AI - Rethinking business | Karen Silverman
The Better Boards Podcast Series
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The Better Boards Podcast Series
AI - Rethinking business | Karen Silverman
Jun 15, 2023 Season 3 Episode 91
Dr Sabine Dembkowski

AI and generative AI are capturing the headlines. We know it will bring an era of rapid change, new opportunities, and new risks. Existing security protections against spoofing and phishing are now vulnerable, and employees are wondering what it all means for them. Developers of Generative AI are acknowledging the risks. So what should boards and directors be thinking about all of this? And more importantly, what should they be doing?

In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski, Founder and Managing Director of Better Boards, discusses the implications of AI with Karen Silverman. Karen is a member of the World Economic Forum's Global AI Council, a member of McKinsey's External Technology Council, and an advisor to the Business Roundtable.

"It needs to get put on the agendas as a deliberative item"
Karen starts by explaining that there's a lot of talk and inquiry from both the board and management. At the existential level, these technologies (and particularly the newest) are likely to impact cost structures across the business dramatically. How we value and pay for expertise and automate repetitive processes will change. If the issue is not on the agenda yet, it needs to be put on those agendas, not as a reported item, but as a deliberative item. 

"Start giving them access to resources, both internal and external"
Karen says that the first thing boards can do is start giving themselves and others access to resources and have someone keep an eye on technology. She notes that it is tough to keep up at a broad landscape level, but which technologies will impact the business needs to be identified. 

"The rates of uptake create some urgency, but also it's creating a level of anxiety"
Karen feels the urgency around AI is a by-product of how quickly these new technologies are coming online and being integrated into workflows. Rates of uptake create urgency but also create a level of anxiety that needs to be dealt with, whether this is warranted or not. 

"This belongs in the category of strategy and risk management as much as it belongs in the category of compliance" 
Karen believes that boards need to 'lean in' to the issue. It needs to be on the agenda without waiting for management to decide it needs to be there and add it. Boards need to lean in and ask questions about where these technologies are being used within the organisation, for what purpose and to what end, and what is being done to defend against foreseeable risk. 

"Every industry is struggling with this in some way"
Karen advises that to avoid being overwhelmed, boards take a step back and hear the various reports from the CFO, the general counsel about data protection, and also the report about AI. They need to ask who is accountable within the organisation for that AI report and ensure they hear it.

Karen believes boards are not always well served by management and that these issues intersect and impact one another.  Therefore, she feels boards and management need to integrate better. 

The three top takeaways for effective boards are:
1.       AI promises ease and efficiency, but it requires (particularly of leadership) a heavier cognitive load and more thinking, work, and questioning. Lean in to the change.
2.       Consider how the values of the organisation are going to align, and guide it through periods of surprises, creating space to both deliberate and become educated.
3.       Stay curious and expect change. Part of what is holding people back is processing surprise, and they need to get beyond surprise to real leadership. There is a huge role in setting the tone, capabilities, and capacity of employees and customers to manage this change.