Cleven: Professor Kaufmann, your company Starmind creates so-called „corporate brains“ for other companies. What does this mean?
What we do is enable the establishment of company-wide know-how networks. We’ve created self-learning algorithms that identify certain employees as experts on specific topics based on their interactions with the network. The result is a kind of virtual super-organism that enables the company to think with 1,000 brains at the same time.
Hoffmann: Which technologies are used?
We use artificial neural networks that analyze relevant employee activities within the network. These generate continuously growing knowledge about the individual know-how and expertise of all employees within the network. Our technology independently creates know-how profiles on the basis of an analysis of the topics that an employee deals with when they’re exchanging information and developing content.
Cleven: Besides Starmind, you’re currently working on decoding the so-called „brain code.“ Can you tell us more about this?
The brain isn’t a computer. It works in a different way. It could be some kind of super-organism with a hundred billion players communicating with each other on the basis of very simple factors. This is what we’re currently exploring. There are virtually no limits to whoever succeeds in deciphering the brain code. That’s why countless organizations are trying to meet this challenge. I’m convinced that we must participate and actively shape this competition. Otherwise we run the risk of ending up in the situation described by Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World in which one ninth of humanity dominates the remaining eight ninths. We believe that Germany and Switzerland are good locations for this research, not least because there are corresponding ethical guidelines here. As far as Huxley’s novel is concerned, we are – frighteningly – already in the Brave New World: Google and Facebook probably know me better than the people in my immediate environment. That’s quite scary.
Cleven: How will people and their working environment change as a result of current technology trends? How do you feel about big data in connection with artificial algorithms?
In my opinion Big Data is simply good statistics, the evaluation and analysis of large amounts of data. For me, Big Data and artificial intelligence have basically nothing to do with each other. Large amounts of data are not very interesting for true artificial intelligence. What’s more important is what I would call small data, not masses of random information, but the ingenious conclusions formed from our own observations. This is the principle of intelligence itself, which can be artificially simulated even better with the help of algorithms.
Let me give you an example. If millions of cat images are needed for an algorithm to recognize that a cat is shown on an image, then this has nothing to do with artificial intelligence as far as I’m concerned. This is different, however, if the algorithm is able to understand the cat principle on the basis of essential characteristics, just as small children learn concepts. In my opinion, the future path of artificial intelligence will be based on small data and completely new approaches.
Cleven: How should companies prepare for this challenge?
You should be prepared for the fact that the company structure as a self-contained unit is already outdated. In the future, business processes will be organized on a case-by-case basis. This is where the so-called liquid workforce will play a major role. Responsibilities will be increasingly assigned on the basis of skills and knowledge wherever people are based within a company and no longer necessarily within traditional company boundaries. The changeover will be painful above all for consulting, automotive or banking groups because some of them are still stuck in very traditional corporate structures. However, there is also no magic formula for a transition to the new world.
Hoffmann: With your forecast in mind, what advice would you give?
Businesses should be open to the new developments and possibilities that artificial intelligence offers, but also to new models of cooperation. One approach is to fully embrace new technologies. For example, very agile informal networks can be organized. In the future, companies must radically question themselves and allow an external view of their own company. Furthermore, it’s advisable for companies to keep an ecosystem at small start-ups where new technology tends to be readily embraced. You should develop a digital mindset internally and be brave when it comes to testing and using new technologies.
It’ll also be necessary to invest in talent not only by recruiting young people, but also older people, those who have different and more varied experiences. Actions like these should of course always be based on the benefits they bring to your customers. You should only be using new technologies if they contribute to customer benefits and then they’ll spread rapidly in an increasingly networked world.
Cleven: Can consulting companies such as h&z be valuable intermediaries, and if so, how?
In Germany and Switzerland there are examples of companies that are very progressive in the adoption and use of new technologies but there’s still a considerable gap compared to companies in the USA or Asia. Germany is a very difficult market for such applications. Many providers therefore leave it alone because they find it too problematic to make a convincing case for new technology. I think that as a management consultant you can make a significant contribution in this context. You could help remove fears, impart knowledge, translate complexity, ask questions, and offer an external view based on your experiences of working with a variety of clients who have been through similar changes processes.
Cleven: You’re convinced that new technologies of the technological gap between Germany and the USA. In your opinion, is it inevitable that these technologies will be accepted?
Yes, I regard this acceptance as inevitable. I also find the vision charming, to work less or no longer at all, but to be entertained by exciting technologies. People today sometimes lack imagination. Everybody’s talking about self-propelled cars at the moment but who’ll need them when in the future we’ll be able to move from our living room into artificial worlds and travel virtually to other countries? You can also experience emotions in this there.
Hoffmann: The changes you are addressing have something to do with political decision-making. We have laws that make it more difficult. Do you think this will all be swept away?
In my experience, technological progress is unstoppable. Laws are generally enacted after the technology has already been developed. Anyone who talks about the need to protect privacy ignores the fact that experience has shown that people immediately give up their privacy when there is great added value. Laws don’t help there either. You can call that unethical, but technology is blind to ethics. We humans are responsible for this and must decide whether we use technology for the benefit or at the expense of humanity.
Mr Kaufmann, thank you for the interview.