What’s in the AI Leadership Secret Sauce?

What exactly constitutes a ‘secret sauce’? Is it akin to the mystery of KFC’s 11 herbs and spices, or perhaps something more profound, like the elusive ingredients of SALAMI, or for that matter, the ‘essence’ of life itself?

I recently attended and spoke at Australia’s AI Leadership Summit 2023 and of the many metaphors that emerged through the course of the day, one stuck with me, courtesy of one of the event’s wonderful MCs, Stelar Solar. She dubbed it the “secret sauce summit,” a nod to the unique blend of qualities and characteristics essential for effective AI leadership. This metaphor is particularly apt. True leadership can indeed be a secret sauce – an elusive but vital ingredient – yet, its essence shouldn’t remain shrouded in mystery. Leadership manifests in various forms: from the boardroom dynamics to the synergies within cross-functional teams developing AI-enabled products and services. And it’s not just confined to corporate or political corridors; it extends into our homes and communities, reflecting our ethos and shaping our behaviours and relations.

In the realm of this summit, the question of leadership also took on a national lens: what would it take for Australia to emerge as a frontrunner in the global AI race?

The AI Leadership Summit peeled back some of the recipe for this ‘secret sauce’, revealing key ingredients: the elevation of moral imagination, ethics and responsibility in AI’s development, deployment and use.

But I’m going to play with the addition of a different acronymic metaphor, one introduced by the Italian visionary, Stefano Quintarelli – Systematic Approaches to Learning Algorithms and Machine Inferences (SALAMI).

The idea that most people prefer to remain oblivious to the inner workings of a complex process – much like the making of SALAMI – rings particularly true in the context of AI. The components are intricate: the material and data supply chains, the narratives of individuals, the extraction from life and experiences. The software and computational resources. The use of water for cooling and the energy required for training large models.

While the Summit painted a largely optimistic picture, it inadvertently left me pondering: what’s in the SALAMI and the ‘secret sauce’ that remains unspoken?

In developing SALAMI, the ingredients and methods of making should include moral imagination and socio-technical prowess. Ensuring the creation and application of these technologies are socially preferable, actively identifying and mitigating risks of unintended consequences, while striving to deliver tangible value to people, communities, society at large and within the realities of the life support systems of spaceship earth.

These technologies are now woven into the tapestry of our daily lives, often unbeknownst to many. The Large Language Models and Generative AI which we refer to in our mythopoetic practice as AI golems are only but recent. The basket of SALAMI technologies are present in our pockets and homes, influencing how we search for and purchase products and services, how we consume and create media, and how we interact with organisations. They play pivotal roles in managing natural resources, coordinating public goods delivery, and modelling climate and environmental risks – and their influence only continues to expand.

At Tethix, we’re advocates for metaphors and the creative use of language. They are powerful tools for developing moral imagination, supporting sense-making and enhancing storytelling. But if we consider leadership as this ‘secret sauce’, we must ponder – what is this sauce enhancing? What dish is it flavouring? What if we say the secret sauce is in the SALAMI itself?

I’m curious so let’s play with this…if we embrace the notion that the ‘Secret Sauce’ is within the SALAMI itself, it changes our perception of AI leadership and development. This isn’t about adding an external layer of ethical considerations or leadership qualities; it’s about these elements being intrinsic to the very fabric of AI.

Integrating the Essence: The Secret Sauce in the SALAMI

In this metaphorical SALAMI, every slice contains the ‘Secret Sauce’ – it’s not a separate condiment but an essential ingredient that gives the SALAMI its unique flavour. This is analogous to the way ethics, responsibility, and leadership must be interwoven into every aspect of AI – from the initial data collection to the final application. It’s not enough to simply add a ‘dash’ of ethics or a ‘pinch’ of leadership at the end; these ingredients must be part of the recipe from the very start, crafted with the skills of moral imagineering.

Ethics and Leadership: The Flavours of AI

In the world of AI, the ‘Secret Sauce’ – our ethical and leadership principles – adds depth and richness. It ensures that the technologies we develop are not only advanced but also aligned with our societal values and needs. Just as a chef carefully considers each ingredient, understanding how it will contribute to the overall flavour of the dish and the sensory experience of the person enjoying the cuisine, organisations, AI developers and leaders must contemplate how each decision impacts our broader societal context.

The Unspoken Ingredients: Challenges and Responsibilities

However, there are ingredients in the AI SALAMI that often remain unspoken – the challenges and responsibilities that come with this power. As with any complex recipe, the risk of unintended consequences looms large. How do we ensure that the AI we develop does not perpetuate biases or infringe on privacy? How do we consider the broader ecological impact of digitisation as we move into this AI future? How does this position of moral courage and leadership in the business world enhance an organisation’s social licence to operate? These are the less discussed, yet crucial, parts of the ‘Secret Sauce’ that need careful consideration.

At the Summit, while we marvelled at the potential of AI, there was also a recognition of these challenges. I was even delighted to hear the concept of Digital Policy Twins and regulatory sandboxes being seriously discussed (finally). Many of these discussions often circled back to the need for a holistic approach – where the ‘Secret Sauce’ is not just an afterthought but part of guiding principles from the outset.

The Delectable Dish: AI for the Greater Good

The delectable ‘dish’ we should aim to serve with AI is one that benefits society as a whole. It’s about creating technologies that enhance our lives, respect our values, and contribute to the greater good. Helping us play and learn with prototopias and optimise for eudaimonic futures.

In this light, the ‘Secret Sauce’ in the SALAMI – the blend of ethical leadership, responsibility, moral imagination and innovation – becomes not just a condiment to AI but core to its very purpose.

Warmth Without the Burn…

It was a warm day for the event, even inside with the air conditioning at the Four Seasons in Gadigal, Sydney. This was a stark reminder of the heat wave taking place across most of Australia.

I was asked to do an interview for CSIRO. And whilst chatting about urban gardening and permaculture I felt the hot sun blaring through the tinted glass. This likely influenced one of my responses to the question “what AI future would you like Australia to have and how do we get there?”

As I felt the heat on my skin from a summer likely to be the warmest on the human record, I said there is no desirable future without ethical and responsible development and use of AI. I mean it’s now or never for so many things and our ecological crisis is just one of many challenges. So I’d like to see these technologies be used to help us better coordinate collaboration at various scales of our society. Helping us address some of the pressing and complex social, economic, ecological and civic challenges we have as a nation. And getting there? Well, what I’ve alluded to here with the ‘Secret Sauce’ in the SALAMI is a rough guide.

As I reflect on the Summit and the metaphor of the SALAMI with its ‘Secret Sauce’, I am reminded of the immense responsibility we bear as creators, leaders, and innovators in the field of AI. We are not just developing technology; we are shaping the future. A future where we must accept the world as it is but never lose sight of how it can and should be.

A future that should be flavoured with the richness of the ‘Secret Sauce’ – an AI enabled future that is as responsible as it is revolutionary.

As much as I like Salami, I’m reminded of the WHO classification of this delectable processed food as a class 1 carcinogen. Maybe this reflects that our current process of making SALAMI is unhealthy for humanity? Is there a more values and human rights aligned metaphor? Something to explore in another blog at a later date.

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