AI will turn the workforce into hyper productive business centaurs

I spend a lot of my time talking to executives from some of the most iconic companies in the world.

I spend a lot of my time talking to executives from some of the most iconic companies in the world. They know artificial intelligence (AI) is critical to accelerating business growth, but I’ve been struck by how every one of them is now grappling with how to implement it in their business processes.

AI isn’t well suited to perform all tasks, so the challenge is to find ways to optimize the interface between humans and machines. Integrating AI is more than just automating business processes — it’s about assisting employees and empowering them to work smarter and be more productive.

Business leaders and decision makers must think about how to build the human-machine relationship, carefully considering the division of roles, organizational structures and how to ensure that employees and AI work together to make the business and workforce thrive.

These are critical problems facing every innovative business leader today. And when I consider these issues, I’m reminded of Garry Kasparov’s ideas about centaur chess.

The centaur model

On May 11, 1997, the world’s attention was perhaps more focused on the world of chess than ever before. Why? Because on that day, Garry Kasparov–the reigning world champion–lost to a computer, IBM’s Deep Blue.

Over time Kasparov, who initially accused Deep Blue of ‘cheating’, became increasingly interested in how computers could work to augment the capabilities of human chess players. He coined the term centaur chess to describe a variant of the game in which a human participant is paired with a computer that helps in decision making, including suggesting moves.

In Greek mythology, centaurs were a race of creatures with the head and upper body of a man, but the legs and lower body of a horse. They combined the dexterity and intelligence of humans with the speed and stamina of horses. In Kasparov’s update, a centaur is a mixture of man and machine, with the creativity of a human and the computing power of a machine.

Aficionados of centaur chess argue that the pairing of man and machine takes the game to never-before-seen levels of perfection, with blunder-free games, perfect tactical play and the flawless execution of strategic plans.

Over the last 20 years, these AI systems have evolved drastically; just last month, a new program called AlphaZero is the new reigning chess champion thanks to its moves that are “unthinkable” to a human player. But the centaur chess model of human/computer collaboration has grown more relevant to the entire world of work —  as AI technology moves from the lab to the business world, an entire workforce of centaurs becomes possible, enabling previously unimagined levels of productivity and performance.


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