Dealing with Disruption: Business Strategist Elin Hauge Discusses AI as a Business Tool

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To many in our modern workforce, it can seem like the rise of artificial intelligence technology happened all at once. There was a time when we went about our workdays unconcerned with AI and its implications, and then, suddenly, it was everywhere.

That can feel a little daunting, perhaps even overwhelming. And if you think you’re overwhelmed… well, just imagine how Elin Hauge feels.

“I should send a thank-you note to Sam Altman for keeping us busy,” she laughs, referring, of course, to the pioneering entrepreneur, investor and programmer who’s the CEO of OpenAI. 

“The launch of ChatGPT in November [of 2022] has caused a lot of confusion. A lot of people I know are really, really confused. ‘What now? What’s this? Is it going to take over the world? What am I—help!’”

Hauge, a Norway-based business strategist who specializes in emerging technologies including AI, virtual reality, IoT and blockchain, is no stranger to AI applications herself. They’ve been her primary area of focus since 2016, and before that, she spent more than a decade using her master’s degrees in biophysics, medical technology, management science and operational research to help business leaders make sense of other data-driven technologies.

“My role is to connect the dots—translate between business value and technology—and connect the dots between different domains,” she explains. “And that can be very, very different types of domains, everything from law to psychology to philosophy to culture.”

Elin Hauge explains the ubiquitous role of AI

The thing about AI, Hauge explains, is that it can be applied nearly anywhere: in all kinds of businesses and in myriad ways. “We tend to think that it has to be all, kind of, big headline cases,” she says. “We expect wow factor. But the fact is that most of the AI applications, you don’t even think about.” In other words, it’s not all self-driving cars and facial recognition technology; it’s also online shopping and the organization of social media feeds.

Still, Hauge understands some of the concern and fear around AI. (She even shares some concerns herself.) “When we talk about the role of AI, we need to go beyond the discussion of technology, because when you start using data representing any population to make decisions on an individual level, that’s where we humans don’t really understand how big data works,” she says.

By way of example, she points to the concept of the body mass index. While doctors and health care professionals accept that the concept can work on a large population to say something about the health of that population, on an individual level, it doesn’t really work. People have different bone structure, different muscle mass. Ultimately, most scientists have come to agree that these factors make it a poor metric by which to measure health.

“It’s the same thing we do when we talk about using AI from a large population to make a decision on an individual level, to put it in simple terms,” Elin Hauge explains. “Suddenly, we are taking the patterns of a large population, we are applying it to me—and it doesn’t fit me! And that’s where we humans get ourselves into some really challenging problems.”

“Now, the other side of that is, when we apply AI on things that come across as positive: a book recommendation or a music recommendation,” she continues. “I usually ask my audiences, ‘How many of you have been listening to music on your way to work this morning? How many of you are using Spotify?’ Spotify is a prime example of using AI in the form of machine learning to provide recommendations, right? We all accept that.”

Artificial Intelligence: A strategy or a toolbox?

A large part of her work is in demystifying AI in exactly this way, and her expertise has made her an in-demand strategist; Hauge is the board chair of three tech startups and a board member of another two consulting companies, where she helps apply AI to business strategy. And she’s emphatic that AI is just that—a single component of a broader business strategy.

“I keep coming back to the fact that AI is not a strategy—it’s a toolbox. I’m not making friends in the consulting industry by saying that, because some companies, they live off selling AI strategy projects,” she chuckles. “Now, [big companies are] all talking about generative AI.”

That’s part of the reason Hauge predicts we’ll likely see another cooling-off period in the AI space. Since she started working with these tools several years ago, she notes that there have been “winters and summers” in AI. We’re in the midst of a very hot period, but she sees a slowdown on the horizon.

Elin Hauge is realistic about AI

That’s not to say AI is going anywhere—far from it.

“What’s the first thing that most people do in the morning?” Hauge asks, somewhat rhetorically. The answer you’ll get (from anyone being honest with themselves) is: “I look at my phone.”

Hauge runs through a hypothetical morning for a typical worker. You probably turned off an alarm from your mobile device, and then maybe you checked the weather or traffic, or luxuriated in scrolling through TikTok or Twitter, now known as X. Maybe you played some music on Spotify while you hopped in the shower, or browsed eBay, or read through Google News. In all of these cases, from weather to ecommerce to social media algorithms, predictive AI plays a role.

“You get it—I could go on,” she says. “It’s everywhere, and we don’t think about it. And we don’t think about it because it’s part of our daily lives. And that is what is going to happen with these generative AI tools as well. They will just become a natural part of life.”

She likens AI to smartphones, or iPads, or electric cars.

“We’ll all get used to them,” she says. “And we’ll think, ‘Ten years ago, we didn’t have these tools.’” 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of SUCCESS Magazine. Photo by Kristoffer Sandven/courtesy of Elin Hauge.

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Cassel is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.

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