Multimodal
January 10, 2024

How to Become a Cyborg Company: A 4-Step Guide to Unleashing Human-AI Superpowers in Your Workforce, with Dr. Vivienne Ming

Dr. Vivienne Ming offers a 4-step guide for companies to become "cyborgs" by leveraging AI to augment human creativity and productivity rather than replace workers.
Written by Ankur Patel
This is a summary of an episode of Pioneers, an educational podcast on AI led by our founder. Join 2,000+ business leaders and AI enthusiasts and be the first to know when new episodes go live. Subscribe to our newsletter here.

We’ve all seen the panic-inducing headlines about AI taking away jobs. But what if we reframed automation as an opportunity to unlock new potentials in the workforce? What if emerging technologies, instead of displacing humans, elevated them into more creative and meaningful roles?

Dr. Vivienne Ming, credited as one of the most forward-thinking minds at the nexus of AI and society, champions this alternate vision. With accolades like sitting on boards of numerous companies and nonprofits including StartOut, The Palm Center, Cornerstone Capital, Platypus Institute, Shiftgig, Zoic Capital, and HUMM. Dr. Ming also speaks frequently on her AI-driven research into inclusion and gender in business and was named to the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders council. She boasts immense credibility in the artificial intelligence space stemming from her multifaceted career as a neuroscientist, entrepreneur and professor.

Across her various ventures, Ming has spearheaded unprecedented AI achievements—from predicting medical conditions through natural language models to analyzing kids’ drawings for learning disorder clues. Her unconventional philosophies expand conceptions of how AI can synergize with human intellect to solve multifaceted problems.

In this guide, we’ll explore Ming’s pragmatic tactics on moving beyond an “either/or” view of human vs. AI capabilities in the workplace. Instead of just reducing costs through automation, discover how executives can implement a “both/and” strategy where AI efficiently handles routine work while empowering your team’s ingenuity

Lately, I’ve been ramping up my one-on-one free workshop sessions and am excited to offer a few slots to our readers. Unsure which departments in your organization could benefit most from human-AI collaboration? Schedule a free workshop with me, Ankur Patel, to create an actionable blueprint tailored to your business objectives. I’ll help you determine where to pilot initiatives maximizing technology-enhanced human potential across your workforce.

Now let’s dive into Ming’s unconventional wisdom around forging augmented intelligence through the four key strategies below...

Before we dive in, check out the full episode here:

Rethinking Automation as an Opportunity, Not a Threat

When most companies adopt new technologies, their instinct is substitution—swapping efficient AI for expensive humans performing routine tasks. But Dr. Ming advocates seeing automation as an investment opportunity:

“We could make the choice for substitution, we can make the choice for complementarity and augmentation, but...I mean, the tendency right now is clearly towards substitution and efficiencies, even though all the public talk is about augmentation."

The first step is to flip the script on how your company views automation. As Dr. Ming notes, public rhetoric focuses on augmentation, but practical implementation centers on substitution. Begin openly discussing automation through the lens of possibility rather than threat. How can emerging technologies elevate your team’s skills rather than diminish roles?

[AI] opens it up to be a tool that anybody could use. Even if you didn't have a programming background, much less an AI background...We used to think of a product needing to fill a specific need and a specific niche. A pencil allows me to write on a piece of paper, but now I can build product[s]...that [solve] a diffuse set of problems across the whole range of debate."

When launching an automation initiative, gathering employee perspectives is invaluable. Work closely with department heads to pinpoint where enhanced efficiency can alleviate administrative burdens—freeing up bandwidth for human ingenuity. Provide upskilling opportunities to transition displaced staff into more strategic positions that tap uniquely human strengths.

How to Take Action:

When planning an automation rollout, structure the process as an investment in uplifting human capabilities across all levels, not just increasing ROI. Provide opportunities for displaced staff to transition into creative roles.

Cultivating “Cyborgs” Over “Centaurs”

Dr. Ming makes an apt analogy that companies adopting AI either produce “centaurs” or “cyborgs”. Centaurs simply divide tasks between humans and robots. But cyborgs seamlessly collaborate with machines—leveraging automated efficiencies while directing the technology toward innovative ends through human reasoning and agency.

The second step is fostering a workforce of cyborgs—employees who creatively interface with technology to enhance productivity. Identify departments positioned to benefit most from human-AI collaboration. Then provide training on optimally utilizing automated systems while leveraging uniquely human strengths like critical thinking, communication, and empathy.

If you’re unsure how to determine which of your departments are best positioned to benefit most from human-AI collaboration, I’m happy to help. Feel free to grab one of my free workshop slots here.

Strategically implement AI that tackles routine tasks but still allows for human oversight and course correction, opening capacity for innovation. For example:

How to Take Action:

Train workers to become cyborgs who directly collaborate with AI—identifying opportunities for machines to execute administrative work while humans provide creative oversight.

Matching Emerging Tech With Human Ingenuity

For Dr. Ming, one ingredient ties all successful human-AI integration together:

[Companies should use automation to] create something transformative. My argument is the companies that figure that out will begin racing further and further ahead. They'll have all of the benefits of AI, but they'll have the benefits of augmented intelligence, not just the automation. And they'll begin to leave other groups behind because frankly, if nothing else, if all you're doing is automating. What differentiates you?"

Here comes the biggest mindset shift—viewing emerging technologies as tools to unlock human potential, not just optimizing specific tasks. Assign an innovation team to brainstorm and experiment with cutting-edge solutions. But instill the key goal of ultimately channeling these technologies toward empowering the workforce’s creative capacities in new ways.

Send team members to conferences, enroll them in continuing education courses, and keep them on the pulse of bleeding-edge advances. Have them report back regularly on potential applications relevant to your organization and workforce skill sets. They can provide insights on how to leverage innovative tools to help employees gain competencies, solve complex challenges faster, and create knowledge synergistically with AI systems.

How To Take Action:

Designate innovators to explore leading-edge technologies and report back on applications for empowering workforce creativity over just enhancing ROI.

Transitioning Displaced Workers Into “Creative Labor” Roles

A responsible automation rollout doesn’t just improve business metrics. It’s also about positively impacting people’s lives by providing uplifting career paths. Dr. Ming terms these human-centered positions “creative labor” roles—work dependent on exploration, meaning-making, and other intrinsically human qualities.

"Demand at the extremes, the very low-skill end and the very high-skill end, is through the roof. And the demand is increasing. There will be jobs for people, but we see massive de-professionalization. And now you're competing with someone that has less education than you and will take less money. At the same time, a massive increase in demand for what I call creative labor. Labor that is not currently in the capabilities of even GPT-4 or Gemini."

Take intentional steps to establish creative roles for at-risk workers. Audit your organization and pinpoint areas that still require critical thinking, empathy, and other human skills. Then provide professional development opportunities to re-skill displaced staff. Frame transitions positively—speaking to yearnings for more meaningful work rather than just preserving jobs.

For example, help former call center representatives become “customer experience specialists” who analyze data and propose recommendations. Repurpose admins as project coordinators who creatively troubleshoot workflows. Up-level social media interns to “community architects” curating branding strategies.

How To Take Action:

Proactively create new “creative labor” roles that allow displaced workers to utilize their human talents. Provide re-skilling support focused on transitioning staff into more fulfilling, strategic positions.

Becoming An Organizational “Mad Scientist”

We opened with Dr. Ming’s tongue-in-cheek title, “professional mad scientist”. But the heart behind it represents her vision for the future workforce—master innovators unencumbered by norms or structures as they jointly pioneer solutions with AI.

Dr. Ming lives this ethos across her ventures by building custom natural language tools that tackle challenges like predicting medical conditions through patient conversations. Even with limited technical expertise, her team created proprietary AI that accomplished unprecedented goals like analyzing kids’ drawings to uncover learning disabilities.

While not every executive can moonlight as an AI wizard, leaders can emulate Dr. Ming’s ingenious mindset on an organizational level. Rather than deploying AI piecemeal to solve specific problems, take a “mad scientist” approach of constructing adaptable internal tools. Empower your workforce to become organizational “cyborgs” who imaginatively apply these adaptive systems toward unconventional ends.

Foster a culture without rigid constraints on how to leverage technology. Let employee experimentation around human-AI collaboration spark creativity and surface unexpected use cases. Pursue small bets that unlock big opportunities by matching human originality with AI’s versatile raw power.

How To Take Action:

Inspire innovative “moonshot” projects that encourage tinkering with AI tools to uncover creative human applications. Support a startup culture around workforce automation.

While public narratives of emerging technology often depict a binary trajectory toward either utopia or dystopia, Ming offers a pragmatic third way—forging an augmented workforce. By recasting automation as an opportunity to expand human potential, executives can pave the way for revolutionary yet ethical shifts in the future of work. With vision and courage, leaders can transform their organizations into empowering environments where technology serves solely to elevate the workforce’s creative contributions.

Those ready to take the leap into this new frontier must shed old constraints and fixate on fresh possibilities. There will be no room or patience for the unimaginative or cowardly clinging to status quos in the age of “professional mad scientists”. But for leaders bold enough to re-envision work as a canvas for human-AI masterpieces, thrilling innovations await.

Want to learn more about how AI will impact the future of work? Check out our episode on how Generative AI augments human potential and fosters innovation with Remington Rawlings.

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