AI is the New Black

Lene Bjerregaard, Senior Vice President Quality Coordinator is adamant that as far as technology has come, it will not replace us. “I know artificial intelligence is like the new black, but we have known about AI and looked into it since the early 90s,” she argues. “It hasn’t been a threat so far.”

In Lene’s line of work, the application of new technology is something she must consider often. “I’m constantly thinking about what kind of new technology we can apply to improve the reporting and the collection of data that we use and improve our manufacturing processes.”

A lot has changed since she first started out, she explains. “We have a lot more information and can do more advanced statistics…I think that’s a huge help.” Lene’s ultimate goal for technology, though, is that it can replace any potentially labour-intensive, or high-turnover positions that could stand to pose threats to health or wellbeing. “If it requires very little training and is very repetitive,” she explains, “then it’s ideal for automation,”

In terms of what this means for Novo Nordisk, Lene holds, “We always need to optimise our processes and the rapid development of technology enables us to improve in new ways every day. We have the knowledge and understanding of our current systems and processes, so we should help each other see and evaluate new opportunities and only make value-adding changes.”

The problem, Lene explains, is when we automate for the sake of automation. “I think a lot of companies want to be so much in the forefront that there’s a risk that the technology drives the development, rather than the other way around.” Lene points out that some processes can be optimized so much that they become detrimental to other ones. In her words, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

We must use machines wisely, she cautions. For Lene, this means when there are issues with retention, when processes are difficult for humans to perform without error, when there are safety issues, heavy lifting or simply if it is overly repetitive work. Technological advancement, she argues, “needs to come from an issue or opportunity.”

All and all, she holds that machines will never be suitable to take over fully. Machines are designed to take over very specific, pre-defined tasks. As such, she explains, “computers will simply be fast support tools—we’re in charge of developing the equipment and direction, so ultimately we’re still involved. Lene uses the example of self-driving cars to show that ultimately they exist to support human transportation. “There will always be a purpose behind designing a machine, even if it’s based on artificial intelligence,” she explains.

Lene’s ultimate vision for technology and her job: that she could spend 100% of her job on the 10% that she loves. For her that would mean that analysing and making recommendations, without the hassle of getting all the data. “I think the fun would be to figure out what kind of analysis we need to do next, where we can improve and then get the computers to do the dirty work,” she laughs.

When she reflects on whether she’ll get there, she says her hopes are high because at Novo Nordisk, company and process development are of the utmost importance, she explains. There is an innovative and supportive culture and management, she adds. Still, though, the exercise of picturing how dramatically her work will continue to change in the future is a rather abstract and challenging task, she explains. “It is funny to think about what the future will bring and how it will affect your work,” Lene reflects, “because it pushes the limits of your thoughts a little bit further than you are able to yourself.” The advice she gives to those weary of the rapid rate of technological change:  “don’t be scared of technology, just embrace it and make the most of it.”

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