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A.I. Could Help Us Be More Human

Maricel Cabahug, the chief design officer at German business software giant SAP, says her company likes to think of its A.I.-driven products and services as coworkers for SAP’s clients. But that paradigm has its issues.

“How do we make [an A.I. product] so it doesn’t compete with you?” Cabahug asked during Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore last week. The potential for robots to replace humans has already been realized on a large scale in the manufacturing sector, she said, and mundane white-collar jobs are likely targets for automation, too.

“Unlike a coworker you might train and who might one day be your boss, this coworker will never be better than you,” Cabahug assured conference attendees, whose companies might call such “coworkers” by another name: virtual assistants.

With that premise in mind, SAP developed a “smart” tool called Inscribe, which allows users to interact with SAP’s management software via a stylus and therefore natural handwriting. Through Inscribe, a person can scribble out columns in a spreadsheet, add notes to sections they find interesting, and hand-write directives to the algorithms running the software. Cabahug described the technology as a “conversational experience” because SAP’s A.I. responds to prompts from the stylus and feeds the user information.

Inscribe’s purpose, Cabahug said, is to help people be better at their job—not to do their job for them. Besides Inscribe, SAP’s solution to the problem of how humans interact with ever-advancing tech, the company also offers voice-activated solutions. “These types of interaction allow us to be more human,” Cabahug said.

That’s a similar sentiment to one that Tim Brown, CEO of design consultancy IDEO, expressed during the first day of Brainstorm Design. Brown remarked that A.I. could stand for “augmented” rather than “artificial” intelligence, because its purpose is to help humans achieve more than we could do alone.

Perhaps having a robotic co-worker won’t be so bad after all.

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