Design masterclass: AI and consulting disruption

Future disruption in foodservice is inevitable, says Tim Smallwood FFCSI, even for the foodservice consulting profession, which needs to recognize the potential useful benefits of AI. To be prepared for it, we have to expect it, he says

Over the past decade the general “Consulting industry” has undergone significant disruptive change. The traditional consulting model of solving defined and knowable issues no longer has traction. A team of MBAs’ dropping a thick report on the client’s desk: which then, after reading the executive summary, gets put in the cupboard, unread, is no longer fit for purpose in the new dynamic climate. Business models of the 20th century where the external environment was able to be studied and planned for, knowable problems defined narrowly as if static “problems” and “questions”, no longer apply. The world now moves too fast.

The new model of consulting, disrupting the old, has to respond to an increasingly dynamic and therefore flexible environment, where the situation that you thought you were working on at the start of the assignment has developed and changed before you are halfway through. The need for organisations to be adaptive and flexible to continually changing behavioural  and procedural conditions will drive the need for consultants to work in real time with their clients and be part of the solution process rather than just defining and solving the “problem” and walking away. All this without even adding AI into the mix.

How does this affect the foodservice consulting industry? Does it have the potential to change or disrupt the way that we work? Will it change the definition of the foodservice consultant?

The potential for good … or not

Today we are always playing catch-up, AI whether we are aware of it or not is taking over our lives. However, the hard part is always deciding if the change has the potential for good or if not so.

To start with an extreme, consider the “existential risk” posited by Toby Ord in his 2020 book The Precipice where he estimated the likelihood  of various events leading to an “existential catastrophe” in the next 100 years: Asteroid collision 1:1million: Nuclear war 1:1000; Climate change 1:1000: Naturally arising pandemic 1:10,000: Engineered pandemic 1:30: Being wiped out by “unaligned artificial intelligence” 1:10. That should be enough to get your attention about the disrupting potential of AI.

Despite the dystopian vision, foodservice consulting can have a role to play if we recognise the potential useful benefits of AI. We are fortunate that ours is a people business: well at least for the next few years before robotics and automation take over more than just the 4 “D”s – dirty, dull, difficult and dangerous jobs. Disruption is inevitable, it’s a bit like Hemingway’s line about bankruptcy happening “gradually then suddenly”. To be prepared for it, we have to expect it.

The writing of specifications which are often a process of cut and paste, would seem to be an obvious candidate for replacement by the rise of apps such as ChatGPT. Less obvious could be the replacement of BIM by similar AI algorithms that can generate all the data and information required by simple interrogation. Is it possible that BIM will be disrupted and made irrelevant before we’ve even harnessed the benefits of the information it delivers?

Then we have to consider the potential for Web 3.0 to completely enable consulting and advisory services to be replaced by VR immersive technology, perhaps supported by psychedelic agents such as 5-MeO-DMT, to innovate new concepts in the metaverse before translating them to real time businesses that actually feed people.

Limitations to AI-driven solutions

All these may seem extreme but the future is here already. The gaming industry shows us how easily unreality can become reality, from self-driving cars to automatic baristas who know the coffee you drink when you walk in the door, all things are possible. There are currently certainly limitations to AI-driven solutions. ChatGPT harvests data and information from the internet, and we all know how reliable that can be. So, while it might be a low risk to accept the ChatGPT and DALL-E specified simple kitchen design, I’m not sure at this stage I would want to drive over a bridge engineered by an AI algorithm or even at this stage be driven in a self-driving car.

Which raises the issue of integrity. As consultants do we advise our clients that the solutions that we provide have been generated, or partially generated, by AI algorithms. The step from using internally generated data sets to AI generated data is a very small one. As Dr Catriona Wallace, founder of “Responsible Metaverse Alliance” points out “The big financial companies for years did not have rigorous processes to ensure the data sets they used to train banking algorithms were without bias” and did not (and some still not) advise customers they were interacting with AI; and with no monitoring for unintended consequences or harm.

The issue is mainly to do with privacy, but also in the future will certainly impinge on the ethics of being an FCSI consultant. A starting point will be found in the field of Responsible AI, the practice of designing and deploying AI systems that are fair, safe, transparent and respectful of users and their privacy. The issue will certainly evolve as  through the use of VR headsets we are encouraged to explore the potential for ideas and solutions in a metaverse where we interact with avatar customers before returning to the real world to deliver the project.

There are enormous potential benefits that AI can deliver in all areas of human endeavour. And as soon as the benefits are seen they are immediately adopted. As designers and consultants, if we can see a benefit in changing the way that we work or solve issues, then we need to decide (by asking ChatGPT) if we act to avoid our business models being disrupted.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI

More Relevant

View More