A common perception of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is that those behind it are out to “replace people” or do away with jobs. While that may be true in some instances, AI technology is also used to enhance people and empower them to do more than they could have on their own. When considering an AI platform, it is worth evaluating whether the goal of that system is to automate a task or to augment a person to perform that task more efficiently. In some cases, the result may be a combination of both where fewer people are needed, and those who remain can perform even more effectively than a larger group previously could.
For example, if you’re the Manager for a customer service center, AI can be very valuable if it is used to augment the human employee’s ability to answer questions, find relevant information, and generally, help the customer to quickly complete their desired task. In this arena, speed is the priority for the customer, so they will appreciate whichever path gets them to their goal in the most efficient way possible. Sometimes that means that it is easier and faster for them to work with a person than to navigate their way through an automated process that they may not be able to handle as comfortably.
It is also important to remember that we are still in the very early days of AI technology. For a person’s job to be completely automated, the system needs to be able to do everything as well as or better than the human it is replacing. While we see some examples of this in manufacturing and other industries, it just isn’t realistic to expect that the AI can do this in all or even most cases yet. Full or significant automation of our workforce would require a great deal of time and investment that isn’t going to happen for a while.
What AI will do in the short term is to automate tasks, and although the range of tasks that it can accomplish currently is somewhat minimal, that will continue to improve over time. It will become common for organizations to first consider their AI’s abilities, and then determine how the human staff supports and functions around that core. Since each person’s job is a collection of tasks, AI is going to gradually and consistently reshape the workplace around what it can and cannot do yet. The human workforce will be expected to work around these updates and improvements so the average person should anticipate the need to be flexible as their job description changes over time. The pace of these changes will be uncomfortable to many because the technology will evolve rapidly. Leaders within all organizations will need to work to help their employees accept and understand these changes as they continue to impact the workplace.
Soon, AI technologies will first automate the most repetitive and predictable tasks that people perform. They are also very capable of handling large amounts of data for tasks that require analysis. For example, judges might currently employ several clerks to assist them with research or preparation for a trial. Soon, that same expert may no longer need assistants for the research or preparation tasks because an AI might be able to perform those functions more efficiently. In this case, some of the work was automated, and the result was that one person was augmented by the AI to be much more capable than they could be without it. This improvement to the workflow coupled with the “always-on” dynamic of the smartphone or computer to keep the AI-assistant with you all the time means that you will always have on-demand access to whatever tasks or functions that the AI is helping with. For the judges, that might mean access in the courtroom, in real-time, to any research, data, or any other information they could dream of.
With this sort of development in mind, it is understandable that AI will be perceived by the public based on the effect it has had on their lives. For some people, it could be a job killer, and for others, it will open new doors and new possibilities for them to achieve their goals. For you and your organization, it is important to start thinking about how work is done regarding tasks rather than jobs. That way you can think critically about the roles that you perform, and evaluate whether or not you could benefit from the automation or augmentation that an AI could provide.
Every organization needs someone on their team with a handle on the technology of the day, and a vision for how it will affect the future. Michael is passionate about helping people to better understand how business and technology intersect. In addition to his consulting work, Michael is a blogger who writes to better inform his audience on technology issues. He writes guides and tutorials for popular services and gives his take on how big technology stories will affect you and your business.