AI is nothing new. For decades, we have all been using AI in our day to day lives – just think about predictive text, the personalized adverts that pop up on social media, and SatNavs that update your route based on live traffic data.
The reason why AI is a major topic of conversation now in 2023, is the advent of a new type of technology – one that generates content, and, because OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI has been put into the hands of anyone with access to the internet.
As a result, AI is no longer controlled by the few companies in the world with large enough computing power, instead, it has “been unleashed at scale, it has been democratized”.
This has triggered a sea change in how we all think about AI, machine learning and technology in general – that’s the view of Florin Rotar, chief AI officer at global professional services giant Avanade.
UNLEASH sat down with Rotar to find out all about his new, unique role at Avanade – he transitioned into the chief AI officer position just a few months ago, previously serving as CTO for two years.
Plus, in the exclusive interview, we explored his perspectives on the future of AI, and particularly what HR leaders need to know now around implementing this technology in a responsible way.
A bright future for AI?
For Rotar, the current and future of AI is bright – he describes it as “unfortunate” that there is so much preoccupation with the possible negatives of AI, and whether or not it will take people’s jobs.
He is clear that AI “doesn’t replace people” – there still need to be human judgements made about the suggestions or content that AI generates – and in actual fact, Rotar and Avanade believe AI “can address some of the world’s biggest challenges [such as in] healthcare, access to education, sustainability, wealth inequalities”.
Plus, it can empower “people to be the best versions of themselves, [and] realize their dreams and their full potential” – it can make the world of work better, rather than worse.
Of course, “some jobs are going to just have to be very different – in the same way that we don’t have typists in the office anymore, everyone types” – while this might be scary, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There’s real potential for AI, and particularly generative AI, to drive productivity – get rid of and automate all those boring, manual tasks that no-one wants to do – and in the process “change how people cooperate, communicate and create”.
Rotar’s view is that during the pandemic, “humans went overboard” and started to spend too much time communicating, and that had a knock-on effect on the time we all spent creating – “generative AI can rebalance that equation”, [so humans] can get more time to create more”.
He shared the example of Microsoft copilot – full disclosure, Avanade was created as a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft in 2000, and the pair have a close partnership to this day – and its ability to summarize meetings, helping people to prioritize which meetings they attend, and which they can quickly get up to date with later.
Don’t obsess about HR use cases
So, that’s the top line argument for AI at work – but for HR teams dealing with the actual implementation of AI in the workplace, Rotar has some advice.
“There is too much obsession with use cases” – the what – and not enough on the why, why do you want to leverage AI in your workplace.
“The path to production is relatively straightforward, the path for value less so, unless you think really hard about why you are doing this in the first place,” adds Rotar.
He hopes that in the future the world will move beyond “this crazy hype cycle” around AI and instead really focus on value.
Rather than thinking, let’s use AI to generate better content, and then simply using it help you, for example, write a fancy email (that you then pretend to have written yourself), “only for someone else who receives the email to then use AI to pretend to be fancy in their reply”, Rotar calls for HR to think more about how to use AI to empower people, and to help them gain new skills and grow in their personal and professional lives.
On the topic of skills, Rotar tells UNLEASH about Avanade’s own new School of AI, which all of its 60,000 employees will go through; “there are a whole load of skills that need to be unlearned”, and new mindsets to be gained for all, including leaders and executives.
To do this, he calls on organizations and HR teams to really dial into their mission and purpose, which he terms their North Star.
Culture and purpose is something that executives love to talk about – but it is no good if it just empty words on a PowerPoint slide, employees need to feel it is genuine and see it play out in their day-to-day working lives.
Getting this right has the added benefit of not just combating employee fears around AI taking their jobs, but also tackling another huge challenge employers are facing right now – a talent shortage.
Responsible AI is a non-negotiable
Rotar continues that after using the NorthStar to drive the why, he encourages HR teams to “encode” it with responsible AI frameworks.
For Rotar and Avanade, “you should not do any AI whatsoever unless you have a responsible AI framework. It is an absolute prerequisite, it is non-negotiable”.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but by going above and beyond the regulatory requirements, companies can differentiate themselves from their competition as both a business and employer.
Rotar’s role as chief AI officer at Avanade is to help companies balance the rewards of AI with the risks – ensuring that transparency and the diversity, equity and inclusion considerations are top of mind for the business.
“Having a newly established chief AI officer role helps me help the company to balance two different dimensions of technology”, he explains.
He describes the role as “fun” but also “weird”.
Unlike being a CTO, “AI less is less about technology and data; it is more about people. To be AI-first is to be people-first”.
“How do you get organizational readiness? How do you get buy-in from people? How do you use AI for good? How do you use AI to track and drive real value”, rather than just for the sake of it?
Could a chief AI officer be your next hire? Are you ready to follow in the footsteps of not just Avanade, but also the likes of Workday, WPP, IBM, and Accenture, and have someone dedicated to ensuring AI is being used for good?
Sign up to the UNLEASH Newsletter
Get the Editor’s picks of the week delivered straight to your inbox!