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Editor’s Note: This article is one of a special series of 14 commissioned essays MIT Sloan Management Review is publishing to celebrate the launch of our new Frontiers initiative. Each essay gives the author’s response to this question:
“Within the next five years, how will technology change the practice of management in a way we have not yet witnessed?”
Artificial intelligence is about to transform management from an art into a combination of art and science. Not because we’ll be taking commands from science fiction’s robot overlords, but because specialized AI will allow us to apply data science to our human interactions at work in a way that earlier management theorists like Peter Drucker could only imagine.
We’ve already seen the power of specialized AI in the form of IBM’s Watson, which trounced the best human players at “Jeopardy,” and Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo, which recently defeated one of the world’s top Go players, Lee Sedol, four games to one. These specialized forms of AI can process and manipulate enormous quantities of data at a rate our biological brains can’t match. Therein lies the applicability to management: Within the next five years, I expect that forward-thinking organizations will be using specialized forms of AI to build a complex and comprehensive corporate “knowledge graph.”
Just as a social graph represents the interconnection of relationships in an online social network, the knowledge graph will represent the interconnection of all the data and communications within your company. Specialized AI will be ubiquitous throughout the organization, indexing every document, folder, and file. But AI won’t stop there. AI will also be sitting in the middle of the communication stream, collecting all of the work products, from emails to files shared to chat messages. AI will be able to draw the connection between when you save a proposal, share it with a colleague, and discuss it through corporate messaging. This may sound a bit Big Brother-ish, but the result will be to give knowledge workers new and powerful tools for collecting, understanding, and acting on information.
Specialized AI will even help us improve that scourge of productivity, the meeting. Meetings will be recorded, transcribed, and archived in a knowledge repository.