On the Symphony of AI and Humans in the Work Context

Huawei unveiled the unique version of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 with a live performance at the iconic Cadogan Hall in London on Monday 4th February.

By David De Cremer

“AI and human employees will form the teams of the future and will have to be led in such ways that both actors can bring their best abilities to the table to create outcomes that cannot be achieved outside the context of this new diversity.”

We all know that our current work settings are being transformed by technology at a rapid pace. One important transformation that is happening concerns the use and implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the practice of managing organisations. AI runs on algorithms that make calculations based on a rational set of rules that can produce output relevant to a wide variety of decisions and problem-solving operations. Research has convincingly demonstrated that judgments, advice and decisions emerging from algorithmic operations reveals superior outcomes relevant to human experts and judges (Kleinmuntz & Schkade, 1993). Based on these insights it has become apparent to organisations that the employment of algorithms in the context of managerial decision-making can reduce costs and promote efficiency significantly. In fact, the cost saving potential of managing organisations is so enormous that in 2016 a report from the World Economic Forum predicted that AI is expected to replace 5.1 million human jobs by 2020.

These developments have put the question whether AI will replace people’s jobs center-stage. This challenge is taken serious as exemplified, for example, by the existence of a BBC website where one can find out what the likelihood is that your job will be automated – and thus likely disappear – in the next 20 years. The hype of replacing employees (at all levels) by AI has spurred fear among the ranks of the working crowd. This rather pessimistic view is endorsed further by claims of so-called tech gurus saying that the rapid development we are witnessing today in the AI-field will for sure make that everything is going to change. At the moment, we seem to be heading towards a business environment where algorithms will be implemented with such ease that we will have to decide how and where humans can still play a role. In other words, AI is supposed to lead and humans will have to see how and where they can follow. 

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However, is this transformation maybe too drastic and will such idea of business in the future ensure that problems at the level of humans will emerge? Autonomous AI may indeed provide superior performance in specific areas that goes beyond the expertise of any single human. However, much of today’s work is still conducted within the realm of teams and as such one important feature is that companies thrive because employees can connect and thus collaborate to promote performance. In this reality, it is clear that humans cannot be replaced that quickly because algorithms do not have the social skills to easily initiate and guide cooperation. From this point of view, we could say that AI in the work context implies that we use a framework where in the context of cooperation we have to decide how and where AI will have its place. One area of expertise where this collaboration between AI-driven systems and humans will have to take place concerns the promotion of creative ideas and the resulting development of innovative solutions.

Diversity in ideas, perspectives and approaches may enhance the potential of a team to be truly creative. So far, however, very little is known about the role of diversity in the digital era where AI and humans have to collaborate in the decision-making process.

We know from research that to promote more creative outcomes, teams benefit from diversity. Diversity in ideas, perspectives and approaches may enhance the potential of a team to be truly creative. So far, however, very little is known about the role of diversity in the digital era where AI and humans have to collaborate in the decision-making process. In fact, so far, we have accumulated insights into how humans can move towards a collaborative relationship with their technological counterpart when it comes down to fostering creative work dynamics. With the focus on the AI-human collaboration to drive creativity I have introduced the challenge in the 21st century for team leaders as one where the new diversity has to be managed (De Cremer, 2019). Indeed, the time seems to have arrived that the diversity needed to transform a work setting into one where different perspectives and skills can contribute to creative outcomes includes a new kind of diversity, which is one where humans and non-humans (i.e. AI) find ways to collaborate and be effective. Recently, such an approach was launched to explore whether this “new diversity” type of collaboration is effective in bringing forward a creative product. Specifically, AI-technology was used to complete Schubert’s Symphony No.8 that was started in 1822. The first two movements of the symphony were completed by the master himself, but the last two, for unknown reasons, were never completed. To see whether in today’s world Schubert’s could be replicated and extended by employing artificial intelligence, AI technology was used and provided by the Chinese company Huawei. 

Huawei is a Chinese telecom giant that was founded in 1987 in Shenzhen. Its founder is Ren Zhengfei and the company is known for telecommunication equipment and infrastructure and their focus on smartphones (Tao, De Cremer, Chunbo, 2017). Specifically, in the fiscal year of 2018 Huawei´s revenue reached CNY721.202 billion (US$105.191 billion) and CNY59.345 billion (US$8.656 billion) in net profit. The company has risen to global stardom. For example, in 2018 they surpassed Apple to become the number 2 in sales of phones and about 67% of its revenue is from outside China (even though the Chinese market is the biggest in the world for any company).

 

The project: AI – Human collaboration to be creative

Creativity is usually defined as generating new outcomes that are meaningful and useful (De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008). In the context of completing Schubert’s Symphony No.8, this would suggest that a creative outcome is one where new pieces as constructed by means of AI-human collaboration will be experienced by human listeners as coming from the master himself. In other words, if the AI-human collaboration is able to work together in creative ways, then human listeners should feel, perceive and think that the completed pieces were not put together by a new diversity team but rather by the composer himself. Why would a company like Huawei engage in this kind of challenge?

To respond to this question, Walter Ji, the president of Huawei Consumer Business Group, Huawei Western Europe, had to say the following: “At Huawei, we are always searching for ways in which technology can make the world a better place. So we taught our Mate 20 Pro smartphone to analyse an unfinished, nearly 200 years old piece of music and to finish it in the style of the original composer could achieve this ambition. We used the power of AI, to extend the boundaries of what is humanly possible and see the positive role technology might have on modern culture.” His words can thus be seen as the company accepting that one of their aims should be to ensure that technology can promote and make more efficient or human ways of working. In this context, it meant being creative to produce a master musical piece.

Interesting in this project, the company used the technology in their smartphones. Specifically, Huawei used the AI in its Huawei Mate 20 Pro smartphone. This in-built advanced technology has been specifically designed to complete AI-based tasks and was applied to study the 90 pieces that Schubert in his life time put on paper. All these 90 pieces were translated into code and the AI-driven technology of Huawei’s smartphone then worked to extend these codes. AI also listened to the first two movements of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, and analysed the key musical elements to combine it with the knowledge it acquired from Schubert’s pieces to ultimately end up with a new melody for the third and fourth movement. In itself, AI thus provides ways of working that can systematically scan and analyses existing work but then at a much higher pace than humans work. As a result, AI can come up with many more combinations in the short term than any human can do.

The one-million-dollar question is, of course, whether AI can also decide which new combination represents best the emotions and atmosphere Schubert wanted his music pieces to communicate. AI cannot feel nor is it possible to understand the soul of an artist. As such, at this point humans have to enter the work equation. The human person asked to lead this specific project was the composer Lucas Cantor – who writes for the company Dreamworks and is known for many movie music pieces. His main task was basically to avoid that the ending to Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 would sound like a kind of elevator music. Indeed, a human touch was considered necessarily to ensure that the combination of music notes that AI would come up with would not be a boring string of sounds but would include a human reference that the human audience could connect to.

AI works fast, recognises patterns with extreme precision and generates many more combinations than any human can do. The human collaborator brings emotions into the music, connects it with the ability to take the perspective of the human audience by reflecting on and showing empathy for what this audience will feel.

Cantor himself was very positive about the collaboration and compared it to working with an actual other composer. So, the work experience for the human seemed to be acceptable and even enjoyable. One reason, according to Cantor, why this was the case is that he compared AI to a composer who did not have an ego that he would always have to take into account. It made that the AI-driven type of composer was never in a bad mood and never protested when Cantor was sending pieces back with the request to re-work. Also important was the fact that because of the work process and the incredible work pace of AI itself, the new piece of 18 minutes was written in just a few exchanges. Looking at these outcomes, it can be concluded AI appears to be the perfect partner to create something beautiful and creative like music. Indeed, AI works fast, recognises patterns with extreme precision and generates many more combinations than any human can do. The human collaborator brings emotions into the music, connects it with the ability to take the perspective of the human audience that will listen to the piece by reflecting on and showing empathy for what this audience will feel.

The “new diversity” collaboration thus seems to be well equipped to produce creative outcomes in a fast way where AI very much advises and humans converge all the advice into a product that is accepted and embraced by human end users. And, listening to the personal experience of Cantor, all of this can be achieved without any conflict at work. No frustrations and no wasted energy in dealing with the emotions of the other party, because those elements are not there. After all, AI is your collaborator. An important question that the comes to mind is whether the non-existence of conflicts is a good thing for creativity to emerge?

On one hand research shows that not having much conflict is actually a good thing for teams to perform (De Wit, Greer, & Jehn, 2012). Less conflict will help to keep the team productivity up because it avoids that people engage in power struggles and experience the presence of a conflict to be a personal thing (Greer, de Jong, Schouten et al., 2018). As a result, there will be less distraction, people will be happier and the focus on the job and the resulting outcomes will remain constant and strong. It is exactly this kind of work context the new diversity may be able to deliver.

However, on the other hand, research also shows that conflicts can be constructive to some extent, especially when it comes down to being creative. The reason for this is that when disagreement exists different perspectives are brought to the table and this process can help identifying new ways of thinking. It is important to stress, however, that these kind of conflicts have to be accompanied with a sense of mutual respect and a willingness to listen to these different perspectives. Only this way the diversity in ideas can find its way to the minds of everyone and can be used in constructive ways to fine-tune the outcome.

In conclusion, AI and human employees will form the teams of the future and will have to be led in such ways that both actors can bring their best abilities to the table to create outcomes that cannot be achieved outside the context of this “new diversity.” When the new Schubert piece was performed at the Cadogan Hall in London, it made clear that artificial intelligence needs human intelligence and vice versa to create true authentic value, but then in more accurate and fast ways than ever done before. It makes that technology connected to people is the future way of creating value. But, even though it is a future direction, one thing does stay the same and that is the power of connection. Huawei are in the telecom business to connect people.  With this experiment, Huawei’s purpose to connect people was translated into an exploration of whether AI and humans can connect effectively to deliver versions of a human music treasure that did not exist yet.

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David De Cremer is Provost Chair, Professor of Management and Organisation at National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, a fellow at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Before moving to NUS he was the KPMG endowed Professor in Management Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School. He has published over more than 250 academic articles and book chapters and is the author of the book Pro-active Leadership: How to overcome procrastination and be a bold decision-maker and co-author of “Huawei: Leadership, culture and connectivity”.

References
1. De Cremer, D. (2019). Leading Artificial Intelligence at work: A matter of facilitating human-algorithm co-creation. Journal of Leadership Studies, 13(1), 81-83.
2. De Dreu, C.K.W., Baas, M., & Nijstad, B.A. (2008). Hedonic tone and activation level in the mood-creativity link: Toward a dual pathway to creativity model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(5), 739-756.
3.De Wit, F.R.C., Greer, L.L. & and Jehn, K.A. (2012). The Paradox of Intragroup Conflict: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(2), 360-390.
4. Greer, L.L., Bde Jong, B.A., Schouten, M.E., et al. (2018). Why and When Hierarchy Impacts Team Effectiveness: A Meta-Analytic Integration. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(6), 591-613.
5. Kleinmuntz, D. N., & Schkade, D. A. (1993). Information displays and decision processes. Psychological Science, 4(4), 221-227.
6. Tao, T., De Cremer, D., & Chunbo, W. (2017). Huawei: Leadership, culture and connectivity. Sage Publishing.