Maturing with AI

Authored by Youngjin Yoo, Associate Dean of Research; xLab Co-Faculty Director

In the early 20th century, American factories began adopting electric motors to replace steam engines, hoping to boost productivity. However, historians discovered that simply replacing the power source without changing the factory layout did not yield the expected efficiency gains. It was only when engineers redesigned factories to leverage the flexibility of electric motors, using the concept of "unit drive" where each machine was powered by its own motor, that productivity soared. This story of the "electric dynamo revolution" highlights the importance of complementary investments and organizational adaptability in realizing the full potential of new technologies.

The story of the electric dynamo revolution holds crucial lessons for organizations seeking to adopt and leverage artificial intelligence (AI) today. Just as factories in the early 20th century needed to invest in complementary resources and adapt their processes to fully realize the benefits of electric motors, modern organizations must focus on five key dimensions of AI readiness: technology infrastructure, data, people, governance, and processes.

First, a robust and scalable technology infrastructure is essential for AI success. This includes not only the necessary hardware, such as GPUs, and software, such as various foundational and fine tuned models, but also seamless integration with existing systems and strong cybersecurity measures. Just as factories had to redesign their layouts to accommodate electric motors, organizations must build an IT infrastructure that can support AI workloads and ensure data security.

Second, data is the fuel that powers AI. Organizations must ensure they have high-quality, diverse, ethically sourced and relevant data to train and deploy AI models effectively. This requires investments in data governance, management, and privacy protection. Much like how factories needed to optimize their material handling to leverage electric motors, organizations must streamline their data pipelines to feed AI systems efficiently.

Third, AI success depends on people. Organizations need to attract and retain top AI talent, but equally important is upskilling the existing workforce to work alongside AI systems. Fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration is crucial, just as factory workers had to adapt to new ways of working with electric motors. AI should be seen as an enabler, not a threat, to human potential.

Fourth, governance frameworks are critical to ensuring responsible and ethical AI deployment. This includes establishing clear guidelines for AI development, use, and monitoring, as well as mechanisms for accountability and transparency. Intellectual property management and compliance with regulations are also key considerations. Just as safety standards and worker protections evolved with the adoption of electric motors, AI governance must keep pace with technological progress.

Finally, organizations must redesign their processes to fully harness the power of AI. This involves rethinking workflows, decision-making, and performance measurement to incorporate AI insights and capabilities. Roles and responsibilities may need to be redefined, and new collaboration models established. Much like how factories optimized their production lines around electric motors, organizations must adapt their processes to leverage AI effectively.

xLab is delighted to launch a new partnership with AI23 to help companies assess their readiness for AI and help them gain full advantage of AI for their business. We are also preparing a Responsible AI Governance program with our corporate partners. Our faculty members from business, computer science and law will work with corporate leaders in AI, cybersecurity, and legal areas to design a responsible AI governance structure that will help companies accelerate their adoption of AI responsibly and effectively. 

The electric dynamo revolution teaches us that realizing the full potential of breakthrough technologies requires more than mere adoption; it demands strategic adaptation and thoughtful complementary investments. As businesses embark on their AI journeys, they must make the necessary investments in infrastructure, data, people, governance, and process redesign.  xLab – with its partnership with AI23 and its upcoming Responsible AI Governance program – stands ready to be a strategic guide for corporate leaders. Our interdisciplinary expertise empowers organizations to not only accelerate AI adoption but to unlock its value while confidently navigating the ethical and operational complexities this transformative technology presents.