When Henry Ford said: "For most purposes, a man with a machine is better than a man without a machine," he certainly did not know how his words would resonate even 100 years later at the threshold of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Ford is considered a pioneer of his time in terms of harnessing latest technology to revolutionize the manufacturing process. By making the assembly line move and assigning fixed stations to employees, he reduced the time it took to build a car from 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes. Ford's story is not only about courage to innovate and achieving incredible efficiency. It is also about using power of technology to give everyday people access to affordable car. Enabling them to travel where they want, when they want.
This democratization is a fascinating aspect of technology. When we think of the greatest inventions from the wheel through letterpress, steam machine, telegraph, phone to aircraft and the Internet, we will find that none of them replaced people, but every each of them has greatly accelerated the development of the human kind. They gave access to education and information to the masses, enabling us to travel, communicate, have more free time ...
Today, such potential opens-up with technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI). Simply put, it is the ability of machines to recognize images and words, learn, process information and communicate like we humans. It's no news. Scientists have been working on AI technologies for decades, and you can already find artificial intelligence in many of our products and services that you normally use. However, the importance of AI has increased as a result of fast growing cloud computing power, the vast amount of data we have at our disposal, and a breakthrough in algorithm development, for example, in the field of depth learning. What is even more important is that we now have clear principles that ensure that AI-based systems are fair, reliable, secure, inclusive and transparent.
The greatest potential of AI is that it extends the natural abilities and skills of people, enables them to relax their capacity and relieves them from routine tasks so they can engage in more creative activities. Especially when companies grapple with a shortage of people, it is important to rethink the way employees spend time at work to make the most of their potential. However, the premise is the ability and willingness to learn new things, to do things differently. The most important change though must take place in our heads and corporate culture.
The "Czech Ford" - Tomáš Baťa understood this very well. He saw in the new production processes not only the potential to increase productivity, but also the way to change the mentality of people and to strengthen cooperation. Technology is just a tool and it is up to us, people, to define how and why we want to use it. Our CEO Satya Nadella says: The key question of today is not “what technology can do” but “what it should do”.
Author: Rudolf Urbánek, General Manager for Czech Republic and Slovakia at Microsoft