The limits of artificial intelligence: why the human factor remains indispensable

Films such as “I, Robot,” “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and “Bicentennial Man,” with robots integrated into society and working for us or even replacing us, have been futuristic Hollywood fantasies for a long time. But is such a future scenario so far off? Machines and robots are already standard technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) has made rapid progress, and even though it is unclear to where the progress will lead, the demand for AI support and implementation of services will be immense. This also applies to robo-advisory and the use of AI in corporate consultancy.

Increased efficiency and consulting at the push of a button

Robo-advisory will have a lasting influence on the daily activities of corporate consultants. The consulting industry needs to scrutinize its business models and the way they plan and implement projects in the future. It is likely that robots can especially be used in processes to make them considerably faster, better and significantly more efficient, and sometimes without human intervention. These include process analyses, benchmarks, best practices, impact analyses, software selection, cyber security as well as testing and automated process identification. An industry in which advisory processes are already being implemented is in the credit and investment area, where robo-advisers are replacing human consultants. Robo-advisory is a highly dynamic environment, challenging and full of potential. Implementing new technologies effectively and making full use of the benefits of digital resources has now become indispensable for organizations.

This sounds frightening at first. Some may already see themselves in the future in the world of “I, Robot.” However, it should not be assumed that humans will be completely substituted by robo-consultants. Most likely, however, is a hybrid coexistence in which AI supplements and optimizes processes. In other words, IT solutions and robo-advisers will play a supportive role as they continue to help push limits.

When the human factor guarantees success

Robo-advisers can analyze structured and unstructured data very quickly. However, artificial intelligence is not able to see outside of existing patterns, to develop strategic approaches, to question assumptions or to provide creative, innovative services. Due to technical limitations, robo-advisers know only the areas in which they have been trained. As soon as a combination of approaches, methods or ideas from different contexts becomes necessary, AI reaches its limits. To learn these human abilities, groundbreaking new technologies are still needed.

In business consulting, Big Data and AI are concerned with the selection of the right customers, markets, services or service bundles. But the final decision remains with the human advisor. There are several reasons for this. Robo-advisers cannot be prosecuted or blamed for unforeseeable consequences of a decision. Furthermore, they cannot conclude contracts or maintain relationships. And finally, they cannot deliver an assessment and evaluation of the results, and that is an invaluable asset in business consulting. Consultants must always be able to explain to the customer in a comprehensible manner how a certain result came about, evaluate it and determine possible errors in the analysis. This requires a deep understanding of the customer, individual adaptation and holistic thinking. All of this is a very important constituent of trust, and trust is one of the most important currencies between business advisers and their clients.

Human consultants will hardly be replaced in the next ten years because only humans fulfill certain success criteria. With quantum computers and the recombination of different algorithms and artificial intelligence, however, machines could be taught to “think” more and more complex. In this case, it would again lead to drastic shifts in business areas and the greater use of AI.

Consultants of the future

The consultant profile will change. Certain activities are being taken over by robo-advisers and results are available at the push of a button. To be able to understand and benefit from AI, tomorrow's consultants must further develop AI’s role in consultative processes, the complex information and decisions based on it. The recombination of several algorithms as well as the interpretation of the results and possibilities from a very holistic viewpoint become central basic skills. The entrepreneurial, innovative and creative spirit of consultants as well as their ability to respond to changes and their personal touch have made them more in demand than ever before. In this way, and by means of technical support, the classic cognitive consultant can become a cyborg consultant and stay indispensable.

BACKGROUND: Central issues:

  • What new business models are created by robo-advisory?
  • What different roles can robo-advisers have – only support, or can they also replace human consultants?
  • Where are the limits of robo-advisers – today and in the future?
  • The professional profile of consultants is changing. What new skills and knowledge are required?

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