“Mum, I don’t feel safe” – how robots put our life in danger.

Jan 27, 2023


Let me set the scene—a crisp, cold, dark Sunday evening in Rome. I’d travelled with my 12-year-old son to watch England play rugby. This was our first international trip with just us.

In my excitement and frugality, I hadn’t planned the logistics well, and we were due to return to the out-of-town airport at half-time.


All that way to leave at half-time!


I regularly travel for business, so Apple Maps is always my best friend in this situation, and I found a solution that meant we could buy ourselves another 20 minutes—allowing us to watch more world-class rugby and miss the crowds leaving the stadium at half time. It meant us abandoning the pre-booked airport coach and travelling like a local. The rugby was definitely worth it, and we made our way to the bus stop.

 Two changes to make, and the journey looked straightforward. After all, we were in a Western European capital city. The bus to the train station worked well, then the train to the coach station – just as smoothly. Then it was a short walk to a connecting bus, and we were at a coach station.

 I trusted the directions, and even though there was a short walk to take followed the map. We left the dimly lit bus station and headed out. Under a flyover with people in tents. Then next to the junction for a dual carriageway. We kept walking, quickening the pace, trying not to look like the lost tourists we most certainly were. Just another 100 metres, then a quick cut through, and we’re there. Past a man sat on a speaker, clearly inebriated and surrounded by broken glass.


“Mum, I don’t feel safe,” said my 11-year-old boy.

 “Keep looking forward. We’re nearly there. Please don’t slow down, son.”

I try not to show my trepidation.


We reached where the left turn was expected to cut us through to the connecting bus stop. It was gated access, and the gate looked closed, but there were no street lamps. We had no choice but to turn back. To walk past the danger points that quite rightly had made him nervous back to the coach station.

 This isn’t a parable about my parenting or ability to read a map. I share this story of vulnerability to draw a parallel to how we, as leaders, must be conscious of deploying new technologies. Of course, I’d gone with a recognised technology provider, which provided an increased sense of safety, but there are three major lessons from this story which are necessary to share.


  1.  It’s all about the data, which means you need to learn to discern


In this example, there were flaws in the data. Apple Maps didn’t have complete access to the public transport options available to me, which meant that it provided the best service possible. I’d blindly followed the directions rather than thought more critically about the validity and flaws in the information being presented (which will become increasingly common as AI tools flood into our business systems).


  1.  The tools don’t always know the full context


Apple maps are designed to get you from A to B with the most time and cost-efficient route options. It is incredible and is a tool I often rely on. It has opened up the world for me and many others, and I couldn’t go back to maps in guidebooks.


The tool did exactly what it is meant to. It solved my problem. What it didn’t appreciate or factor into the solution was that I was unfamiliar with the surroundings, that I was travelling as a lone woman with a child, or the environmental factors around us – the lighting, the high-speed traffic, the limited access or the street behaviours.

 Maybe it should, or possibly there should be a tool that does, but for now, the tool is limited to the task it does well. As a leader, you must be aware of the limitations of the tools you deploy and pay attention to the markers and context around you.


  1.  Leadership is much more than because the technology says so


The tools that are bringing productive gains and market growth are serving to accelerate how businesses operate. They offer incredible progress. However, humans are still vital in the process.

 Here I needed to leverage my son’s trust to follow, listen to his concerns and discern my response. It’s a special relationship, but leaders are also guardians of the safety and well-being of their employees. As we increasingly deploy tools, we cannot afford to delegate this guardianship to machine decision-making.

 We need to forge an environment where tools are readily adopted, and human decision-making and communication are strengthened in value. These are not mutually exclusive.

 This includes the effort and energy in connection and, in this case, the willingness to learn and adapt, even if that means abandoning sunk costs.

 I am evangelical and optimistic about technology. I’m equally evangelical about good leadership's impact on communities and the increasing stewardship role that leaders will have in the next Industrial Revolution.

 You’ll be relieved that we caught the flight, although I’m not sure my son will ever return to Rome.

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