With press coverage of AI erring towards the dystopian, it’s easy to believe that most employees are terrified of the seemingly inevitable AI future. Last year saw Workforce solutions company Adecco ask 1,000 senior leaders what they thought the impact of technology would be on the workplace. Most were overwhelmingly optimistic.
For instance, the majority thought that technology will not only make jobs easier, it will also take away many of the mundane tasks we have to perform, thus freeing us up for more enjoyable work. What’s more, in terms of job displacement, 65% of respondents thought that technology had increased the number of jobs available, with the majority believing this trend will continue into the future.
“Far from the widespread fear that automation will make employees redundant, our research shows that the workplace of the future could create opportunities for more flexible and fulfilling work. Many organisations and employees are buying into the idea of flexible working, but struggling to implement the reality. Our research suggests that robots could be a significant part of the solution,” Adecco say.
It’s a perspective shared by a recent survey undertaken by EY into enterprise level AI. It found that 39% of senior executives thought that use of machine learning will grow considerably in 2018, with particular growth in the integration of AI into the business’ value chain.
“2018 could be a breakthrough year for more widespread AI adoption. As companies look to integrate AI into their operations, there is a particular opportunity with regards to robotic process automation (RPA) software. By combining the intelligence of AI with the operational efficiencies RPA offers, this software can be transformed into a value-generating component of business toolkits, applicable across multiple business functions. This increase in AI adoption will also lead to a rise in other newer technologies leveraging intelligent automation at their core: namely, chatbots will replace intranets, offering a much more intuitive and efficient way to access information within organizations,” Chris Mazzei, EY Global Chief Analytics Officer says.
When asked how employees felt about the potential impact of AI, 63% believed it would have a positive impact, with just 1% worried about the role AI will play in their work in future.
The survey mirrored findings from a recent Accenture paper, which highlighted the importance of skills development to ensure employees were capable of working alongside new AI technologies. Some 57% of executives asked by EY thought that a lack of talent would be the biggest barrier to success with AI in the short-term.
This requirement is prompting a renewed focus on education, with 40% of executives planning to increase training and education on the business applications of AI, whilst 26% plan to increase training on the technical aspects of the technology.
Whilst the survey didn’t go into specifics about what form these investments might take, the work by Accenture did go into more detail. It advocated for a systemic approach to ensuring the interaction between man and machine is a smooth one.
“The principle is to move the spotlight from jobs to the nature of the work itself, before preparing workers with the necessary skills,” the report says.
They advocate doing this in three main steps:
1. Assess tasks and skills – It’s common for organizations to have a good understanding of the job roles present within them, but it’s much less common for them to have a good understanding of the tasks and skills performed within those jobs. This is crucial as there will be new tasks that need to be performed to fully capitalize on the power of AI.
2. Create new roles – As AI advances, it will enable employees to take on higher value work. This will require new roles that are driven more by insight and strategy than mono-skilled, repetitive work. It’s also likely that jobs will become specialized as we get to grips with big data and the ability it gives us to provide personalized service to customers.
3. Map skills to new roles – The final step is then mapping the new skills your organization requires and the newly defined roles you created in the previous step with the skills your organization possesses. Sometimes this skills gap can be addressed by short-term contractors, sometimes it will require training programs to be offered to staff.
AI will undoubtedly have an impact on organizational life, and as the technology begins to integrate itself more thoroughly into our processes and behaviors we’re gaining a greater insight into how we can effectively modify our habits to work efficiently alongside the new technology.