The big AI interview

With the explosive rise of ChatGPT, the world is becoming acutely aware of AI’s incredible influence. As this technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, we can clearly see its broader implications and the challenges it poses. In this interview, we talk to futurist and trendwatcher Richard van Hooijdonk about the impact of the ubiquitous use of this technology.

What exactly is AI? And its next phase, generative AI?

AI — artificial intelligence — allows machines and software to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence. Think speech recognition, image processing and strategic thinking. Fundamentally, the idea is to create computers and machines that can ‘think’ and make decisions like a human would. Generative AI is a specific type of AI that is used to autonomously create something new — such as text that appears to have been written by a human. We could say that generative AI is the next phase in the development of AI. It allows us not only to perform tasks or make decisions based on preset rules, but also to create new things. This brings us closer to the idea of machines that truly ‘think’ and ‘create’ like humans do. Generative AI can also negotiate, teach robots tasks or predict your health.

For British Luminance’s AI Autopilot recently negotiated a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) completely autonomously with another AI. This makes the labour-intensive handling of these types of contracts a lot easier. The AI independently amended disputed clauses and tracked changes, using official negotiation strategies. You can imagine that this will make the work of lawyers a lot faster, easier, and more efficient in the future.

Nvidia’s new AI agent Eureka already independently generates algorithms with which it can teach robots complex skills. Eureka does this by writing ‘reward functions’ with GPT-4. Normally it’s quite an involved job to develop these features, but Eureka does it effortlessly. In fact, the system outperforms human-written algorithms in 80 percent of test cases. This could be a huge accelerator for innovations in robotics. Eureka has already taught robots to open drawers, throw a ball, and handle, turn and manipulate objects like pens.

And Gero’s advanced AI analyses human health data to develop new medical treatments. Gero’s ‘large health models’ are comparable to LLMs (large language models) but focus on predictions about your health. They can distinguish between the natural ageing process and the consequences of disease, which represents a breakthrough for drug development. In addition to predictions, these models also provide explanations — a development that enables us to interpret health and ageing in completely different ways.

Why is there suddenly so much hype around AI?

It’s actually comparable to the introduction of the first iPhone. Much like this smartphone has revolutionised our daily lives, AI has the potential to do the same. With tools like ChatGPT, we can now write an email in four languages with just a few mouse clicks. Or think about tools that can instantly create ten different sketches of a future building. It also enables you to make a video of yourself in which you fluently convey a message in five different languages. Soon you’ll be able to develop feature films in which you play the leading role, with lifelike characters and storylines that adapt to your mood and wishes. More and more practical AI applications are becoming available and soon we will be using AI in our daily lives without even giving it a second thought. According to McKinsey, organisations can already work 40 percent more efficiently as a result of using generative AI. And this is just the beginning. We are on the cusp of widespread use of AI in sectors such as healthcare, mobility, agriculture, finance and supply chain management

These are indeed interesting developments. What do you see around you in everyday life?

I see surprise, confusion and excitement. I see enthusiastic young employees who are eager to experiment with these new technologies. They’re adding language models to design systems or connecting AI with legal applications to prepare legal cases. I also see organisations that aren’t impressed by — and even afraid of — these developments. Some even block access to ChatGPT. What we see now is a kind of chaos. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Chaos can also lead to beautiful things. Elon Musk recently said that 100 percent of jobs will be taken over by AI. This impact is unimaginable — even for me. But it can also be an opportunity to create new ways of working and shape the future on our own terms.

How important is it to be open to new technologies like AI, and what roles do ‘change motivation’ and mindset play?

Certainly, change motivation is about the willingness to evolve and grow. AI is extremely versatile. It has the potential to be everything, to become everything, to direct everything, to decide — even to destroy. Adjusting our mindset to embrace these changes often starts with a sense of wonder and amazement; feelings that can encourage us to change. But it is also logical that there is resistance, especially to the enormous changes we are now seeing as a result of AI. People generally like to stick to familiar patterns and routines — this is what I call the ‘legacy system’. But this also acts as a kind of ‘shredder’: the new idea you throw in is destroyed before it even comes to life. It is important to overcome these mental blocks to change, to stimulate our curiosity and see opportunities and potential instead of problems and challenges. This is one of the reasons why many organisations invite me as a speaker, because I help them with that. For instance, I very recently held a keynote at Amazon. They want to motivate all their European relations to go ‘extremely digital’.

How can you help companies with future scenarios to better prepare for the future, especially now that everything is changing so quickly?

That’s a very good question. It is often difficult to see what exactly AI can do for organisations. That is why it is useful to use future scenarios, as these can show how AI can work in different parts of your organisation. Future scenarios can help us visualise how AI can be applied and demonstrate how it can provide practical long and short-term solutions. This is not only inspiring and motivating for employees, shareholders and suppliers, but also provides clear direction to leadership. The beauty of future scenarios is that they serve as a compass in a world full of uncertainty. They help us shape the future, rather than just react to what happens. That’s incredibly powerful.

How can organisations use global ecosystems to tackle challenges such as AI?

Also a relevant question, especially at this time. We find that the challenges that organisations face when it comes to AI can often not be resolved internally. That is why it is necessary to look more broadly, beyond the boundaries of your own organisation and even beyond the borders of your country. There are startups, scientists, innovative companies and experts all over the world who can help us, who have answers to questions we have never even thought of asking yet. The concept of ‘ecosystem orchestration’ and the role of the ‘ecosystem designer’ are becoming increasingly important in organisations to leverage global knowledge and innovation. Instead of doing everything yourself, you can smartly apply what is already available in the global ecosystem. This way we can not only better tackle the major challenges we face as organisations, but also save time and money.

Why is it important to experiment outside of the organisational structure?

“Implementing AI within an organisation requires learning and inspiration. This leads to a different way of working. Change within existing structures can be challenging. Many companies are well-oiled machines that are great at handling daily processes. They are designed to be consistent and reliable, but are not necessarily equipped to handle major changes. Therefore, introducing a completely new business model can be met with resistance and hampered by existing procedures and legacy systems. This is where the ‘next’ organisation comes in. Imagine building small, dynamic units or ‘cells’ around existing organisations to experiment, try new ideas, and attract new ecosystems. ‘When challenges grow, small becomes the new big’. These agile cells are often better suited to tackle big challenges compared to the larger, cumbersome organisation they are part of. Many successful organisations are already doing this. It allows them to innovate and grow in ways that would not be possible within existing organisational structures.

How can leadership adapt in the AI era to guide organisations through change?

An inspiring leader must manage uncertainty, especially now that (technological) changes occur increasingly frequently and more rapidly. In retail, we’ve seen established names like BCC, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Sears perish, while online retailers like, Coolblue, and Amazon are on the up and up. I sometimes wonder how their leaders managed to allow their companies to fail. Were they clinging to outdated retail ideas, ignoring the signs of change? Modern leaders must proactively guide their organisation towards the future and not shy away from taking risks. They should also be ‘servant leaders’ and collaborate closely with younger team members. They need to be vulnerable and inspiring. With the rise of AI, opportunities and challenges increase as well, and leaders must be prepared and embrace this. During my keynotes, I give examples of excellent leaders already doing this. It’s inspiring to see how they help navigate their organisations through uncertain times with AI.

​​​How do we steer AI in the right direction?

AI will lead to a spectrum of outcomes. Some will be positive, improving efficiency and solving complex problems. Others may be negative, posing ethical dilemmas or unintended consequences. Take, for instance, the increased surveillance in some workplaces with cameras and sensors. This raises big questions about privacy and the kind of work culture we’re building. l mean, do we really want to be watched all the time and risk losing our jobs over it? That’s where disciplines like philosophy, anthropology, and sociology come into play. They help us reflect on the human, societal, and ethical aspects of these changes and encourage us to think about what it means for our societal norms and values. We need to harmonise our relationship with technology; find a balance and ensure our implementation of it aligns with what we value as a society. It’s about letting humans excel in tasks where they naturally shine, while allowing technology to take over in areas where it surpasses human ability. It’s also important to be mindful about where and how we implement AI. Regulating AI becomes crucial to protect humanity. Legislation is on its way, not just in the European Union but also in the UK and the US. In the future, AI will undergo an auditing process before being used, ensuring it performs in the interest of humanity and according to strict guidelines. There will be AI police services, and judges will convict organisations that are misusing AI, allowing society to fully benefit from this technology. AI has been around for years and will bring new possibilities for people and organisations that many can’t even imagine at this point.

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