Accenture’s Paul Daugherty Discusses Business Potential of Artificial Intelligence

More than 300 Northwestern community members attended a presentation about artificial intelligence by Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s chief technology and innovation officer.

Businesses that combine the capabilities of machines and humans together spur innovation, creating job openings such as artificial intelligence (AI) interaction designer, AI innovation strategist, AI personality trainer, and AI safety engineer.

Paul DaughertyThese jobs belong to the “missing middle,” opportunities for organizations to bring people and machines together, said Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s chief technology and innovation officer, during a talk at the Evanston campus’s Kellogg Global Hub on October 30. More than 300 students, faculty, and staff listened to the author of the new book, Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI.

“We’re at a point where it’s really important to rethink our organizations and rethink the way we do business,” Daugherty said. “We have the potential to really be entering an era of increased humanity and increased human potential, and that’s why this is an especially important thing to get right as we think about it.”

Currently, businesses utilizing AI often evaluate how humans can help machines or how machines can help humans work, but Daugherty encourages organizations to think about how to embrace collaboration between humans and machines, rather than viewing them in opposition.

“In the last years, there has been a vigorous debate about the impact of artificial intelligence and the future of jobs, some arguing that overall productivity will not be affected, others that machines will put humans out of work,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of Northwestern Engineering. “At Northwestern, it’s important for us to expand our thinking space by bringing people who have thought deeply about this topic.”

In his talk, Daugherty dispelled three myths about AI: 1) Robots are coming for us. 2) Machines will take our jobs. 3) Current approaches will still apply.

In response to the myths, he posted three imperatives for organizations to consider: reimagining business, taking new approaches to work, and responsibly conducting AI. He encouraged business leaders to make bold moves into AI because incrementally applying artificial intelligence to existing business practices will not allow organizations to be competitive, he said.

“We’re fortunate to be living in an important time of human history. We’re at the start of an era where technology is reshaping our human experience in really fundamental ways,” he said. “Technology is creating amazing potential to do new things.”

He challenged leaders to develop new skills, enhance data veracity, and recognize the endless potential of AI. Daugherty encouraged business leaders to think of artificial intelligence as “collaborative intelligence” by embracing humans’ strengths in emotional intelligence, communication, and creativity, along with machines’ capabilities in memorization, prediction, and production.

“There’s no finish line in the foreseeable future for AI, because AI itself is changing rapidly, which is something you really have to stay on top of,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty joined Accenture in 1986 and led the company’s technology business by founding Accenture's cloud computing business and launching Accenture's SaaS, big data, and open source businesses. 


This year, Northwestern Engineering launched its first cohort of students in the Master’s in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI) program, part of an expansion of the Department of Computer Science. MSAI sponsored Daugherty’s talk.