Guest post: Don’t fixate on what is or isn’t AI – focus on client outcomes instead

By Mike McGlinchey

In recent years, business departments have been using technology more widely and smartly to improve business efficiency.  Take the legal department for example; typically one of the last departments in a corporation to accept transformation (lawyers by their nature tend to be more conservative and risk averse) it’s an undeniable fact that legal departments are now opening up to tech transformation, which is really mainstreaming.

There is still however a certain amount of unhelpful ‘hype’ around artificial intelligence specifically, that is unhelpful to those in the business world looking to jump on this tech transformation bandwagon.  As department heads try to work out exactly what needs to be done in order to not be left behind, this ‘hype’ is effectively misinformation.  It makes their task of transforming the business infinitely more difficult.  It’s for this reason that the hype surrounding AI should be softened or done away with altogether.  It risks undoing a lot of the good progress we’re seeing in the field of technology.

An example: the Law Society recently published its Future Worlds 2050 report which looks at the impact AI is having on the legal profession. The report made bold predictions that forecast a ‘savage reduction’ in roles for human lawyers and suggests that they will struggle to work alongside technology. In all honesty though, we aren’t likely to see that scenario any time soon.

We have seen the hype surrounding AI settle to a degree but frequent use of digital imagery with robotic lawyers doesn’t help either. Too often, ‘AI’ is still used as a marketing tool.  In my view we need to move away from this, as it only serves to give people the wrong idea about what AI can do.

When relational database technology was gaining traction in the 1990s the only people looking into this were the tech people who were using it to develop new solutions.  But in the modern age, with things like AI and Blockchain, everyone is fixated on the underlying technology.  Clearly AI will have an impact on society, but there needs to be a balance between reality and expectations.

While it is great to have different departments engaging in technology and exploring potential use cases, focus on one technology may miss opportunities in others.  Instead of being fixated on using AI, department heads should focus on what is most useful to clients.  Through our tech consulting and support work, which sees us regularly help businesses to navigate the ‘confusing waters’ of AI, we often find that a product using AI isn’t even the best solution to a client’s problem.  Products that aren’t built using AI can be just as effective and, importantly, explainable.  It’s usually the case that a mix of different tech products and solutions work for a client.  Whether one technology or another is under the bonnet should be completely irrelevant.

‘AI’ as a term is far too broad and complex for anybody who isn’t a tech expert to think about in any real depth.  We should get away from the idea that a product has to use this sort of technology to be modern or worth investing in, and we should do away with any ideas that AI is a panacea that can solve any business problem.  In most cases, AI is simply an assistance tool.  In many ways, it would be better for Artificial Intelligence to be rebranded as Assisted Intelligence (which paints a more accurate picture) or not mentioned altogether.

When it comes to the use of AI in business, we should be focusing on client outcomes with equal focus on the people and the effectiveness of the processes and the technology – regardless of whether AI is included or not.

Mike McGlinchey is Head of Consulting: Process and Technology, for Pinsent Masons Vario