In no time at all, artificial intelligence has made a swift transition from the world of far-off, sci-fi futurism to objects we now carry in our pockets, let drive our cars, and even order our pizzas.
Next stop? Your office.
From automated assistance software, like Zoom.ai, to platforms offering machine learning capabilities like SparkCognition.com, we're seeing A.I. enter into the workplace on a rapidly increasing basis. As such, a few key questions have emerged. Will robots take our jobs? And, will artificial intelligence turbocharge employee productivity, or burden workers with more digital busywork?
What we have to look forward to with artificial intelligence.
Those arguing for the power of A.I. to solve productivity challenges claim combining human and machine-thinking will dramatically augment our cognitive abilities. They believe it will cut down on time-wasting tasks and even improve the most human of traits: empathy.
Increased memory and training capacity.
The human mind possesses a processing nuance that no computer has at this point in time. Combine this with the power of A.I. and you have new ways to radically augment our memory and ability to learn.
In this Ted video Siri co-creator, Tom Gruber explains that A.I. could help us remember everything we've said and done, enhancing humans with "super intelligence." Something similar could happen with learning and development in organizations, giving you perfect retention of every project brainstorming meeting or strategy talk with your leadership team.
Imagine codifying your job knowledge to make employee onboarding or corporate institutional memory recollection a highly scalable and customizable task, done in a snap. The potential increase in productivity is huge. For instance, Zoom.ai CEO, Roy Pereira says that active users have gained a 14% increase in productivity and saved 25 hours per month. Not bad.
A.I. removes redundancies.
A.I. will soon take over time-consuming, but necessary and valuable tasks like booking a meeting or drawing up a contract. It's about taking outdated processes or best practices associated with productivity and leveraging A.I. to automate or simplify those workflows.
This also applies to teams. A 2016 study found that 60% of employees have to consult with 10 or more people just to do their job. A.I. could codify the knowledge from those 10 people, allowing an employee to check one always available piece of technology instead of colleagues with busy schedules. Its time-saving capacity could be enormous.
Making you a better human.
A.I. also has major potential to improve the workplace for humans by increasing diversity, inclusion, and employee engagement.
A.I. could remove bias from job descriptions and the hiring process, leading to more diverse teams. On top of this, predictive A.I. analytics may unearth insight on engagement levels and likelihood of employees quitting, helping managers to identify employee pain points and make better decisions.
The future of work will depend on diversity and engaged employees, but that's only one part of the equation. As the workplace also becomes more focused on connected data and the "Internet of Workplace," decision-making skills and being empathetic at work become more important than ever.
It's time to leave behind the Hal 9000 impression of the cold, inhuman AI, because advancements in machine learning mean AI can even help make our workplaces more empathetic.
Note the common theme in all these ideas: that humans, and their jobs, are not going to be replaced by technology, but instead augmented by it.
The flipside of A.I.
There really isn't much in the way of specific, "don't do AI because of XYZ" warnings due to the nascent state of the technology. However, we can all think of workplace tech solutions that claimed to save us time and help us work smarter, only to generate mixed results. Email, for example, now occupies 11 hours of the average manager's week.
And while enterprise A.I. opens the door to unprecedented possibilities for productivity, this remains the context, and potential downside, as artificial intelligence becomes a common part of work.
A.I. can make you busier if you do it wrong.
One key risk of AI is that, used incorrectly, it can make people busier than ever.
We know that being "on" all the time reduces productivity. With A.I. operating in the background, it stands to reason we will become busier if we have to monitor the work it can do at all hours of the day.
We're also overloaded by existing technology. Looking at the marketing world, which could see huge productivity gains from A.I., research shows one in three workers already use from between six to over 25 marketing tools a day, not to mention additional baseline technologies.
A.I. can backfire without workplace education.
Failing to properly educate and prepare employees and management on implementing AI can lead to inefficient use and a misunderstanding of its capabilities and limitations. Some fear that this could lead to reduced productivity and increased burnout as employees struggle with more work put on them from managers who don't understand AI's capabilities. If A.I. becomes commonplace but training is not a focus, the future of work could cause a lot of overwork and confusion.
Balance the strengths and weaknesses.
There is no crystal ball with AI. While its potential rests in its capabilities, its risks are predicated on misuse. When it comes to workplace AI, balancing these strengths and weaknesses is key.
When considering whether to adopt a new A.I.-driven solution, remember what it is: a technology. It is not a silver bullet for productivity and certainly is not going to solve all your problems. It can, however, help you work smarter by making workflows leaner and more efficient, automating tasks and above all freeing up time for you to focus on higher-value work.