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‘AI’s not ready’ to make human decisions, Appian CEO says

Appian CEO Matt Calkins joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the use of AI to identify problems and increase efficiency, how the labor market is grappling with the potential benefits and pitfalls of the intelligence software, and the outlook for AI adoption in society.

Video Transcript


- Putting AI to work-- our next guest predicts an explosion in productivity, what he's calling a productivity revolution with the assistance of artificial intelligence. Matt Calkins is Appian founder and CEO. He's joining us now. So, Matt, these are big, impressive words-- right, a productivity revolution. How does that work? Is it really going to be as revolutionary as all of that?

MATT CALKINS: Yeah, well, our economy takes productivity seriously only when it's in a pinch. Only when the labor market is difficult and money is hard to get do we solve our productivity problems, our scaling problems by something other than writing a check. But right now, it's going to happen. Companies across the nation are going to be asked to do more with less in the year ahead. And so they're going to turn toward technology to try to be more productive.

And when they do, they're going to find out that there have been vast leaps in productivity technology. Digital workers can do so much more than they used to be able to do. And that's why we're going to see that revolution, I call it, in productivity.

- OK, so in this revolution in productivity, you also say that see us entering into a new era where AI will need to be combined with people to drive productivity. So it's not like AI is just going to take all the jobs, right? It's kind of an in-tandem workforce that we're seeing between augmented intelligence, if you will, combined with the human intelligence factor.

MATT CALKINS: Yeah, AI is definitely not going to take the jobs. AI needs humans in a partnership to be effective. We've seen AI do amazing things this year. But we've also seen it make amazing mistakes.

And we're in a multiyear pattern, starting now, in which AI will write something and a human will have to edit it. AI will propose something and a human life to make the decision. AI's not ready to do this, maybe never, but certainly not now.

There's going to have to be a well-knit partnership, which makes all the sense in the world to us. I come from Appian. And the purpose of our organization is to foster that partnership between human and digital workers.

- And I want to get to more on that in a second. But I want to zero in on something you said, which is AI is not ready, right? But it is dominating the conversation right now. So where are we in that process? And how do we get to and how soon will we get to the future that you're envisioning?

MATT CALKINS: It's going to be longer than you think. AI is amazing us with its capabilities right now. But what we're seeing is AI at its best, at the narrow thing that it's been designed for. But you take it to the edge of the data pool, where the pool is shallower and you don't have as much research, and AI breaks down in surprising and sometimes disappointing ways.

Solving what AI can be when the data pool is thin is a decades-long problem. We're not going to solve that right away. We're right now rightfully impressed with what AI can do when it's richly informed with information.

But the true challenge, we all live in an environment where we have to make-- we have to make decisions on limited information. And for AI to compete with us, for it to be ready to do a human's job, it would have to find a way to make decisions on the limited information, on changing data sets and ever-obsoleting data sets the way we are capable of doing. AI is a long way from being able to do a thing like that. I don't know if it'll ever get there.

- Matt, last time I had the chance to speak with you, it was on the day of your IPO. I remember it very vividly. It was a big year as well for some of the tech names that were going public at that time. You think back then and now fast forward to all of the discussion around AI and what that means for everyone's business, how quickly do you believe that we'll see tangible or at least visible results in the financial statements that companies have, companies like Appian, that include the benefits of AI?

MATT CALKINS: Yeah, the benefits of AI are right upon us. You're going to see the difference immediately. One trend I think will surprise you is the fact that most organizations prefer a private AI to a public one. They're going to want to cultivate their own AI algorithm rather than sending their data out to a major firm to review and to parse, which means that the AI revolution is going to be an in-house revolution. Organizations are going to be looking for a way to cultivate and train their own AI off of a public model.

We'll have an announcement on something like that next month when we talk about a low-code AI that allows organizations to train their own internal AI. I think that's going to emerge as one of the primary challenges. But it's set to go. There's going to be benefits this year, meaningful productivity benefits, bottom-line benefits from AI right away because it's so powerful.

- Well, and we've been talking about this. As you talk about how it relates to your company, obviously, you have a vested interest, right, in AI for productivity. That is part of what you do.

How big is AI? And the new conversation we've been having about it is really a different generation of AI, right? Artificial intelligence has been around for a long time in terms of analyzing data, et cetera. How much of what we're talking about is large language models or the next phase of AI? And how much of it is just the old-fashioned stuff that-- old fashioned-- but the technology that you've been using for a while?

MATT CALKINS: There's different dimensions of AI. It's all about machine learning and training algorithms. The generative is different, but it's not necessarily better. It's just another dimension that we've now become exposed to and we see how powerful it is.

But AI is going to be transformative in all these dimensions. And our job is just to make it as useful as possible, which generally means pairing it with human help. An AI can't make a decision by its own. Instead, we're going to have to collaborate amongst the different workers, digital and human, in order to get to the ideal outcome.

- Matt, great to see you again. Great to have this conversation. And hopefully the AI doesn't replace us by the time we get to speak next. Matt, appreciate it this morning. Thanks so much.