Artificial Intelligence and the leadership challenge

The emerging spectre of Artificial Intelligence (AI) cannot be ignored. In a space with views ranging from Vladimir Putin’s claim that whoever becomes the leader in AI ‘will be the ruler of the world’ to Jean Baudrillard’s view that AI ‘lacks artifice and therefore intelligence’, it was timely for the QUT Business School in Canberra to host a panel to discuss how will it change leadership.

Present were associates from two current Executive MBA cohorts, as well as representatives from industry and government. The panel of Executive Advisers from the MBA Business Leadership Practicum included Michael Manthorpe (Commonwealth Ombudsman); Suzi Hewlett (Dept. Education and Training); Mark Crosweller (Dept. Home Affairs); Andrew Balmaks (Noetic Group); and Bruce Armstrong (Aspen Medical). 

 Moderated by Dr Garth Britton, the evening commenced with Mark Crosweller discussing the dual notion of technology as both enabler and driver. He also addressed the critically important challenge of ethical action, and the need for leaders to offset low levels of institutional trust and increasing levels of social uncertainty. This led into Bruce Armstrong’s contribution around technology as a tool and the important task facing leaders to facilitate a meaningful use-narrative and create shared visions of its enormous potential. To this, Andrew Balmaks followed with a focus on the tension between humans beings as homo sapiens and homo digitalis; adding that the diversity of personal rules and motivations required deeper appreciation of the boundaries of lived experience. Michael Manthorpe, leveraging the notion of cognitive bias, then discussed the tension between the potential of AI to offset bias and the equally critical leadership task of being mindful of its limitations. He also made the case for being fundamentally optimistic about its potential. Finally, Suzi Hewlett presented a wonderful case study demonstrating the effectiveness of AI in data mining and decision making, and how it impacts on the social system of the organisation.

These presentations laid the foundation for a rich and fluid conversation that covered a diverse set of topics ranging from the need to explicitly consider ethical matters, the emergence of networked leadership, the democratization of data, the question of what it means to be human (especially in relation to other), the transnational challenges of data security, the limits of rationality and the commodification of lived experience.

At the end of the session, more questions had been asked than answered and more issues had been raised than solved. However, in the spirit of active dialogue and critical reflection, important terrain was covered and an engaging contribution was made to the critical framing of AI for those in attendance.



Associate Professor John Bensley is the Canberra Director of QUT Graduate School of Business and QUTeX. He has expertise in systems thinking, the management of innovation, product management and analytical psychology. John works with other University academics, Graduate School staff and industry professionals, to design, develop and deliver transdisciplinary education programs that meet the specific requirements of post-graduate students as well as a range of corporate and government clients. With more than 30 years management, marketing and operational experience from the mining and telecommunication industries his passion is understanding the determining effect of the human equation within organisations and helping people sense-make in complex environments.

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