Artificial intelligence barely left the headlines last year. If you believe everything said about AI, you’d probably be kept awake at night, worrying about impending job losses thanks to automation and perhaps even the robot apocalypse.
The reality is perhaps a little less Hollywood blockbuster. Ultimately, jobs are going to change, however, instead of sweeping unemployment in all industries, there will be a shift in the way we work and the types of jobs that people will undertake. Instead of focussing on AI, businesses should be looking at augmented intelligence instead.
Supplementary to humans, not a substitution
Augmented intelligence was coined to describe how normal human intelligence is supplemented through the use of technology. Throughout history, humans have used technology like computers, email, and social media to change the way we work, live, and interact. Now, as we usher in the new AI-driven era, augmented intelligence is being used to describe how AI is going to interact with people; not through replacing them, but through improving what they already know.
A good case in point can be seen through our current use of Siri, Cortana, and Amazon Alexa. These virtual AI assistants have become a common part of nearly every home, laptop, and smartphone. We’ve become used to asking them to order items for us, to remind us of things, and to call our friends and family. It might not seem like much yet, but this is an indication of where AI is going. It helps us carry out menial tasks so our time and headspace can be used on higher-level thinking.
Consider the opportunity
So, when considering the workforce of the future, our gut instinct probably shouldn’t be fear. Instead, we should consider the possibilities of how businesses can take advantage of this. First, with AI sifting through the masses of admin that we have to do every day, employees will be able to move onto more productive and strategic tasks. The working day will become more productive as paperwork is handed off to an AI. There’s also likely to be better workplace satisfaction as employees will no longer waste hours on admin they do not enjoy.
A culture shift in the workplace
There is going to be a bit of a barrier to adoption in the workplace, as cultures will inevitably change. Likewise, the fear of job losses will still hang over any AI implementation. To combat this, businesses need to shift the conversation from AI itself to how the technology assists workers, and how it will make their jobs better. There may also be the need for upskilling or re-training some staff to deal with a change in job roles.
A soft touch in the form of a chatbot or a virtual AI assistant may also help. Amazon plans to bring its home assistant technology to offices, and in doing so, it will help people get used to AI within their work environment. Once people get used to asking an AI to fill out a spreadsheet, arrange (or even host) a meeting, and answer emails, the adoption of AI is likely to be swift and relatively painless.
There will be some losses
Of course, there are going to be some people who will lose out in the AI-powered workplace, notably those working in jobs that have a lot of admin or routine work. To adapt to this, organizations now have a responsibility to help those employees upskill and re-train around the changes.
Whenever AI is mentioned, there is always a shadow of the robot apocalypse that hangs over it. But regardless of personal feelings on the matter, the truth is that the workforce of the future is already here, and so is AI.
Businesses shouldn’t try to avoid AI, as it holds a lot of opportunity for workplace productivity and satisfaction. Business leaders who choose to ignore AI, do so at their business’ peril. For every business that fails to use AI effectively, there will be a competitor that does bring the technology on board, and that will work it to their advantage. AI is coming, ready or not. Soon the use of it will be as commonplace as email.
Roger Gorman is founder and CEO of talent optimization firm ProFinda.
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