I am not talking about the “new” Beatles song “Now and Then” created using AI from an old John Lennon demo tape. It isn’t strictly a Beatles song because two of the four members had no say in the song as they are, er, dead. I like the song and if I didn’t know its ghoulish origins I’d have assumed it was a regular song from the Fab Four. But this song though it harnesses the power of AI does not contain the secret to beating AI. That was in a song published back in 1967, launched using the then new shiny tech of satellite broadcasting.

Why is it important to know how to beat AI?

It’s sort of clear that we’re all going to use AI, as individuals and businesses. Yeah, yeah, ChatGPT has problems and Google Search criticises Google Bard results as flaky. But that’s just the side show, as the AI geniuses swoop in and make humans redundant. Sure, we’ll be freed up to do higher order work – but what might that be, exactly? And what if we don’t have the skills to do anything higher order than what we already do? Are we doomed to face lesser demand and less money for our offerings? Not necessarily if we know the one thing AI can’t do, at least for the foreseeable future.

How big is this AI thing anyway?

In 2022, 1 billion packages, or one-eighth of all the orders we delivered to customers worldwide, was sorted by Robin, one of Amazon’s robotic handling systems. We’ve become the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial robots and have deployed more than 750,000 mobile robots across our worldwide operations.

– Joseph Quinlivan, Vice President Fulfillment Technologies and Robotics at Amazon

Amazon employs 1.5 million people ie double the number of robots it operates. Number of robots is increasing significantly against a drop in headcount.

India has only around 5000 robots installed currently. However folks like Ola are investing in robotics for the shop floor, and global biggie ABB is doing the same. Addverb – which has an investment by Reliance Retail – has set up two facilities which will have an annual capacity of 150,000 robots mostly in the warehousing and storage solutions space. Robots while being super efficient are currently quite expensive and require a significant Capex investment.

COVID triggered adoption of robotic vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. This adoption has also helped drop prices from around Rs 1 lakh for a robot mop to around Rs 20,000. And so it begins….

Ah, but I don’t work in a factory, dude.

This is very much in play and if you can read this newsletter you are definitely using AI which is embedded into much of office productivity software and learning tools. You can also start contemplating how you can start directly benefiting from AI.

At Indeed Future Works Bengaluru we heard from David Green about how people analytics can make folks more efficient by directing their energy to the right place. Anil Kumble – a true Bangalore boy who started life as an engineer – has a patent on a sticker that can be attached to your bat to give data. We also heard from Indeed experts on (human) hiring trends and how AI can help make this process better.

At a Board Strategy Meeting earlier this week I was privileged to hear Lalitesh Katragadda, founder of Indihood, talk about how AI can help issue a loan to the underserved in 11 minutes or less. It can also transform medical care and make it affordable.

All of these developments require you to “play nice” with the bots.

We’ve had the same household helper since 2004. In these 19 years she has learned to read and write a bit, drive a car, operate a smartphone, and use a washing machine, dryer and dishwasher. She’s sort of graduated to a housekeeper – heavy cleaning is outsourced. She took her first ever flight last month – wanted to visit one of my elderly family members who hasn’t been able to come to Bangalore in over a year. Now that’s something household automation is not going to do.

And it brings me to what is the skill set that defies AI for the foreseeable future.

All you need is love!

Our bodies are hardwired for connection. We thrive when we have a positive human connection. There’s a ton of research around how our vagal nerves respond to love and fear – the most famous work coming from Dr Stephen Porges and Sue Carter. When dealing with love we are happier, we have more oxytocin and less cortisol (stress hormone) and are geared to form connections.

On the other hand when dealing with fear we move to a protection mode and respond with fight or flight. If an organization has a toxic culture it is driven by fear – of losing money, of losing your job, or your self-respect. There is a lot of divisiveness and mistrust in the world – amplified by the speed and efficiency of modern communication.

Porges coined the term neuroception. It’s a process our body uses through a face-heart connection, otherwise known as the social engagement system, to scan our environment and let us know when it’s safe to proceed. This is why face to face meetings deliver something more than just the words of a text message. You see the person smiling and even if their words are “I hate you” your body responds with connection rather than rage.

At the Radisson I got a signed note claiming that my room had been proudly cleaned by the two ladies whose names were on the card. It did nothing for me as there was no photo or back story. Instead if there was a photo and how this job was helping their families I might have had a more positive emotion. Or maybe their video story came on when I switched on the TV.

Swiggy and Zomato do try to make you connect human to human. But they are the exceptions – today restaurants rely on QR codes for taking the orders and the waiter just delivers the food without a smile. Sales staff at most boutiques have no idea how to guide you. Call centers are not geared for video calls, and most websites are impersonal.

How do we incorporate more face to face communication in our business models? And in our daily lives? 

Start by thinking about how you can make those around you feel “seen”. Then move on to how you can help your customers and partners feel ’seen”. Maybe it is through increasing face to face interactions. Redesigning the way people experience your organization. Could be making a conscious effort to smile at a service provider and treat them like a human.

Love is the one thing a robot cannot do.

The Beatles knew this and sang about it in 1967 – “All You Need is Love”.

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Jessie Paul is the Founder and CEO of Paul Writer, a firm she founded in early 2010 to raise the bar for marketing in India. Previously, as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro’s IT business and as Global Brand Manager at Infosys, Jessie has been recognized for her contribution towards putting the Indian IT industry on the global map. With over 18 years in services marketing, including a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Jessie is considered an expert in brand globalization and has been named one of the most influential business women in the Indian IT industry.

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