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Book review: Accenture’s top minds on humanizing AI

'Radically Human' draws on research which shows that most companies use emerging technologies as a lifeline, not as engines of innovation. And the few that do the latter, have reaped huge rewards.

July 17, 2022 / 02:01 PM IST
The central idea of the book is that humans have created the best of technologies and are constantly improving them. But somewhere in this intersection there is the danger of technology leaving the human behind. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)

The central idea of the book is that humans have created the best of technologies and are constantly improving them. But somewhere in this intersection there is the danger of technology leaving the human behind. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)

C-suite executives are a busy lot. Complex corporate issues have to be dealt with on a daily basis. Strategies have to be drawn up and fires have to be doused. So when do some of them find the time to write lengthy books? More pertinently, why do they even engage in such pursuits?

Radically Human: How New Technology is Transforming Business and Shaping Our Future published in March 2022, may offer some clues; not in its content but in its construction. Written by two senior Accenture executives, Paul R. Daugherty, the consulting firm’s chief technology officer, and James Wilson, its global managing director, the book is a kind of guide to Radically Human How New Technology is Transforming Business and Shaping Our Futureemerging technologies like cloud and artificial intelligence with a clear message on the need to have a new human-centric mindset on innovation using these. It comes from extensive research which shows that a large majority of companies use these technologies only as a lifeline, not as engines of innovation. The few that do the latter, have reaped huge rewards.

While that is the intellectual dimension, at a more prosaic level, the book can be seen as a part of Accenture’s thought leadership efforts. The American company headquartered in Dublin, is a global market leader in IT services, bigger than many of its key competitors including the celebrated Indian quartet of TCS, Infosys, HCL and Wipro. Its growth rate has been scorching and its overall performance impressive. Yet there is one parameter on which Accenture lags its Indian peers. Its operating margin at 15 percent is well behind that of TCS and Infosys. It is the US firm’s stated interest to get companies across the world which are potential clients to embrace technology. But to differentiate itself and thereby earn higher margins on its business, Accenture would like them to use technology in more and more sophisticated ways, moving up from plain vanilla implementations. That’s Accenture’s turf since as a consulting firm, it is better than most of its competitors and faces less pricing pressures when it comes to these services.

And what better marketing for such services than a book by senior professionals which turns the current framework for the existing building blocks of innovation—intelligence, data, expertise, architecture, and strategy—upside down. The central idea of the book is that humans have created the best of technologies and are constantly working on ways to better them. But somewhere in this intersection there is the danger of technology leaving the human behind, creating a new set of crises. One such fear that has continued to assail us is whether, with increasing adoption of AI, jobs will disappear.

The redefined framework, dubbed IDEAS, may seem a bit too formulaic but set against the enormous success of firms that have followed it over the pandemic period, its value is undeniable. What makes the book valuable and prevents it from falling into the trap of being a theoretical exposition replete with jargon, is these examples of firms, large and small, private and public, Royal Dutch Shell as well as Ukrainian ride-hailing service Uklon. The writers have clearly mined details about how dozens of such firms have deployed technologies, to become leaders in their fields.

Which is not to say that Daugherty and Wilson are not accomplished authors who could easily build a successful writing career. An earlier book Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, too, was well received.

But whether driven by a literary impulse or meant to enhance their reputation as management writers, it is hard to miss the collateral gains that accrue to their employer Accenture, from the publication. Given the quality of advice and the insightful writing, it would be a brave CEO who wouldn't want to set up a meeting with an executive from the company immediately after reading this book.

After all, the promise of quintupling profits which is the central premise of the book, is the Holy Grail of all businesses. In quest of that, the book recommends more natural artificial intelligence, manageable small data, machine teaching, living systems, trustworthy AI, the unleashing of talent, all of which will eventually make technologies more recognizably human.
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Sundeep Khanna is a senior journalist. Views are personal.
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