When I was a child growing up in Morocco, the smartphone technology we all but take for granted today didn’t exist. It would take decades and countless millions spent in experimentation and development to conceptualize the technology, and then countless more to make it available for public consumption. For those in my and previous generation, having information quite literally at our fingertips was a dream rooted firmly in the realm of science fiction. Children today, however, have a very different experience. Consider Tanmay Bakshi, a thirteen-year-old Canadian programmer who reportedly began programming at only five years old; the prodigy now has several successful apps in his portfolio and serves as an honorary advisor for IBM Cloud. While Bakshi is a high-flying exception to most children his age, he nevertheless serves as an example of how our rising thinkers and leaders dive into innovation with the familiarity and ease of native technological speakers. I heard Bakshi lecture when I attended Knowledge Summit Dubai in late November, and I was suddenly struck by the realization that the old axiom of technology being our future is concretely true – and that it will require leaders to move beyond traditional strategies if they mean to keep up with its progression.

Hanane Benkhallouk - AI

Hanane Benkhallouk meets with Tanmay Bakshi

The world has altered since my childhood. As the list of speakers at the Knowledge Summit shows, our leading academics no longer need to be scientists with multiple PhDs – or even human! – so long as they contribute to technological advancement. On the second day of the Summit, Hanson Lab’s AI robot Sophia took to the stage to share her thoughts on the future integration of robots into human society. Sophia is the first AI to ever receive national citizenship, which she received from Saudi Arabia in October of 2017. This inclusion marks a new chapter in our human-robot relationship, and the situation calls for us to cast our thoughts forward to the future. What will our society become when artificially intelligent robots shift from sensational news items to commonplace presences? How will our cultures, economies, and societies alter with the influx?

 

Hanane Benkhallouk - Sophia

Hanane Benkhallouk meets Sophia

These are difficult questions to answer – after all, the only context with which we have to understand Sophia’s significance stems from Hollywood science fiction films and Philip K. Dick novels. When I met Sophia at the Knowledge Summit in Dubai, I was shocked and more than a little unsettled – at first. Her expressions are so lifelike as to be uncanny; she winks, smiles, and scowls at the same cues that a human might. Our instinctive reaction to Sophia’s unsettling appearance is to withdraw, recover, and reject. Unable to handle our discomfort, we label her as a risk to humanity and call for an end to her project. But this response isn’t one to fall back on! Sophia’s presence represents an earthshaking change to our familiar landscape, yes – but aren’t all major technological advancements that way? Should our discomfort bar us from creating positive change?

 

For better or worse, Sophia represents a future where AI robots are commonplace; automation has already begun to revolutionize our industries. As we progress, I fully expect that robots will begin to free humans from the necessity of thankless work and leave more freedom for intellectual pursuits and innovation. More likely than not, “diversity” will come to encompass human and non-human differences in addition to variations in race, gender, and sexuality. Managers in the future will need to learn how to effectively balance these unconventional teams in the pursuit of project goals. We should be preparing for this time ahead, not kicking and screaming against it! Moving forward, we need to focus our efforts on creating more high-level professions that take full advantage of human creativity and intelligence, and find a way to comfortably integrate thinking technology and its innovation into our society.