Artificial Intelligence has come onto the scene in a big way over the past year in particular with easy access to large language models, AI art creators, personal assistants and more bursting onto the market to mixed reactions. We’re only just scratching the surface of the potential available, but AI is already the new, secret ingredient to the formula of business growth.
Some of the essential components of AI - algorithms, data, analytics and machine learning - have been used in the workplace for a long time. AI is not new this year. Robots performing human tasks also are not new - we’ve had industrial robots in manufacturing facilities for decades. But the volume and variety of data we have available, the speed at which we can process it, and the ability for the machine to learn more sophisticated human-like decisions are what make AI more interesting and novel than other automation we’ve seen.
Where things can get slippery is the high level of uncertainty about the quality of the data we’re feeding the machine. We should not wait for robots to show up at the door to suddenly take responsibility for how the basic components are developed, used, programmed or sold. If any part of your decision making today uses algorithms, advanced analytics, or advanced automation, then you have components of AI - even without robots - and we need to remain focused on the quality of the data and responsibility of decisions made by us and the machine.
There is a lot of skepticism around AI, understandably. It feels like adoption is already outpacing our ability to adapt. The reality is that we have been prepared for the growth of AI and major technological disruption over the last three decades.
Take a moment and think about all that has happened in that time to prepare us for yet another technological revolution. The World Wide Web was made available for public use 30 years ago and today we have over one billion websites. We’ve been able to connect cell phones to the internet for just over 20 years and we have nearly seven billion smartphone users today. Thanks to the internet of things, there are over 15 billion connected devices. Professionals have been and continue to be upskilled and reskilled in data privacy, cybersecurity and how to work alongside these technologies.
Our industries and markets have not just come to terms with readying themselves for technological disruption, they have embraced the potential available to them. Granted, not every business or sector is fully prepared just yet to embrace something as multifaceted as AI, but the hunger for improvement is there. Just as they have with computers, with smartphones, email and workplace messaging apps, so too will businesses adapt quickly to the opportunities AI presents.
Think about it this way: AI will be “baked into” nearly every critical business process, streamlining our use of apps, software, hardware, computers, machines, and more. AI will be an essential ingredient like eggs and flour are to a batch of cookies.
When you bake a batch of cookies today, you probably don’t even think about how the eggs and flour have been processed, handled, and even regulated before becoming an essential ingredient in your famous receipt. You trust in your raw material ingredients. Once you bake those cookies, you can’t take out the eggs or flour. The batch is done. You’d have to throw out – or recall – the cookies if you found out something bad happened with those ingredients.
In the legal profession in particular, we have already been reaping the benefits of automation and even early successes with AI. Legal research, document drafting, eDiscovery, trademark and patent searching and drafting, are active use-cases in the legal profession right now. Additional hyperautomation and hyperscaling will continue to improve efficiencies in back office functions like time entry, prebill processing, electronic billing, and collections. But we’ve also seen the impact of faulty AI use in the legal profession. Often attributed to “automation addiction”, humans may believe the algorithm or the machine to be more accurate than humans. Coupled with the speed at which AI can perform, it is assumed to be the best of both worlds - more accurate and more efficient. Left unchecked or unvalidated by humans, wrong or hallucinated work generated by AI puts legal practitioners at risk.
Despite these risks, there is great upside to practicing law during a time of AI disruption. New disputes have already risen regarding accountability. Is my vendor or supplier accountable for the way the algorithm is trained? Am I accountable for the way the AI performs when I feed my data and have my people using the technology? If the code that was used to develop the AI contains open source code, who has rights to use it? If the analytic was used for one intended purpose and we choose to repurpose it for different use, regulators are signaling they want to crack down on the inappropriate use or dual-purpose of open source AI models in certain contexts, especially where human rights are impacted.
We can expect to hear a lot of debate, a lot of discourse, and probably even some fearmongering throughout the process. That’s healthy and normal, even if we need to move quicker than we have in the past. How we regulate AI – whether existing or new – is critical to ensuring the American and global business communities continue to grow.
We’re at yet another inflection point for business worldwide. The rapid advancement of technology has prepared us to handle this inevitable transition, but how we do it will shape the business community and society for generations to come.
Sarah Alt is a member of the C-Suite Leadership Team and Best Innovation Council at Michael Best working alongside the Chief Innovation and Technology Officer and firm leaders to recommend and plan technology investments and implementations that achieve business objectives. Sarah has more than 20 years of business and technology experience in continuous improvement, business modeling, technology integrations, technology adoption strategy, design thinking, change management, and project management.
This article was prepared by Sarah Alt in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the opinions or views of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Michael Best Strategies LLC, Michael Best Consulting LLP or its members.