Fear of AI out-skilling humans is a little overstated: Rahul Agarwal, Lenovo

The MD& CEO of Lenovo India spoke on 'AI: Implications for organisations and individuals' at the exchange4media Conclave

Rahul Agarwal

"Artificial Intelligence is not a fancy thing which is sitting in some other planet. But it is something that is touching our lives already,” said Rahul Agarwal, CEO & Managing Director of Lenovo India, as he took to the stage during the exchange4media Conclave held in Mumbai on Friday.

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Speaking on the topic ‘AI: Implications for organisations and individuals’, Agarwal started his session highlighting that most people may not have a clarity on what AI actually is, but they all have some interface with it in their daily lives.

“For example, when you interact for after-sales or sales queries, you may be talking to an AI-based chatbot and not a human being. Similarly, smart assistants and smart speakers use AI, online ads served to you use AI and social media platforms use AI to serve customised content to users,” he said.

Agarwal mentioned that AI is not new and that it has been around since 1940s. “However not much happened till about 1990. In fact, people have started talking more about it in the last two decades. And it is only in the last six-seven years, that it has really become hot,” he said.

So, if AI has been around for a long time, what is it that is making it a buzz word now? According to Agarwal, it is the convergence of three factors - data generation, computing power and algorithmic advancements — in the recent times that has led to AI gaining prominence. 

Agarwal believes that functions of an organisation can be vastly enhanced by AI and it’s up to the organisations to decide whether they want to be a follower or take a lead and get that competitive edge by using AI. “AI can bring three things to any organisation — better customer experience, more efficiency and better product and services,” he said.

Talking about the possible implications of AI for on organisation like Lenovo, Agarwal spoke about how it will improve the 6 Ps — Product innovation, Pricing of products, People hiring, Promotion of products & services, Place selection for stores, and Post-purchase services.

Agarwal also shared with the audience the various investments that Lenovo has made on AI. “Lenovo is doing a lot in AI. We started investing about three years ago. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on AI, and the results have started showing. We have also invested in 8-10 AI companies, and in the next 12 months we are going to roll out products which will have AI as their backbone,” he said.

“Further, we are doing a diagnostic assistance for cancer in China. We have done a prototype where remotely just by looking at the cells, experts in the US can tell what is the degree of the cancer and what is the possible treatment. Also, we have already launched smart speakers, assistants and chatbots,” he said. A retail solution in the form of a man-less store and a smart service assistant which will go beyond chatbots were among some of the other AI-based innovations of Lenovo that Agarwal talked about. 

After organisations, Agarwal talked about the implications that AI has on customers. According to him, AI will make people more productive. “We got to feel good about the fact that it will de-clutter our lives. It will make our lives more convenient and better. There will be ‘smart homes’, ‘smart washing machines’ and ‘smart refrigerators’.  Refrigerators will order on its own, the washing machine will order the washing powder on its own. And the smart home assistant will do a whole lot of things for which we run around today,” he said.

“AI will also give us better choices in life. AI can help us choose our products better. If we want to buy a product, different profiles of people will get the right choices based on AI models. So our lives will definitely improve as a customer,” he said.

He further added, “As an employee also, AI will help us improve our productivity because a lot of jobs will be done by AI engines and we will be able to do much more than what we are doing today. Marketers will be able to show lot more value add to clients on media management. There will be far more effectiveness in creative efficacy and ROI measurement if you have the right AI tools.”

Talking about employment, Agarwal said that AI may make some jobs obsolete, like email marketing. Agarwal acknowledged that there is a fear about people being outskilled by AI. He, however, said that the “fear is a little overstated”.  “When industrialisation and computerisation happened, they all said that the machines will take over the humans. But that never happens because we have an uncanny ability to not just tide over technology but ride over technology and master it. So the future is always full of hope as well as paranoia,” he said.

The MD & CEO finally closed his session with three tips to tide over the phase of confusion. “Keep improving your understanding of AI, keep upskilling and keep calm and do not get paranoid,” he signed off.
 

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