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What is “AI” and how it can be useful to the EAs: interview with Rhonda Scharf

Carla Stefanut, EA presso Fondazione Fiera Milano ed International RBA, ha intervistato Rhonda Scharf, EA per molti anni e attualmente coach motivazionale, sull’intelligenza artificiale, il suo impatto sul futuro e nel lavoro di una Executive Assistant. Scopriamone i segreti!

Q: Rhonda, it goes without saying….. how and when did you start your work as an EA?

I started at 19 (in the 1980s) as a receptionist for a national real estate company. I quickly advanced (really more because I was bored more than anything) and was Executive Assistant (Ea) to a Senior Vice President. While many things have changed in the subsequent 30 years, many things remain the same. I’ve been a professional speaker, specializing in EAs, for almost 30 years, but I keep saying that if this “doesn’t work out” I’d go back to being an EA in a heartbeat. I love it, it’s who I am to the core.


Q: What is the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the future of the world of work and particularly how it will affect the  EA profession? Should we be concerned about Alexa, Siri Cortana or Watson devices?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is alive and well in all aspects of our lives, but most certainly in the life of an EA. If you choose to stick your head in the sand and say “that will never happen to me” you should be concerned about Alexa and all her friends. If you can write down instructions for any task you do, then it can be automated (by computers or AI), so we need to step forward and show our thinking value, our emotional intelligence, and our strategic thinking. We all do that naturally, but many EAs prefer to be in the background doing it. The background (read: invisible) is a dangerous place to be. Being naive, stubborn, or thinking that artificial intelligence will never take your job is an extremely dangerous point of view. AI will impact what we do day to day (it already has to some extents).


Q: If  AI is  to work effectively it  has to collect significant amounts of data. Consequently, could our privacy be invaded? E.g. in Europe, we have the GDPR regulations and the access to our personal data has been legislated and restricted.

Your privacy was invaded when you got a mobile phone 15+ years ago, put an internet connection into you home, signed into any social media platform. As much as GDPR regulations have controlled what can be done with the data, the data exists! I’m not saying to lock yourself into a data tomb, but recognize that you willingly gave it up a long time ago. Shutting down the hatches now is (quite frankly) much too late. Be smart about what you put online, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you are invisible to the enormous amounts of data that have been collected. I like that this data saves me time occasionally by showing me the ads I am interested in, by offering me suggestions, and by generally customizing my view to my preferred viewpoint.


Q: Mons. Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life , General Manager of FAO Mr. Dongyu Qu, John Kelly III  Vice President of IBM, Brad Smith Chairman of  Microsoft and the Italian Government, have recently signed a protocol in Rome: “The Rome call for AI Ethics”, a call to put ethic limits to AI development  in order to preserve humanity and environment. Do you think this aspect has to be taken in due consideration?

Ethics in AI is mandatory and the faster we can get on board to establishing them the better. We will have a challenge limiting this worldwide, but it is the right thing to do. The same way the world argues on how to treat the environment, it will argue about AI ethics as well (we already have issues with this). One step at a time, and this step is an important start for everyone.


Q: Can AI be an opportunity for EAs to develop new skills? If so,what are your suggestions?

I personally believe that AI within the workplace is a fantastic opportunity for EAs. I left being an EA in the late 1980s because I jumped onboard the “computer revolution.” There were very few people willing to learn, to adapt, and embrace computers and I took advantage of that. The same is true with AI. If you can set yourself as the “go to” expert in your office, you will solidify the need for your company to need you and the new skills you provide. This doesn’t mean programming or manipulation of AI, it means you are willing to embrace and implement AI solutions in your company to save money and time. Use AI to your advantage in this time of fear and maximize the career potential. Look at what AI can do for your company and investigate, make suggestions, and look like a rock star!


Q: Rhonda, Is there something you want specifically add for the Italian Assistants ? Thank you Rhonda for sharing with us your opinions and advice…

My specific advice is to look at this time as a time of opportunity and not fear. Get some type of AI device in your life so you can become familiar. Continue to look for solutions for your organization and stay positive!

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