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Be not afraid of AI, but do mind your manners

Managing director Chris Stehno demonstrates HealthPrism, an AI tool that can map health risk factors with social indicators - like distance to grocery stories - with the goal of improving health outcomes for specific communities.
Clay Wallace
Managing director Chris Stehno demonstrates HealthPrism, an AI tool that can map health risk factors with social indicators - like distance to grocery stories - with the goal of improving health outcomes for specific communities.

If you say “Please” to Siri and “Thank you” to Alexa, you’re not alone. When attendees at the first Kentucky AI Summit - presented by Deloitte, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Kentucky - were asked if they were polite to their AIs, they responded with a resounding “Yes."

Machine learning and narrow AI - the engines powering those digital assistants - have been a part of the everyday lives of Kentuckians for over a decade. As the technology landscape shifts to accommodate the introduction of generative AI, Kentucky is ahead of the curve, with one-in-four businesses adopting AI - a rate higher than the national level, according to a speaker from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The summit, which was tailored to the business community, consisted of panels discussing the utility of AI in the workforce, including in healthcare, education, and transportation industries, as well as discussions of policy with state legislators. Booths demonstrating specific uses of AI technology lined the hallway.

At the sold out half-day conference, both presenters and attendees readily confessed to being “secret cyborgs” - individuals who augment their work with the help of AI. Often, this is done through the use of “shadow IT” - the employee use of computer programs and products which are not officially installed by a company’s IT department. This summit sought to change that by highlighting trends, tools, and best practices for intentionally implementing AI in business settings.

During the AI Within the Workforce panel, Dr. Trey Conaster, Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at UK, addressed the fear of AI replacing white collar workers. He says AI is almost certainly going to change the way people work, but that change is likely going to be more about where existing workers are able to focus their time and energy.

“Of course, the ideal narrative there is a shift towards the things that people get into fields for,” said Conaster, “Whether that's helping people in the community or, if you're in some other field, maybe you're getting to offload some of the documentation and paperwork tasks.”

Another panelist, Ben Reno-Weber, a member of Louislville’s Metro Council and deputy director of U of L’s Health Equity Innovation Hub, sees AI as an equalizing factor. He says AI isn’t only a tool to reduce busy work for owners and managers, but can also be used at company-level to, for example, reduce the burden on employees seeking to trade shifts.

“How much time is wasted on the phone tree, like, figuring this out? And we still don’t have that?” asked Reno-Weber. “Well it’s because those problems have never been centered around innovation. And that’s where I see the real opportunity. Yes, we need to be educating our managers around this, but really what can we be pulling from the lived experience of the people who are actually doing the work?”

Jamia McDonald, the panel’s moderator, leads Deloitte’s artificial intelligence work for state, local, and higher education clients. She says Kentuckians are already using AI in their personal lives when they ask for directions or generate a playlist, and taking the first step to implement those same tools in their daily work lives doesn’t have to be frightening.

“For businesses, there are lots of technologies out there that are low cost of entry that allow them to test it in really small ways,” said McDonald. “So, whether it’s processing invoices or call taking or transcription, there’s a lot of ways they can explore without opening themselves up to risk.”

McDonald says even businesses which have not actively sought out AI already have access to basic tools like email auto-reply functions, and that using these tools can help people build the confidence to work with other AI products in the future, like those offering fraud prevention services.

It wasn’t all rosy - panelists brought up serious discussions about data ownership and privacy, but the outlook was positive overall. Guests at the event spoke on the necessity of developing good policy and standards for AI sooner rather than later - because as AI tools become more accessible, they become less avoidable. And, as generative AI continues to learn from us, using conversational language with good manners can help it respond to us more naturally.