The corporate world has entered a period of deeper self-inquiry in the past few years.
All around us, organizations and institutions are re-thinking, re-engineering and re-enforcing their commitment to social justice issues, with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) absorbing much of that focus.
Companies are trying their best to formalize and structure programs, processes, public facing narratives and internal dialogues around artificial intelligence (AI) and DEIB. Many are striving to integrate sophisticated AI and DEIB models into their operations so that they become a functional and emblematic part of their journey and image.
Our webinar AI, Business Psychology and DEIB: The Rise of a Transformative Market was an opportunity to analyze these two very popular and pressing topics in an unstructured way. By that I mean we wanted to discuss both topics in an almost anthropological sense, which is where the business psychology component of the title really comes into play. It’s also where and why Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic makes an appearance on the webinar.
Tomas is an organizational psychologist and in the webinar, in his talk and the Q&A segment, he outlined the extent to which AI could be a progress enhancer or accelerator in the field of DEIB, saying:
My interest in AI is really on the human impact; on how AI has the potential to influence, shape and often dictate our behaviors sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. And so with that, it’s important to frame this discussion in the context of our wider evolution.
AI and our wider evolution
Our collective induction into the spheres of technology and social justice issues are constantly being prefaced and punctuated by a common emotion, a common denominator, which is fear.
Humans have a history of blaming technology for the demise of a culture. People’s reactions to new technology follows a tightly consistent rhythm. There is concern, insecurity, closely followed by panic and anger. AI, as a science and a discipline attracts a lot of misplaced enthusiasm and even more fear. As a cultural topic, it really nags at our humanity and exposes it in all its primitive glory.
Humans haven’t changed very much from a biological standpoint in the last 300,000 years. Our homo sapiens ancestors are genetically identical to us and we still share 99% of our DNA with other primates. That said most of the relevant aspects that impact evolution tend to be social and cultural.
The AI-DEIB opportunity
Here’s Tomas’s perspective on diversity: “Our brains are not prewired for diversity. Historically, we haven’t been motivated to embrace or even tolerate people who are different from us.
“For 99% of human evolution, there were few incentives for exploring life outside of our in-group which by the way is why we feel more empathy for people who are like us in any demographic group and why when organizations say it is not enough to tolerate people who are different, we have to celebrate them and embrace them, they are up against something that is very very hard to rewire – our brains.”
Is AI in a position to magically re-engineer our judgements? No.
AI’s ability to make predictions is what makes it valuable to the human capital space. What AI offers is objectivity more so than re-education. The metric here isn’t about outcome. The metric here is one of prioritization and progress because as an objective lens, when applied to DEIB, AI can be profoundly valuable.
Consider a work scenario that was outlined in the webinar: If you were to walk into an organization today and ask who the highest value employees, managers or leaders are, the people/s nominated will be the ones who have been successful in that organization. And when you consider what success at the corporate level generally means – a function of being good politicians, managing up, sucking up to authority or perpetuating the status quo or doing what certain people in charge or power want you to do, as opposed to adding value, it’s the bureaucrats that come out on top.
Now imagine, what would happen if AI were in charge of the nominations.
AI would highlight individuals based on how much they actually contribute and how much value they bring to a team or organization. The opportunity here is that AI could potentially improve company culture by side-lining and making internal politics redundant in favor of intel that speaks accurately to employee performance, highlighting underappreciated, more humble, introverted employees.
According to Premuzic, the opportunity, when applying AI to DEIB, is to help organizations clean up their KPIs and sanitize the performance space.
What’s great about AI in this instance is not its ability to learn but to un-learn. An algorithm can be taught to focus on what is relevant and ignore what is irrelevant. Algorithms are basically recipes which have the capacity to improve and refine themselves and get more accurate through time.
Algorithms also serve as an example of the aforementioned AI influencing behavior. That dynamic is already well underway. We mostly experience these algorithms through the various automated nudges and recommendation engines which have the ability to not just predict what we do but influence what we do.
ChatGPT and the Socratic method
One of the webinar presentation slides included a bust of Socrates. His fate, his teaching method and his views about the wisdom of the crowd, make him a fascinating mascot for ChatGPT.
Post event, I asked Premuzic if he thought Socrates would have been pro-AI, despite his cautionary attitude towards technology. Also, could he have averted his hemlock death if he had been judged by AI as opposed to a jury of his peers.
And the answer was yes. According to Premuzic, Socrates would have spent all day on ChatGPT and he went on to say that ChatGPT is in fact a Socratic tool because it teaches us to ask better questions and like Socrates, it encourages us to think for ourselves and self-correct.
So much of the current discussion with ChatGPT is about whether it’s better than a human or not… and we are in this paranoid, defensive, self-enhancing, competitive mode when in fact what we should be asking is how can we become better using this tool.
And that is what is so intriguing about this technology. The question here is, could AI make us better?
The comparison with Socrates and the verdict of his trial underscores the unshakeable reality that just because the sage is sophisticated, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee an evolved positive outcome. Insight and wisdom are such fragile things. Those delicate, sensitive AI-powered DEIB insights could very well turn into acrylic dust in our hands if we don’t have the character, confidence and curiosity to follow through.
If we don’t have some of the qualities of the sage, be it Socrates or AI, if we don’t allow it to imprint itself on us, to shape our behavior, how much progress could we make? As human beings we will invariably process and interpret intel in an emotional way and if we are not handling AI’s insights as objectively as they are being delivered, does that defeat the process?
For now, what’s clear is that AI is here to stay, to expand. ChatGPT has altered our relationship with AI. Fear now seems outdated and has been supplanted by curiosity. Why? Probably because self-actualization and self-determination are firmly tied in with digital skills and that education, for those of us who are geographically and economically privileged to benefit from it, has understandably become very valuable to us.
For the time being, because humans are so melded in to the AI/tech equation, we can’t detach what is human from the technology, which also means we can’t detach emotion from technology.
In case you missed it, you can watch this webinar on AI, business psychology and DEIB on demand here.
Sign up to the UNLEASH Newsletter
Get the Editor’s picks of the week delivered straight to your inbox!