AI and the emergence of the centaur imperative for professionals everywhere

If the future of knowledge work isn’t now…it isn’t too far off.

Geoff Wilson

We’ve seen a lot of press recently on the launch and adoption of OpenAI’s ChatGPT client.

Suddenly, you can ask for an essay on any commonly covered topic and it will be written, in the voice that you choose; and you can receive it in seconds.

Suddenly, you can ask for a summary of research on almost any topic that is commonly covered, and with a couple of iterations and refinements spanning minutes, you can get a fairly well-structured list of facts…in seconds.

Suddenly, you can ask for a limerick on a dog eating dog food in las vegas, and have it instantaneously.

Ok, so that last one is true, but maybe less useful.

This technology, basically a natural language-enabled interface with the publicly available knowledge in the world up to about 2021, represents a change, a threat, and a massive disruption to knowledge workers everywhere.

At WGP, we often discuss a hierarchy of professional capability that goes something like this:

  • Produce process:  Get clarity on the steps to take if you have nothing else.  This is the most basic professional function.
  • Produce data:  Gather the facts, get the numbers in place, and provide the foundation for analysis.  This is the next level of professional function.
  • Produce insight: Analyze the data and produce higher-level insights that range from the mundane to the blinding.  This is the expectation of good professionals of all sorts.
  • Produce synthesis: Combine insights, draw implications, and deliver orthogonal thinking that re-sets direction and creates truly new thinking.  This is professional nirvana.  When you find someone who does this well, cherish them.

If we think about the implications for professional services of AI tools like ChatGPT, it’s easy to see that suddenly machines have gone from repositories and accelerators of process, data, and insight generation approaches to a very viable resource (more than a tool) for actually generating these things.

I have never looked at MS Excel and said “create for me a 3-statement financial model structure” and had anything happen.  That has been the realm of analysts and experts.  AI tools are going to do this in no time (if not already).

I have never looked MS Project and said “create for me a basic project plan in 50 steps to deliver a market research report on the stick whittling industry.”  That has been the realm of consulting managers and associates.  AI tools are going to do this in no time (if not already).

Machines are quickly going to overtake people in generally acceptable process, data, and insight generation.

It wasn’t too long ago that these things were only done by people.  For years, consulting firms have silo’d and offshored research capabilities to low-cost countries.  For years, law firms have hired lower-cost labor for legal research.  These lower-level professional functions are unlikely to survive the evolution of AI resources.

So what’s the imperative?

We’ll explore it further in other posts, but I’ll summarize it as this:  The future average professional will have to have the skills of the best professionals today…that is, the ability to critically assess vast amounts of available information, to provide proprietary insight not generally available or acceptable, and to generate unconventional synthesis.  

This will be true across all legal, medical, consulting, and executive services.

The future professional will be a centaur:  The head of a powerfully insightful and resourceful human on the body of a powerfully informed AI resource that provides available world knowledge at fingertip reach.

The age of summarizing Bureau of Labor Statistics data and saying “AHA!” are over.  We are entering the age of professionals delivering on what most consulting firms claim they deliver on:  Proprietary, differentiated, confidential insights.  We are also entering the age of human interpretation of machine-driven insights.

In short, we’re entering the age of the centaur professional.  If you hire professionals, demand a centaur.  If you are a professional…time to upgrade.

What do you think?  How do you think AI resources will alter the way we work in the coming years?  What’s the right path to “best” in this new world?

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