I was in New York recently attending two overlapping events: the Lenovo Advisory Council and BlackBerry’s Security Summit. I have no doubt I am not alone in having to be multiple places at once.
We not only have to balance often conflicting business schedules but conflicting life schedules. We have children, spouses, friends, and hobbies along with our work, and we all realize this is not necessarily conducive to creating the right work-life balance.
These conflicts force us to make hard choices that we often regret as we approach the end of our lives. This has certainly happened to me. We might not have been there to support a child, spouse, friend or coworker when they most needed us. Because we prioritized something tactically, like attending a critical meeting, and forgot that often it is our more strategic relationships that should have had priority. Thus, our relationships with family and friends have been weakened, particularly our relationships with our children.
There is a coming AI technology that, assuming we use it correctly, could make this problem obsolete. That technology is human AI clones or human digital twins. I am using the term human AI clone, because it better reflects what is coming and better focuses on both the promise and the problem with the technology. I will cover both the promise and the problem. But I would like to set the promise of the technology as the goal — and start having people think about how this technology should be used before we find it has been deployed badly.
The promise of AI employee clones or human digital twins
The idea of creating an AI-driven clone of a person is far from new. It is at the heart of digital immortality, and it will also be critical for the creation of large-scale environmental simulations, be they focused on industry or entertainment. On the latter, the concept of realistic non-player characters (NPCs) would be a game-changer. But the true benefit to us individually is that we can delegate an increasing portion of our lives to the clone.
How much do you contribute to a meeting? That depends on the meeting. In large meetings designed to provide updates, we are often merely observers and provide no additional value. In other meetings, we may ask one or two questions, and on way too many occasions, we find we did not even need to be there. However, we seldom know this critical piece of information until we are in the meeting and see the content. Virtually no meeting leaders send their content out before the meeting. Often, even a full agenda is the exception rather than the rule.
One fix is to demand better meeting preparation. But we’ve been pushing for better meeting preparation for as long as I have been in business, and we just have not made that much progress. Granted, it could be because too many people wait until the last minute to work on their content. But if we can’t fix this problem one way, we can use technology to fix it another way. That problem is that our time is a limited resource, and we need better ways to focus that limited resource where it can be most effectively used.
This is where the AI employee clone could provide the best benefit. It could attend the meetings, respond to generic queries as our proxy. And if it is hit with something it hasn’t been trained on or it needs other help, it can contact you real-time with a query, and you could advise how it should respond on your behalf. You could even step in quickly to provide direction. There are still reasons you should attend in person, but this would provide you with the choice of whether you need to attend, while today, you generally don’t have that choice. Assuming you use that choice wisely, this could be a path to both better work-life balance and higher-focused productivity. We could spend more of our time where we are needed and waste far less of that very limited resource.
The problem is where I fear this technology will be focused, which is employee replacement. That would be a bad outcome: because it would cause employees to fail to train their clones; and because it would feed into too many executives’ belief that companies would run better if they could just eliminate their employees.
These human AI clones need to be owned by the employees that create them, and if they are used after the employee leaves the company, the employee should continue to be compensated. This could flow into their eventual retirement, creating a stronger reason to invest the time into creating that tool.
Assuring this technology benefits rather than harms the employee is critical to assure that it will both do what it will be able to do and drive the huge potential work-life and productivity benefits it can provide.
What side is the money on?
The promise of employee clones is significant. It could mean more time spent on things we love to do at work and far less on things that waste our time and annoy us while improving work-life balance and helping to fund our retirement.
The problem will be the desire for companies to own the resulting clones and use them to replace their employees. Sadly, the money is on the wrong side of this, and our goal is to assure that this money dynamic does not drive the wrong outcome.