said. “How do you create that in code or a mathematical formula? Because you want the machine to have judgment aligned with the way humans use their judgment. Humans make assumptions and have certain ways of reaching judgments. When humans break those, we call it having a lapse of judgment or being reckless.

“We don’t want machines to be reckless. But we have to define it for them. And it has to be done mathematically.”  

Getting to this point requires shared values between robots and machines, Shashua said. And to get there, industry and organisations must take the lead.

Again, this comes back to new forms of partnership between industry, government and society. Which is exactly what Mobileye is doing now with autonomous driving regulation.

“We need to be proactive, come up with a model and then go to regulators. It’s about then having a conversation, and the regulators giving us feedback. If you think it’s wrong, let’s find the parameters and join a coalition with other industrial actors,” Shashua said. “It’s an ecosystem.

“Shared value with man and machine is not something science is grappling with today. They talk ethics, not alignment. In the next couple of years this will become an issue… to make sure we understand alignment between human interests and machine.”  

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