Can robots and writers make a good partnership? Have the humanities been definitively written off as obsolete? As for robotization, where does the true threat lie? We take a closer look..
In the context of certain technologies which are advancing at the speed of light, one question should be on everyone's lips: what types of people will companies need most – techies or good all-rounders?
In autumn 2016, Google was actively seeking whizzes to work with... data, you might guess. You'd be wrong, as the web giant was looking for wordsmiths. But this is not an anecdote or recruitment error: the company has ambitions to beat Amazon's Alexa at its own game by giving its Google Home virtual assistant a more rounded personality – envisaging a home automation device with a sense of conversation, humour and good timing.
Artists using their talents for conversational artificial intelligence
Ensuring robots possess a minimum of human social skills: this is the task awaiting the new class of recruits to technological firms, sought for their experience of writing fiction, film dialogue, plays, etc. But to what end? The idea is to compensate for the assistant's gloomy metallic appearance, make it likeable, and extend the assistant/customer relationship beyond the first interaction. It is worth noting that once the initial novelty period has worn off, users generally only turn to their assistant to find out about the weather or order a pizza. The same challenge has been set for the writers, poets and playwrights at Microsoft whose role is to make its virtual home assistant Cortana answer back better.
Humanists on board to ensure ethical principles
Humanities qualifications could be a goldmine in the world of technology. According to billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, young workers can regard them as effective protection against the loss of jobs to robotization. There are two reasons for the resurgence of these study disciplines, seen as outdated not that long ago.
The first of these is that as the algorithms used by the police, the justice system and government begin to encroach upon decision-making and become a part of our lives, ethical questions and challenges for our society are also emerging that could potentially lead to serious prejudices which we are not even aware of. A new role is appearing with a view to controlling the risk of abuse: that of practical philosophy consultant for large enterprises who prefer to assign the dilemmas posed to specialists in the humanities. The question has also given rise to research topics. An investigation carried out in conjunction with philosophers, logicians, sociologists and anthropologists led to a set of preliminary ethical rules designed to govern the conduct of autonomous agents. Finally, algorithms are beginning to be audited in order to ensure that artificial intelligence is being used for the public good.
The second reason is that while robots may be acknowledged as infallible in the execution of particular tasks which are repetitive, administrative or physical, they are quite clearly not renowned for their human qualities, ability to communicate or their empathy. To design elegant solutions that customers consider useful and to optimise user experience, employees will need to use diplomacy and creativity, skills demonstrated by many humanities graduates in addition to their level of versatility.
Ultra-specialised or all-round achievers?
It would be hasty to conclude that the world of technology primarily requires those with technical skills. Because this false truism hides a trap, as well as a threat. There is the threat to the role of the programmer: open source and the ease with which almost anyone can pick up lines of code have significantly lowered access barriers to finding employment in the field of data exploitation. And there is a trap in that it is illusory to believe that the expertise of techies will always be prioritised over the agility of all-rounders, who often show greater willingness to adapt and learn. These qualities are becoming essential, for the rapid speed of technological progress is taking the idea of sustainable, highly-specialised functions back to the realm of fantasy. Humanity, as well as a passion for complex thought and creativity, mean non-specialists have other gifts to contribute...
Source: l’Atelier, BNP Paribas
Robovision: “Within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent”
Robovision has emerged as the best-known AI player in the Benelux countries. However, this young firm has an even more extensive vision. “Healthcare, agriculture, the environment… within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent,” foresees CEO Jonathan Berte. BNP Paribas Fortis is an important partner in their growth.
Jonathan Berte, who trained as a civil engineer, smiles as he thinks back to the pioneering years at Robovision. “In fact, when I was a kid I had a really analytical mindset. In the scouts and at school I used to keep note of absolutely everything. It was really important for me to collect information. I was a kind of ‘infoholic’. But just gathering information gets you nowhere. That also goes for information that’s just stored on hard disks. The added value comes from using that information efficiently.”
How exactly do you do that at Robovision?
“Technology is evolving at lightning speed. These days just about everybody has a smartphone in their trouser pocket. Apart from anything else, these devices create a great deal of information, so we need to keep up on the algorithmic front and artificial intelligence helps us with that. That’s how we can provide governments, institutions and companies large and small with a platform for automated decision-making on the basis of visual data. In addition we constantly ask ourselves how we can democratise artificial intelligence. So in a way we’re like the Airbnb of artificial intelligence.”
What might that visual data be for example?
“In May, in collaboration with the University of Antwerp and security firm Securitas, we set up a smart camera in a shopping street in order to measure to what extent people were complying with social distancing requirements. This is important information for the decision makers in this country. Of course we don’t have to look through the images ourselves. We get them analysed using a specific type of artificial intelligence – self-teaching algorithms or what are known as neural networks. They’re designed somewhat along the lines of our own brains, though not nearly as complex.”
Which brings us to the fashionable expression ‘deep learning’. Are machines eventually going to make themselves smarter than us humans?
“Oh, that’s already underway at this very moment – in radiology, among other fields, plus also in games. Remember the legendary Go match between South Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol and a computer, which was beautifully represented in the 2017 documentary film AlphaGo? We’re also focusing on deep learning, because neural networks are very efficient at dealing with visual data. However, it will be some time yet before AI can equal a human being in intuition for instance.”
You’ve now evolved from a startup to a scaleup. Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
“The society of tomorrow will be one in which everything will be properly measured and dealt with. For instance, we’re also working in the field of horticulture, where AI can be applied in quality control – to spot fruit with an abnormal shape or colour, say. Lots of agricultural and horticultural businesses have got into difficulties over the last few months because pickers from Eastern Europe weren’t able to enter this country. Those businesses will very probably be investing in AI and automation over the next few years. In these kinds of fields, the coronavirus has taken us to a digital society almost overnight.”
What sort of partners do you need in order to succeed in your aims?
“During our growth from startup to scaleup, BNP Paribas Fortis has always been an important partner. You have really taken a lot of trouble to understand our story. Of course you do need to grasp our plans from a banking standpoint in order to be able to assess the risks. But quite apart from that, I have the feeling that you’re particularly good when it comes to supporting the whole tech and startup scene.”
How to prevent a stroke with the help of your smartphone
Fibricheck is a medical application that anticipates strokes using just a smartphone. This kind of innovation focused on human well-being is at the heart of BNP Paribas Fortis’s sustainability strategy.
Digitalisation is affecting even medicine. Convinced that the digital world and the traditional medical world must work together, Fibricheck has developed an application to anticipate strokes. This ethos makes human interests a core concern.
By supporting this Belgian company, BNP Paribas Fortis wants to do its bit to build a more sustainable world and help new and inspiring ideas to emerge.
A diagnosis using your smartphone
Smartphones are becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives. We use them to communicate, cook and read... so why not for medical diagnosis? With Fibricheck, the user can now check their heartbeat, to anticipate the risks of a stroke. The Fibricheck application focuses on the most common kind of heart arrhythmia: atrial fibrillation, which is responsible for 20% of strokes.
How does it work?
Above all, it is important to know that Fibricheck is available only by medical prescription. Once you have installed it, you just need to put your finger on your smartphone camera for 60 seconds, for all the required data to be recorded. The algorithms will do the rest, to provide an instant result. If any anomalies are detected, the results will be analysed by a Fibricheck doctor and made available to your doctor. Technology is used to serve human interests.
An irregular heartbeat is not always easy to detect. The advantage of Fibricheck is that it does not need to be used in a specific place (e.g. at the doctor's surgery), or during a set period. It allows multiple measurements to be taken, to provide an overview of your heartbeat.
Checks in companies
The health of your employees is crucial. Heart arrhythmias do not always have clear, visible symptoms. Consequently, detection plays a crucial role in preventing the greatest risks. This is why Fibricheck is offering to check your employees.
For more information, consult the Fibricheck website.
Challenges when recruiting internationally
Recruiting a member of staff for relocation to a foreign subsidiary requires some careful thinking. We have compiled the questions that are most frequently asked when people are faced with this human-resources quandary.
International recruitment involves recruiting people in their company's country of origin and relocating them abroad to work in a foreign subsidiary. In a globalised world, this has become common practice. However, when setting up a Belgian company abroad you will face a series of legal obstacles, as soon as your employees cross the border out of Belgium. These include employment laws, residence permits, taxation and social security. These questions will make things clearer up for you:
Should I recruit before developing my strategy?
No. Before starting the recruitment process, the first thing that a company must do is clearly define what it wants to achieve in the country where the subsidiary will be set up. It must take cultural differences between the countries into account. If the company usually recruits locally to be on the same wavelength as its target customer, when recruiting internally candidates should be adaptable and self-reliant, but above all they should be fluent in the country's language (in English, at the very least).
Can my employee work in this country?
If the free movement of workers applies within the EEA (European Economic Area) and in Switzerland, you do not need any special permit apart from your Belgian identity card. You must have a work permit as soon as you cross the border out of this area. The paperwork to apply for this can be extensive and even complicated (particularly in the United States). It is essential you have a lawyer who specialises in immigration.
Do I need a centre of operations in the country?
If you want to employ staff in a different country, you should have a local entity. Depending on the country in question, a small entity (sometimes no more than a letterbox) can be enough.
Where should social-security contributions be paid?
In the EEA and countries that have a bilateral social security treaty with Belgium, the social security system in the country of work will apply. In situations involving simultaneous employment, the social security system in the country of residence applies. As a rule, an employee cannot be subjected to different systems. Outside the EEA, you should operate on a case-by-case basis (legal and tax advice is essential in these situations).
What about salary and working conditions?
Employees can only work in an export market if they have an employment contract adapted to the salary and working conditions of the country in question. As a general rule: the mandatory legal provisions in the country of work will take precedence over the ones that appear in your Belgian employment contract.
Where should taxes be paid?
Double taxation is not a very appealing option for employees who are being relocated to work abroad. To avoid this, Belgium has signed treaties with a large number of countries specifying the country responsible for taxing the salaries that you pay. As a general rule, workers are taxed in their country of work, except in cumulative cases (the 183-day rule), where the national law of the country responsible for taxing the salary will apply.
Can I recruit internationally from Belgium?
Yes, you can. For example, in the Brussels-Capital Region, Actiris has an International department, which selects candidates with an interest in working abroad. This body is a member of EURES, a network of more than 1,000 employment counsellors (EEA and Switzerland). If your employees do not want to be relocated abroad, its counsellors can also place your job offers on the EURES portal.
Should I go it alone?
Certainly not. The steps that you need to take before relocating one of your workers abroad or recruiting internationally are too complex for you to tackle without any advice; only a specialist firm will be able to help you take these different steps (residence permits, work permits, social-security payments, taxation).
Could your intuition help you make better decisions?
All of us have heard that little voice in our ear quietly persuading us of a new idea or a different way to tackle a challenge at work. But acting on that voice is another thing altogether. And yet...
Marcel Schwantes, an expert in workplace culture based on "servant leadership*", is well placed to recognise his intuition speaking. This small voice inside us has a tendency to bring out, from the deepest recesses of our beings, feelings that can be buried under rational layers of logical thinking.
People who are emotionally intelligent are more readily able to listen to this internal compass in order to keep themselves on the right track. But not everybody has this capacity.
How can we recognise the voice of our own intuition?
Here is some practical advice:
- If the voice signals a danger, it is undoubtedly your intuition speaking.
- Intuition speaks to you in a way you cannot ignore.
- First of all, we tell ourselves the voice is wrong.
- It gives us a message that is not particularly comfortable.
- We do not really want to act on its advice, or we tend to put off doing so.
- It seems counterintuitive!
- We allow ourselves to put it out of our minds...
Intuition and integrity – a perfect partnership
The reason why many of us still disregard this voice is that it can sometimes be unsettling. It pricks our consciousness and challenges our convictions, habits and belief systems. Yet it can hide precious inner resources just waiting to be revealed.
But to be able to utilise them, we must demonstrate integrity. When activated by the necessary bravery, this partnership between integrity and intuition can become a superpower that allows us to handle tricky workplace situations – or even run a company!
*Editor's note: Liberated leadership, as opposed to authoritarian leadership.
- Which human skills are needed to work with artificial intelligence?
- Robovision: “Within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent”
- How to prevent a stroke with the help of your smartphone
- Challenges when recruiting internationally
- Could your intuition help you make better decisions?