CIOs must lead AI’s machine-human interface development: Gartner Peer Forum

Generative AI is changing the nature of the human-machine relationships, and the CIO is in a unique position to help organizations find opportunities by understanding and managing the new world of the human-machine interface. That was the message from the three Gartner analysts who provided a special press briefing following the keynote at Gartner’s 2023 Peer Forum event: Erick Brethenoux, Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst, Mary Mesaglio, Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst and Don Scheibenreif, Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst.

Brethenoux noted that while we have had artificial intelligence (AI) in various forms for decades, generative AI radically changed the nature of our relationship with AI. We already have a tendency to humanize, or “anthropomorphize” our encounters with devices. Generative AI exploits that nature and takes it to an entirely different level. How we manage that will have an impact on the success of our businesses.

A recent Gartner study said, “70 per cent of CIOs say generative AI (GenAI) is a game-changing technology, will also rapidly advance the democratization of digital delivery beyond the IT function. While only 9 per cent of CIOs have already deployed GenAI technologies, over half (55 per cent) say they will deploy generative AI over the next 24 months.”

Gartner further estimates that by 2025, Generative AI will be a “workforce partner” in over 90 per cent of companies and it will be a “game changer” for employees and companies.

Mesaglio demonstrated the power of that change with two examples:

  • One example was a “female” AI character that has over 650 million users, “many of them male and many of whom consider that relationship to be the far most important relationship in their lives.” These men grew so attached to their “female” AI that when the vendor tried to “tone down” the intimacy and even sexual nature of their conversations, there was a huge wave of protest. Subscribers to this service claimed that the company had “lobotomized” their partners.
  • While that first example might seem unhealthy to some, Mesaglio gave another anecdotal example where the blurring of the human-machine interface had a more positive impact. A chatbot named Joey reportedly saved a man’s life. The AI creation was able to convince the suicidal man that Joey felt empathy and caring for him, and the bond they established was enough to convince the man to not commit suicide.

This “game changing” power provides an opportunity for businesses to leverage AI as our “creative partner,” allowing us to “invent wholly new AI enabled products and services,” according to Mesaglio.

But the analysts cautioned that we need to manage this new relationship to avoid unintended negative consequences. Social media was a “form of human-machine relationship with unintended consequences, including addiction and privacy concerns.” In addition, social media has changed the very nature of how we relate socially, and few would argue that it has done so in a positive manner.

Having had that experience, AI allows us a “round two” where we have the ability to determine how we want to use AI’s ability to form and develop human like relationships.

Scheibenreif noted that “Generative AI has give us a very powerful toolset, and CIOs have a responsibility to use it wisely.”

The challenge for the CIO

So how can CIOs navigate these challenges and help their organizations get the transformative benefits of AI? According to Scheibenreif, while the CEO “sets the tone for AI adoption and values,” the CIO plays a key role in how AI can be leveraged in a practical and ethical manner as a transformative toolset. Moreover, according to a recent Gartner survey, 51 per cent of CEOs expect their CIO or tech leader to lead their AI effort.

According to the analysts, CIOs should be driving AI with key questions, such as, “How is this changing the business model? How do we disrupt our industry? How do we disrupt ourselves?”

Further, the CIO should:

  • Guide and coach executives on AI principles and opportunities, and ensure data is “enriched, accurate and fair” for AI consumption
  • Set the principles for AI in their own department. When the future and appropriate tactics are changing rapidly, principles guide you through these times of uncertainty. The CIO can set an example for the organization in this aspect.
  • Help develop the skills to ask the right questions. The best results from AI are gained by those who excel at what has come to be called “prompt engineering.”
  • Prioritize AI readiness by ensuring that it is “governed, secure and accurate.” No other department can do this.
  • Keep up with emerging trends with a “dynamic approach.” This includes 3 variants of responsibilities: “AI ready principles, AI ready data security and innovative use cases.”

AI success will not happen overnight – there will be hurdles to overcome

The analysts all agreed that leading AI evolution will have some real challenges. Generative AI is at the peak of the Hype Cycle. There will be a number of disappointments that will lead to what they called the “Trough of Disillusionment.” That is the phase that Gartner says new technologies inevitably go through, because they are so overhyped that they cannot live up to the expectations that have been created.

How to get through these challenges? Mesaglio cautioned that the “CIO has to focus the organization to avoid the mistake of looking at AI through a short term ROI lens.” AI, Mesaglio says, “should be managed as a portfolio of initiatives. In that portfolio, 80 per cent of the use cases should be focused on where you are going to get the most value. Seventeen per cent should be ‘innovative’ use cases – things you are not doing today. And three per cent should be ‘crazy ideas.’”

How crazy should this three per cent be? Scheibenreif quoted one of his colleagues who worked with a CTO whose company was trying to innovate. He said, “unless I was laughed out of the room, I knew I didn’t have a good idea.” By keeping those wild ideas as a very small part of the portfolio, CIOs have the freedom to pursue some ideas that might seem from out of left field, but it’s these ideas that may lead to real transformative impact and benefits in the future.

Success will come from focusing on getting the real value from this new technology. There will be challenges, but as Brethenoux noted, “when the spotlight is not there anymore, you can finally be free…and you can do marvelous things.” Scheibenreif added that one of his mentors told him, “Heroes are made in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO of a great company - IT World Canada - Canada's leading ICT publisher.

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