Article: ‘Technology must augment humanity’: An interview with former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty

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‘Technology must augment humanity’: An interview with former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty

Rometty highlights the importance of developing AI through a human-centric lens, stating, "The purpose of all technology, especially AI, should be to augment humanity, not replace it," in an exclusive interview with us.
‘Technology must augment humanity’: An interview with former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty

In an era of relentless disruption, what does it take to lead? Optimism, courage, and resilience, argues Ginni Rometty, the former CEO of IBM.  Drawing on her decades of experience transforming a tech titan, she emphasises embracing change with a positive attitude, confronting challenges head-on, and building diverse networks for support.

"Every technology is an opportunity," Rometty, also the author of the bestselling book Good Power: Creating Positive Change in Our Lives, Work and World, said in our exclusive interview. "The question is how we choose to develop and use it." 

A passionate advocate of ethical AI, Rometty urges collaboration between businesses, governments, and innovators to ensure technology augments humanity, not replaces it.

Rometty envisions a future of work where a "SkillsFirst" approach to hiring and development creates a more inclusive workforce, valuing skills and knowledge over traditional credentials.

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Here are the edited excerpts.

Mastufa: With constant disruption, what leadership capabilities are non-negotiable today? How can leaders cultivate the foresight, agility, and empathy to guide organisations through uncertainty while avoiding decision fatigue?

Rometty: Firstly, optimism. While we can't control disruptions, we can control our outlook on the future. Leaders must instill confidence in their teams, emphasising the inevitability of change and the collective ability to find positive solutions.  Honesty is a form of optimism, so be honest with yourself and your teams about the issues at hand, resisting attempts to ignore or minimise them.

Secondly, leaders need the courage to confront disruption head-on. Problem-solving is at the core of leadership, so leaders should be unafraid to ask questions, seek insights from others, and involve their teams and wider network in finding solutions.  Remember, you do not have to tackle everything alone or have all the answers. When I face a complex problem, I dissect it into manageable pieces and think through each disparate part. Breaking something down makes it less threatening so we don’t get overwhelmed.

You cannot control what disrupts your plans or the status quo, but you can control your attitude toward the future. A leader’s job is to build belief in their teams that together you will find a way through to a positive outcome.

Third, foster resilience by fostering relationships. The right relationships in your life, personal and professional, provide perspective and ideas which is essential for progress. Building a robust network—from friends and family to colleagues and industry peers—provides support and inspiration to maintain optimism and courage amid disruption. The more diverse your network, the more people you can call on to fuel your optimism and courage in the face of disruption.

Mastufa: How can businesses, think tanks, and governments collaborate to ensure responsible development and deployment of AI, addressing its potential for human augmentation and the ethical concerns surrounding job displacement? What steps are needed to foster inclusivity and diverse perspectives in this collaborative effort? 

Rometty: My career journey has given me a front-row seat to five decades of technological and social change—from the introduction of PCs to the Internet, to mobile computing, to AI coming out of its last winter this past decade and taking centre-stage in our lives at this moment. 

I’ve always believed that the purpose of every technology should be to augment humanity. Now, that is the lens through which we must develop and deploy AI. Generative AI holds tremendous potential for innovation across various industries, but it also raises ethical considerations that we must confront. 

I’ve always believed that the purpose of every technology should be to augment humanity. Now, that is the lens through which we must develop and deploy AI.

I encourage you to discuss these questions with your teams and organisations: Are we leveraging AI for the benefit of a few at the expense of many? Are short-term gains outweighing long-term consequences? How can we ensure AI inspires trust rather than fear, free from biases and explainable to users? Ultimately, does our AI build or erode trust?  Ask these questions now, being willing to honestly address AI’s upsides and downsides in parallel.

Every technological advancement presents an opportunity, and AI is no exception. I’m a long-time believer in the power of AI to enhance people’s skills and allow them to do more than they thought possible. What I find promising, is that two recent studies have shown that Generative AI tools can serve as an equaliser for lower-skilled workers by helping adopt skills and behaviours.

Perhaps more than any other technology, AI’s development must not exist in a vacuum. Collaboration among businesses, think tanks, innovators, and government will be critical to ensure it comes of age in ways that augment the human experience.

Mastufa: What advice do you have for organisations looking to equip their workforce with future-proof skills, especially in technical roles, and ensure inclusivity for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds? How can both traditional and alternative talent pipelines be leveraged to bridge the skills gap effectively?

Rometty: I have been asking these questions for many years, and found an approach with the power to future-proof workforces and bring more diverse populations into the workforce: You and your organisation must adopt a SkillsFirst mindset to hiring and development. As an employer, you must commit to recruiting and promoting talent based on people’s skills and knowledge, versus just their degrees and higher-ed credentials. 

So many family-sustaining jobs today, especially in tech and health care, do not require that someone have a traditional four-year degree to be successful. Yet too many employers insist someone have a degree just to apply for the job. This trend of over-credentialing causes millions of workers to be ignored, especially the more than 60 per cent of people in the world without traditional four-year degrees. It also results in open jobs at your organisation going unfulfilled. When more employers hire for skills as well as degrees, good jobs will be available to more people, which can bridge economic inequalities in communities, and make companies more diverse.

When employers prioritise skills alongside degrees, it opens up opportunities for a wider range of individuals, bridging economic inequalities and fostering greater diversity within companies.

SkillsFirst requires a mental and operational shift and is most effective when embraced as an investment in your overall talent strategy. At IBM, we invested in new career pathways like apprenticeships, returnships (a three-month tech reentry program to help bring women with technical interests and talent back into the company), and an innovative educational program that paired high school and college courses so students could get a high school diploma while also learning tech skills and earning an associate degree. This programme has been replicated around the world (P-TECH), and its success has proven that a traditional degree isn’t required to excel and succeed at good, upwardly mobile jobs.

The onus is on individuals to be Olympic learners throughout their working lives. Employees must be willing to acquire new skills at all stages of a career. The propensity to learn paired with opportunities that teach can be a great equaliser.

Virginia M. (Ginni) Rometty is the former Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM, Co-Chair at OneTen, and author of Good Power. Rometty was the ninth Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of IBM. Under her leadership, the 100-year-old company reinvented 50% of its portfolio, built a $25 billion hybrid cloud business, and established leadership in AI and quantum computing. Rometty also drove record results in diversity and inclusion and supported the explosive growth of an innovative high school program to prepare the workforce of the future in over twenty-eight countries. 

Join People Matters TechHR India on August 1-2, 2024 at Leela Ambience, Gurugram for insights on skills-first talent strategies.

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Topics: Skilling, #Future of Work, #TechHRIN, #BigInterview, #Artificial Intelligence

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