Wanted for AI: Librarians

Firms are still learning about the unconventional job skills needed to use artificial intelligence successfully, according to a Korn Ferry panel of experts.

It’s no secret that organizations are in a war for talent to work with artificial intelligence. But the latest front in the fight isn’t for coders, data scientists, and engineers that organizations usually compete over. Instead, firms have their sights set on librarians and insurance actuaries. 

As AI-based applications grow, so too does the need for talent with the expertise and skills to create business value from them. Librarians and insurance actuaries are skilled at collecting, organizing, and analyzing data. “Those skills are the central nervous system of AI,” says Vinay Menon, senior client partner and global lead for Korn Ferry’s AI practice. 

For all its growth and potential, AI is still an opaque technology to many business leaders. They understand it in conceptual terms, but don’t know where to begin in actually applying it to their business. “The goal is to move the conversation among leaders from what AI can do to what AI can do for your business,” says Menon, who last week hosted business leaders and AI industry experts at a Korn Ferry “Boardroom Briefings” event in New York.  

AI is in the middle act of its business evolution, according to John Gikopoulos, global head of AI and automation for Infosys Consulting. At the Boardroom Briefings event, Gikopoulos described AI’s first business act as helping organizations become lean. The current phase is about getting automated, or making data collection a basic function of any business operation. The next act, Gikopoulos says, will be defined by AI “becoming human.” “Businesses need to change the way they are thinking about AI,” Gikopoulos says. “They need to reeducate themselves in the way they interface with the world.”

Ethics are a big part of that reeducation, as the numerous examples of unconscious bias in AI shows. A major reason for unconscious bias in AI can be attributed to the lack of diversity in tech generally and in how organizations build AI teams specifically. Building diverse and inclusive teams is one of the challenges organizations face, says Afsheen Afshar, who has served as chief data scientist officer at JPMorgan Chase and chief artificial intelligence officer at the private equity firm Cerberus.

In his Boardroom Briefings presentation, Afshar focused on the importance of culture, team building, and design in driving value creation from AI. He says some of the pitfalls that prevent organizations from creating value with AI are misaligned incentives and a lack of commitment by either rank-and-file workers or senior leadership. “Culture is extraordinarily important in figuring out where the problem areas are, and you can’t analyze and apply learning from data until you know what the problems are,” says Afshar. 

Experts say part of the attraction among Silicon Valley firms to librarians and insurance actuaries is because of their training in categorizing large amounts of data. Both positions are highly analytical and require critical thinking to solve problems. The same goes for working with AI.