The far-reaching implications and everyday use-cases of artificial intelligence (AI) systems are becoming more visible by the day, from data management to manufacturing processes. According to Babson College Professor Tom Davenport, renowned management authority whose expertise intersects company culture and information technology (IT), AI is the most prominent technology on the scene today. It’s also the most transformational technology organizations say they’re working with.
“When it comes to the future of AI, I’m generally an optimist,” says Davenport, who was named one of the 100 most influential people in the IT industry. “It’s about augmentation, not large-scale automation. Workers should ask themselves, ‘How can I add value to these systems?’ We all need to upskill and rethink what we can do to work alongside these systems and use the technology to unlock new avenues of value creation.”
Data Drives The Organizations of Tomorrow
A trailblazer at the forefront of the innovation, analytics and Big Data movements, Davenport is a pragmatic, grounded-in-data consultant, educator and futurist. The President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson with affiliations at MIT and Oxford University, he specializes in helping companies understand the value of AI and the increasing amount of data available to them. More consequentially, he helps leaders leverage emerging technologies and translate them into competitive advantages.
Named among the top three business/technology analysts in the world, one of the top 25 consultants by Consulting Magazine, and one of the world’s top 50 business school professors by Fortune magazine, Davenport is the preeminent expert on how organizations can extract value from information and technology. His groundbreaking 2006 Harvard Business Review article, “Competing on Analytics,” which was named to HBR’s list of the most influential management ideas of the decade, outlines game-changing ways organizations can make data and analytics central to their strategy, allowing them to make better decisions and unlocking a greater ability to compete quantitatively.
Author of 23 works on technology, including five on AI, Davenport’s 2022 book, “Working with AI: Real Stories of Human-Machine Collaboration” (MIT Press), includes 29 case studies of organizations and individuals who are already working with AI on a daily basis. His newest publication, “All-in On AI: How Smart Companies Win Big with Artificial Intelligence” (Harvard Business Review Press, January 2023), takes a deep dive into 30 worldwide companies that have aggressively adopted the technology, using it to update their strategies and processes by building new ecosystems driven by AI. By helping leaders across sectors use data to respond to what’s happening now and prepare for what’s ahead, he continues to be the go-to authority for expert insight into the evolving world of AI.
A Future of Working With, Not Against, AI
Focusing on the human side of information and technology in business, Davenport firmly believes that we are not on the cusp of AI replacing humans. In addition to highlighting examples of AI-assisted work and detailing how companies can redesign work and upskill employees, he emphasizes the importance of Chief Data Officers to ensure organizations are extracting the most value from their data. He points out that the role is still a relatively new one, but it’s changing organizational cultures – fast.
“Companies and organizations around the world have spent trillions on hardware, software and data science talent in order to advance analytics and AI,” says Davenport, a regular Forbes contributor and co-founder of the International Institute for Analytics. “Yet a substantial number of firms still lack strong capabilities in these areas. The primary culprit is the absence of a culture that emphasizes data, analytics and evidence-based decision making.”
But that’s changing at an increasing pace as more organizations integrate emerging technologies into company cultures.
Generative AI: Creating New Opportunities and New Concerns
With the recent viral popularity of generative AI systems like DALL-E2 for images and GPT-3 for text, Davenport says the future of content creation, interpersonal communication, and even art will be forever changed. In a 2022 Harvard Business Review article—the first in HBR on the technology–he explains that while generative AI can be leveraged to open new avenues of creating advertising copy, entertainment and even software design, there is a growing need for policies and governance around it, with questions about legal considerations such as content ownership and ethical concerns like misuse in academics still unanswered.
“Generative AI is going to have a pretty big impact,” he points out. “How we’re going to deal with the intellectual property issues will be complicated, and academic institutions will need policies about student use.” Davenport acknowledges that generative AI offers new challenges to human workers from an automation standpoint, but he still believes that augmentation is the most likely and best outcome over the next decade.
Maintaining his position as an AI pioneer and esteemed futurist, Davenport continues to be a top resource for organizational guidance. As data, analytics and AI become progressively indispensable in both business and society, the leaders who prioritize their use, governance and wide-scale deployment will increasingly open new avenues of value creation and widen the gap with competitors.