Artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining more and more ground in international companies. Verena Fink, Founder and Managing Partner of the consultancy Woodpecker Finch in Cologne, as well as a Member of the Advisory Board at the Californian IT service provider DocuSign Inc, speaks with Janice Köser, Manager of the Academy at Staufen AG, about this development. She is an expert in digital transformation in marketing and sales and knows the opportunities and risks that AI offers.
AI is a very complex technology and yet limited
Many people are not sure what to expect from AI. Verena Fink herself, who has studied the topic in depth, says: “For me, AI is a technology that we don’t yet fully understand today.” Systems learn on their own, link data points together and running through many different pathways to the goal.
With all this complexity, however, AI systems are only as good as the data they receive – and thus as good as the humans who make the data selections. It is easy to provide AI only with data that produce the desired result.
Not everyone seizes the opportunity for change
While some companies are using the inevitable boost to digitization in Germany provided by the pandemic as an opportunity for change, others remain hesitant: medium-sized companies in particular often choose not to seize the opportunity. Verena Fink can understand this reflex: “When times are uncertain, as they are right now, and when budgets are tight, many tend to rely on what has worked in the past rather than take a risk and try something new.”
But she believes that it is worthwhile for medium-sized companies to invest in AI: “As the world becomes increasingly complex and customers less and less tangible, we risk losing our connection. In some companies, however, it is not just the money that is holding back an investment: Some executives fear that AI analyses might not match their opinions and feelings, or that it might limit their scope for decision-making.
Humans remain irreplaceable
Since AI must always be directed and guided by experienced humans, fear is not necessary. AI only ever works with data, whereas humans are capable of empathy and understanding human nature. These points often lead to situations being evaluated differently than according to simple data and figures. AI must also be externally supplied with parameters.
There is founded and unfounded fear of AI
Everything that people are not familiar with initially seems threatening to them. Verena Fink does not see AI as a threat to jobs. Although there will be structural shifts between the sectors of the economy, many skilled workers will be needed, especially at the interface between humans and machine, and the service segment will also become stronger.
Verena Fink sees AI as a positive development: “Not only because it is faster, but because it can still handle data in quantities that are over our heads. And that helps us allocate things, select alternatives, make recommendations, and prioritize and structure resources.” With AI support, it is easier to identify trends and patterns.
But the expert also cites an example of well-founded fear: “What if we don’t know exactly what data the AI uses to arrive at its assessment?” She describes how, for example, errors can occur during pre-selection in the job application process because the algorithm is trained with data that ensures that certain groups of people are not initially shortlisted. Laws must be adapted regarding artificial intelligence so that discrimination does not occur.
Europe must be careful not to lose its connection
Verena Fink sees an urgent need for Europe to catch up with regard to AI in all sectors: “I can count the number of global players driving artificial intelligence and related research on two hands. And they manage 7 billion end customers with their platforms. That is why they earn so much money, which they invest enormously.” But Europe is hardly involved in this and is at risk of falling behind.
AI is expected to change the culture of companies in all areas: The roles of those involved and jobs will look different – employees will take on fewer repetitive tasks and instead work more with machines. For this change to succeed, it is absolutely necessary to invest in digital education: companies must ensure early on that their employees receive the appropriate training. Moreover, the battle to attract top talent on the job market will intensify even further.
“Artificial Intelligence in Human Resources”
Verena Fink has incorporated her experiences into the book “Künstliche Intelligenz in der Personalarbeit” (Artificial Intelligence in Human Resources). In it, she points out that in a field as young as AI, ethical and moral questions must be raised and answered. “I also write about the interaction of artificial intelligence and human cooperation,” she explains. “How can we design it to make work more satisfying for people? And how do we deal with cultural change?” In addition, she introduces tools that work with AI and explores the extent to which they actually serve the business and the workforce.
AI is young but inevitable
Artificial intelligence has just outgrown its infancy. Nevertheless, progress is already quite amazing. Consequently, those who make use of it will have a decisive advantage over those who oppose it. Verena Fink is one of those experts who want to ensure that AI is more widely accepted by companies in Europe. To achieve this, she gives talks, and works as an author and a lecturer, illustrating her knowledge with easy-to-understand examples from the respective industry. Because only if both the opportunities and the risks of AI are known can the latter be eliminated so that the potential of the technology can unfold for the benefit of the company and the workforce alike.
Founder and Managing Partner
Woodpecker Finch GmbH
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