GenAI is a force multiplier, and India will be the testbed: McKinsey CTO

Jacky Wright, senior partner and chief technology and platform officer, McKinsey & Co.
Jacky Wright, senior partner and chief technology and platform officer, McKinsey & Co.

Summary

Harnessing the power of generative artificial intelligence in India would be powerful for the rest of the world, says Jacky Wright, chief technology and platform officer at McKinsey & Co.

BENGALURU : Artificial intelligence and generative AI, or GenAI, will inevitably disrupt existing roles, but that will also mean the emergence of new roles. McKinsey & Co.’s research, in fact, predicts that tech jobs will grow by 14% across all industries by 2032. For CEOs and other senior corporate leaders, that would mean thinking about the future of work with technology as a core element of everything they do, says Jacky Wright, McKinsey’s first-ever chief technology and platform officer.

“The question is, how do you make sure that everyone is included in that growth," Wright said in an interview with Mint during her recent visit to India.

GenAI would play a critical role in making technology available to India’s vast population, she said, adding that work done on AI in India could serve as a proof-of-concept for the world. “If we can do it here at scale and at speed, and if we can harness the power of GenAI... that would be powerful for the rest of the world," said Wright, also a member of the World Economic Forum’s chief digital officer community. Edited excerpts:

What key initiatives are you implementing to drive McKinsey's digital transformation?

It's broadly a three-pronged focus—driving our own transformation to make sure that technology is at the core of everything we do; using the technology we build ourselves and in partnership to drive client impact; and our client engagement advisory. We've been focusing, much like any other firm or company, on AI—launching our pilots and, hopefully, converting those to derive value and make an impact.

AI and generative AI are proving to be disruptive for companies across the globe. Even the work of consultants is undergoing a radical change. McKinsey itself, for instance, now uses a generative AI tool called Lilli for research.

Yes. The consulting advisory industry is being disrupted much like any other industry. But it is in a different way. The ability to unleash the power of our ability to use our insights, and farm through the vast amounts of data that we have, to advise our clients in a fast and agile manner, hinges on the workforce we have. 

Lilli provides a new and enhanced way for our associates (employees) to access this vast amount of data. It also changes the nature of work. What used to take us a whole day to gather information now takes us maybe half, or even a third, of that time, which enables our associates to do more cognitive thinking. 

You look at the productivity we're gaining from that. And then you think about the types of new roles that have been created as part of that (transformation). And then all of that is encapsulated with how you think about the risks, the guardrails, the ethics, and all of those things that need to really be in place to unleash the power of AI.

Given the challenges inherent in implementing AI and GenAI, including hallucinations, biases, copyright violations, plagiarism, and privacy and security breaches, would you agree that it's crucial to keep humans in the loop?

I would characterise GenAI as the force multiplier for human capability. Humans must always be in the loop. Let's use engineering as an example, and a developer experience using CoPilot. For us, it is a matter of how we work together with the technology. We can develop code, and we can auto generate code. But when it comes to QA (quality assurance), and thinking about the QA process, someone has to be in the loop to, say, account for hallucinations to ensure a quality product. I don't think we're anywhere near the point of non-human intervention when implementing GenAI.

How should leaders view emerging technologies like AI, GenAI, quantum computing, synthetic biology, etc., in the context of their organisations and the impact on the workforce, culture, etc.?

We are just touching the surface of the cognitive changes that are going to occur from harnessing the power of GenAI. There's a lot more research to be done in that space. 

A CEO should be focused on how to harness the power of these new technologies. To do that, you have to make sure there are a few key things you think about… How do you upskill and rescale?... Do you have the right processes in place? Do you have the right guardrails? Is there a focus on risk?... Do you have a culture that embraces the ability to innovate, fail fast, and drive technologies in ways that you never imagine in an organisation?

Managing change is really, really hard. As a leader, you have to make sure that you have the right leaders in place who have the right types of leadership skills—empathy, the ability to be curious, the ability to harness the power of collaboration, the ability to harness the power of differences—to really get these outcomes.

How do you see the future of work evolving? And the impact of automation, AI, and GenAI on jobs, at least in the next two to three years? Also, what needs to be done to get more women in tech leadership positions?

There will be disruption of roles and emergence of new roles. But the key here is to think about the future of work with technology as a core element of everything we do. The cognitive abilities of an individual will be enhanced with GenAI.

McKinsey research shows that tech jobs are expected to grow 14% across all industries by 2032. That means there will be new growth in terms of roles. The question is, how do you make sure that everyone is included in that growth. 

There are definitely things we need to do. One is education—early education and awareness, both from under-represented (communities) as well as helping people understand what's possible. Women don't naturally move towards science and technology. So how do you help girls early on? 

I think intervention is required there. We also need to think about increasing more of these forums, where women and those under-represented get access to opportunities and things like broadband access, additional training, and skilling. Digital inclusion has to be at the heart of everything we do.

Is there a need for a chief AI officer, given that in many companies this role would overlap with the existing roles of a chief information officer, chief technology officer, chief data officer, chief digital officer, and even chief marketing officer?

AI will be at the core of everything we do. So while we may need someone at the helm who understands the emergence of the technologies, every leader has to have the innate ability to understand the impact of GenAI within their function and practice. But I'm not so sure that we need a chief AI Officer. We have roles that emerge out of this such as risk ethics, which now must be a core part of the C-Suite, which was not the case earlier. 

How do you view the AI ecosystem in India, given that the country has AI skillsets and a very robust semiconductor design ecosystem but no cutting-edge chip manufacturing plant?

Anuj Kadyan (senior partner and leader of McKinsey's India tech, media and telecom practice): We have four main opportunity areas. The first is that we are the largest ecosystem of developers—software engineering, (business process outsourcing), engineering services—so there's a lot of development and innovation, and we are going to be the testbed for those opportunities. 

Second, there is a massive opportunity for us to be the AI or GenAI (centre of excellence) for the world. With the talent we have, we are already providing cutting-edge technologies to enterprises across the globe on many of these topics. And with all the GCCs (global capability centres, or R&D units, of multinational companies) that are already here, and those that are moving here, a lot of that is driven by the tech talent that we have available. 

The third is: Can we use GenAI to leapfrog on the products that are created out of India? We have been at the forefront on services but from a product point of view… would this be the shot in the arm that really accelerates our product journey even more? 

Finally, the impact GenAI can have in terms of the digital mission that we have for the country—making technology and a lot of these kinds of products and services available to the population in India.

Wright: India is the POC (proof-of-concept) for the world. If we can do it here (in India), at scale and at speed, and if we can harness the power of GenAI for everything that Anuj pointed out, that would be powerful for the rest of the world.

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