No matter how helpful, how ground-breaking, how beneficial to the daily operations of your business, AI will not and simply cannot solve all your problems.
Walt Disney, a man whose lasting influence has touched a wide spectrum of disciplines from movie-making to robotics to urban planning, was also known to have a humble, self-effacing perspective. In the latter years of his life, after decades of highly acclaimed achievement and tremendous success in nearly everything he had turned his hand to, he encapsulated the perspective he held about his illustrious career in a famous quote that perfectly frames his accomplishments within the parameters of his own humility and self-awareness. As he reflected on everything that he and the company he founded had achieved, he summed up his feelings by saying, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”
Disney was always known for infusing humor into his observations, even when referencing a serious subject, but this classic quote contained a deep underlying truth. Even though the success of Disney’s company was worldwide and generated a seemingly endless revenue stream, the cornerstone of all that success was a cartoon character whose origins began in garage in Los Angeles in the 1920’s. Having that image firmly embedded in his mind helped to keep Disney on an even keel, always committing to move forward and not simply to rest on his laurels. The clarity of that perspective played a crucial role in grounding not only the man, but also the vast entertainment enterprise he helmed.
But in the intervening decades since Disney made his famous quotation, the world has become increasingly complex. The incredible development of myriad forms of technology has spread its tendrils throughout every facet of modern life, and the inherent byproduct of all this is that we sometimes can find it virtually impossible to separate ourselves from the tech that engulfs us. The more we embrace technology, the more we convince ourselves that we can’t live without it, and our perspective begins to slide out of healthy calibration. What should exist as an aid can instead end up as an entanglement. And the worst aspect of this is that it can somehow manage to happen with our full involvement while we simultaneously seem completely unaware of what’s taking place.
Nowhere is that encroaching of technology more prevalent than in the realm of artificial intelligence. AI went from being a fringe element that most people had little or no interaction with to suddenly permeating every aspect of society. Especially through mediums such as ChatGPT, even those with no technical background could now have free, instant access to AI. For many people, its transition from being a novelty item to a critical component of daily life occurred with frightening rapidity. Decades ago, the celebrated science fiction author Isaac Asimov offered words of caution about the limitations that robotic technology should be afforded, but the sudden influx of AI seemed to happen so quickly that no one quite knew how to throw on the brakes. When leading voices in the tech community began to collectively call for a pause in the development and implementation of AI until its full impact could be evaluated, the legitimacy of its global influence was cemented.
Businesses large and small soon discovered that there was a seemingly endless list of benefits to be gleaned from this technology. At first, some likely used it as a “search engine 2.0”, amazed at being able to ask complex, specific questions only to find detailed answers a mere few seconds later. But beyond those initial experimentations, others soon discovered that there were many possible applications for this new technology. One of the obvious outcomes of all this was that it seemingly placed all businesses, regardless of their size or scope, on a level playing field. Research efforts which previously would’ve required the expenditure of countless staff hours could now be achieved effortlessly, and in a minimal amount of time. The appeal was irresistible, and enterprises soon found themselves looking to AI as the answer to all their problems.
And that, unfortunately, is the greatest problem of all. Because no matter how helpful, how ground-breaking, how beneficial to the daily operations of your business, AI will not and simply cannot solve all your problems. And yet the allure is insidious – why not utilize AI in every facet of your operations, if it’s saving you time and money and enabling you to accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible? And therein lies the dilemma. Losing a proper and seasoned perspective on the role that AI can and should play in your business is remarkably easy to do and will never be anything but a detriment to what you’re ultimately trying to achieve long-term. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, yet it can also end up taking from us without us even being aware.
The fundamental truth that we all need to grasp when it comes to properly establishing the parameters for AI in our businesses and organizations is centered on this single, basic concept: it’s nothing more than a tool. A skilled cabinetmaker will likely have a vast array of implements available to address any potential project, as well as a supporting framework of training, experience, and ever-increasing skill which comes naturally when one invests in pursuing the development of a craft or trade. In actuality, the tools themselves are meaningless without that framework. But with the structure that gives purpose to the tools,
incredible achievements can be made. And so is the case with AI, because it can truly only be beneficial to us if we know both its limitations as well as our own. Viewing it from the focal point of being something to provide help to us rather than just some kind of robotic genie in a bottle is the only way we can ever utilize it to our benefit rather than our detriment.
Just as Walt Disney chose to maintain the equilibrium of his perspective by remembering that “it was all started by a mouse”, so must we do the same when it comes to artificial intelligence. As strange as it may seem, AI itself was also started by a mouse, or, more precisely, by a mechanical mouse constructed in 1951 by Claude Shannon. The contraption he devised was called Theseus and was constructed to locate a target within a labyrinthine maze and then find its way safely to the exit. Although primitive by today’s standards, the technology enabled the mouse to learn the aspects of the various routes in the maze and then apply that knowledge in situations where it found itself in unfamiliar territory. This was the first practical application of artificial intelligence, a term which wouldn’t be coined until five years later when John McCarthy introduced it during a workshop at Dartmouth College.
So the lesson in all of this is that AI is nothing more than a tool that was created by people to help people. If you choose to incorporate it into the fabric of your business, do so with the full understanding that it will never be a substitute for your own intellect. Information and knowledge are well within the grasp of the mechanics of AI, but wisdom, discernment, caution, risk-taking, empathy, enthusiasm, and other critical components of running an enterprise still remain firmly within the confines of the human heart and mind. The knowledge might tell you what you can do, but all of these other attributes are crucial when it comes to the actual decision-making process that determines what you should do. No matter what technological magic AI might possess, it’s your own humanity that will always be the true foundational element of what you do.
Reliance on any type of technology is something that you always need to approach at your own peril. Find ways to maintain the integrity of what drives you, what motivated you to pursue your goals in the first place, and, by doing so, you’ll ensure that AI is something that you view as a tool, not a crutch.
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