• Laura-Ann Tomasella - executive coach helping

Covid-19: Where human intelligence and AI meet

In many industries, artificial intelligence is already playing a role in building value, both for business returns and social impact. Now it is being used to innovate on a new level by aiding and augmenting human collective intelligence.

Before the arrival of Covid-19 we were operating in a pretty predictable albeit complex and fast environment, anticipating major disruption, volatility and uncertainty.

We are able to do this based on our intelligence, that is, the ability to detect patterns in the world and in ourselves as agents in it. We’ve been able to achieve complex goals in what has been a multifaceted, multipart environment.

Now that our environment has radically changed, the ‘standard human algorithm’ (metaphorically speaking) we have been using to understand it has had to adjust swiftly. We are literally gearing ourselves to a new world.

One way in which this is manifesting, is the way in which tech initiatives have joined the fight against Covid-19 by using collective intelligence (often abbreviated as CI) to build data, understand, and then provide answers.

Where does human intelligence fit into this?

The prominence of artificial intelligence (AI) has triggered curiosity about the collective intelligence of teams and how we, as humans, rely on collaboration. Collective intelligence shifts knowledge and power from the individual to a team of people working together (and in all likelihood, remotely) in a system for better, stronger, leaner and meaner results.

CI is the term used when intelligence emerges from a collective human effort – an interdependent, shared learning effort – and benefits not only the task at hand, businesses and communities, but also the team itself, including each individual person involved.

Humans are wired to work cooperatively; our brains need other brains. (Which is why working from home requires new ways of thinking. Read what four leaders are doing to keep their teams thriving while adhering to physical distancing regulations.) Anthropologically, human beings have survived and thrived as a species because we have collaborated. The rapid spread of Covid-19 is just the latest event we, as a species, have had to deal with.

The difference is that this time the threat is not localised to one or a few specific communities in a certain geographical area. Because of the gigantic flow and flux of people and information around the world, it is the first time that we have to band together on a global scale to tackle something like this. This virus is showing us what ‘viral’ really means!

The importance of ubuntu

From a South African point of view, we have to show ubuntu to our neighbours whether we are friends or not, whether rich or poor. This virus will either show us what ‘humanity’ really means or what it doesn’t: right now ‘I really am because we are’.

The massive species-wide behavioural change that is required exceptionally fast is for the most part aided by the flow of information. A large chunk of the world population can witness collective action at work, thanks to having access to data. (Perhaps this makes a case for unrestricted access to expensive data?)

At the same time, ubuntu has become regulated in order to ‘immunise’ our organisations and communities. We have to keep a physical distance from one another in order to demonstrate social cohesion. (For many people, being homebound is contributing to higher stress levels. Here’s how to recognise the signs of stress, plus the proven techniques to help you cope.)

What does this mean for companies?

And for the people who lead them? Collective intelligence is about capturing data, exploring interactions and organising them, making predictions and then using those to plan ahead. With the current shift that is underway in just about every area of our lives, we can only go along for the ride and collect the emerging data. Right now, perhaps the best way to do this is by actively listening. As a leader in your organisation, your current model can no longer be applied. It’s old.