Adaptive resilience: how to thrive in a digital era

A new book says having human values driving AI is good for humans, but also for business.

no such thing as certainty


In a world of AI and worries about the threats it presents, a new book outlines a vision of how businesses can thrive using AI by putting humans at the centre.

In her book, Adaptive resilience: how to thrive in a digital era, global strategic leader Maria Santacaterina starts from the premise that modern business models are broken and unfit for purpose in the new digital era. We simply can’t look back at the past, or use AI to draw patterns from past data, to navigate the present and future.

Citing various failed business examples, she shows how businesses need to tackle the ways technology is eroding our civil liberties and invading our privacy while the economy founders and climate disaster threatens. She argues that business needs to move from planning for ‘just in time’ responses to ‘just in case’ scenarios because disruption can come from anywhere and future shocks are often ‘unknowable’.

She argues for a new way of thinking, being and doing ‘good’ business, based on equity [including gender parity], sustainability, fairness and trust to ensure everyone is on board.

Santacaterina defines adaptive resilience as “the ability to flourish as a human being in an artificially connected work, notwithstanding the impact of unforeseen events”.   Resilience, she says, should be built on the basis that business is above all ‘relational’.  That means technology, while it can assist, should not be in charge.

Why humans need to take control

The book says that it is time for business to take action and to proactively and consciously craft the future. “We can no longer continue being reliant upon technology to solve our problems,” writes Santacaterina. “Instead we should focus on the quality of our decisions and actions, the pathways we have chosen and the directionality of change, in order to build a sustainable digital future.”

That means a business’ vision is vital. “Vision is about re-imagining a sustainable digital future,” she says, and imagination is a very human skill. From vision, backed by values, comes business strategy, based on clarity and ‘making the right choices’. A learning culture, with good communication and human relationships at its centre, is vital, with meaningful growth and innovation fuelled by inclusivity, equity and sustainability. The book gives many examples to flesh out its central ideas, including in relation to innovation [Steve Jobs’ emphasis on continually enhancing creativity in the pursuit of excellence], transformation [where Santacaterina explores how to harness the power of AI for the benefit of humans and mistakes made such as the full automation of hiring processes], governance and sustainability.

For Santacaterina, finding our way to a more harmonious relationship with AI while retaining our humanity “is one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century”.

AI has major weaknesses, she writes. It cannot, for instance, discern implicit meaning, it is not aware of the layers of meaning in words, tone and semantic structure or the many different contexts which affect that meaning. It can perpetuate historic bias.

But many of the problems with AI, says Santacaterina, are not the fault of technology but of the way it has been built without adequate controls and transparency concerning algorithmic decisions. Those failures have profound implications for all of us. Badly programmed technology hampers adaptive resilience, particularly creativity and trust, says Santacaterina.

Good for business

She argues that it is unlikely AI will ever have the originality of thought and consciousness of humans because humans do not even understand how these work. She is similarly unconvinced by the benefits of a metaverse [where workers are represented by virtual personas or meta-human agents] ruled by mechanical processes and says not allowing alternatives could potentially harm ‘real’ human relations. Ethical concerns and human safety must come first, she says. It’s not just that this is good for humans, but it is also good for business because businesses rely on human creativity and autonomy of thought to evolve. Therefore AI needs continuous monitoring by humans and aligning with human values.  “Technology should be the means not the end in itself…it should assist not hinder or replace us,” she says.

In the end, it is valuing the workforce, making them feel acknowledged and cared for and foregrounding compassion that will not only ensure we harness technology for our benefit, but will result in better business, says Santacaterina, writing: “Practising ‘good’ business is simply good for business.”

*Adaptive resilience by Maria Santacaterina is published by John Wiley & Sons.

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