Martin Rajasalu: AI Is No Longer a Toy


Estonia is not at the bottom of the ranking in the use of artificial intelligence, or AI as we know it, but we are clearly behind the first. Disbelief in AI is still largely rooted in the level of ambition of organizations, the focus of leaders, and the lack of employee involvement, writes Martin Rajasalu.

The year 1989, my father was working with computers. In the following decade, many people worked with computers. Now we work in Teams and Excel, browse the web, and Facebook. Still with a computer, but it doesn’t matter. Using a computer or phone to do work is a given. There are still very few of these tasks that can be performed in 2024 without using a computer at all. Every machine and tool has a computer inside it, most devices are online.

The phone in our pocket is more capable than NASA’s command center when the first humans were led to the moon, but we don’t say we’re using a “global communications control center.” We chat, watch, and stream, some even call. The tool is not important, the purpose of the activity is important. At the same time, we are very good at emphasizing that we use artificial intelligence, AI, and Chat GPT. Do we just have to get used to AI being a part of everyday (working) life or are we falling behind the times?

I believe that we will only use artificial intelligence to the best of our abilities when we stop calling the process artificial intelligence. For example, we write essays or answer emails. It doesn’t matter who and how the content is written, the important thing is to achieve the goal, the essay reaches the reader and the  the email receives a response.

I gave the example of writing an essay precisely because it creates a lot of dilemmas. This is precisely based on experience. We assume that the piece was created by a person and, as a rule, the person whose name appears on the piece. Unfortunately, this is a completely wrong assumption. Written work can also be done mechanically by a person, just as work is done in a factory, and they are also published under pseudonyms as well as under foreign names.

We need to look at our frames without emotion and ask if these frames are still correctly positioned in our judgments. I believe that in reality there are fewer ethical problems in the use of AI than we want to admit.

Big and small numbers behind a big opportunity

According to the European Parliament, the use of artificial intelligence can increase productivity by 11 to 37 percent, depending on the industry. Considering the general economic downturn in Estonia, most companies would choose any number from the given range.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there are not very enthusiastic users of artificial intelligence in Estonia. For example, at the end of last year,  the Statistics Estonia pointed out that half a year after Chat GPT was announced, five percent of Estonian companies used artificial intelligence. In 2021, this number was three percent. It can be concluded from here that the majority of AI users are so-called early adopters, fans, and specialized companies. Unfortunately, the others haven’t caught on yet.

Statistics Estonia also pointed out the economic sectors where artificial intelligence is used the most and the least. It is probably not surprising that new technology has been used the most in banking and insurance. The salary cost is high there, the work is indoor and digital.

“For example, artificial intelligence is used in more construction companies than in health and social care.”

At first glance, it may seem that it is more difficult to use artificial intelligence in construction and agriculture. But is it? For example, artificial intelligence is used in more construction companies than in health and social care. Don’t we have a shortage of doctors and nurses?

These statistics hint a bit at the ambition or lack of productivity and management quality – if the shoe still fits, then you don’t need a new one. Let’s add one more statistical detail: the bigger the company, the more artificial intelligence is used in it. From this, we learn that smaller organizations do not have the resources, i.e. know-how, money, and people to introduce new technology.

Why then? AI technologies are new, we cannot refer to the backlog of the time. It is a matter of the level of ambition of the organizations, the ability of management as well as the non-involvement of employees.

I recently visited an HR conference. The first half of the day largely focused on new technologies and opportunities, among other things there were interesting presentations on how to use AI in everyday working life. People listened with interest.

In the second half of the day, there was a very energetic and good presentation about how to use Excel in your daily work, and people took pages of notes during it. Now put on the hat of the CEO and ask if your employees brought the most important information to the company from the conference.

Good luck in implementing AI!

Unfortunately, all Estonian companies are small in the global sense. Against the background of statistics, this knowledge does not allow us to expect that Estonia will be at the forefront of the use of AI or will soon reach it. They say it’s harder to turn a big ship around but the stats tell a different story.  Small is beautiful, but that’s it! 

Entrepreneurs and economic environment designers have reason to worry and act quickly. Estonia is certainly not at the bottom of the list of countries in the implementation of AI, but we are behind the first. Including our northern neighbors and countries where we have a large and important export market, the USA and the UK.

It must be understood that creating benefits and a better future with artificial intelligence depends on how well we make a smart machine do a smart job. If a person’s role is to open a web browser to give a command to Chat GPT, then the human’s job is already inferior to the machine in its complexity. Why does a person do it, what value does he create? We need to turn our work processes around so that a smart machine makes human work more valuable, not the other way around.

Understandably, new things initially cause distrust and require critical thinking skills. Is all that glitters gold?

Artificial intelligence has also developed a certain image as a transmitter of false information. The fake image of the Pope in a white down jacket has put many off. After all, it has been talked about how easy it is to generate and share fake news with the help of artificial intelligence.

The fears are well-founded. The images, articles, and videos created by artificial intelligence are of very good quality and appear authentic and true on superficial consumption. Still, we shouldn’t despise AI. In this way, we do not make our work easier or improve the competitiveness of our company.

You have to start from somewhere, but where? Of course, the easiest way to start implementing AI is to use software in which artificial intelligence is already integrated. For example, artificial intelligence very successfully filters out suitable candidates from job seekers, ranks them in ranking order, and also successfully conducts interviews in most international languages.

AI is a very good advisor, from being a customer service person to advising top and middle managers on how to manage their teams. AI processes data faster than a human, sees patterns that are overshadowed by human prejudice, and explains the content of the data in very simple language, not based on its own experience, but, if necessary, on information obtained from the company’s internal rules or the vastness of the Internet.

These are just a few examples of the areas of human resources management and leadership development, where artificial intelligence already delivers successfully, unnoticed and without rest. AI also provides us with content and ads that are just right for us on social media. All you have to do is write a message about a nice place in Europe to a friend and soon you will find travel offers there in various media channels. It’s not a person reading your chat and feeding you these ads.

The described solutions consist of components that we can probably use in our activities as well. So we have to ask ourselves, what are the “advertisements”, “essays” and “emails” in my field that could be solved by artificial intelligence with little effort? Is it managing the flow of goods, ordering goods, preparing sales offers, or managing the traffic flow in Tallinn, do we have the opportunity to offer something new to the world, and can we use ready-made components?

The introduction of artificial intelligence is no longer behind the fact that there is a problem that AI can’t help to solve. It is mired in a lack of ambition and capability, and that can be overcome.

The article was published on the ERR news portal on April 10, 2024


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