For decades people have been fascinated by robots and ai or artificial intelligence, and nowhere is this more evident than in films. From way back in 1927 with the release of Metropolis to 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, The Matrix, and even children’s films such as WALL-E, The Iron Giant, and Big Hero 6, the theme of artificial intelligence and the impact it can have on civilization continues to be explored.
We don’t need to look to the movies for examples of what ai might be – it is evident in our everyday life. Perhaps the most common example is opening your phone using “Face ID” or other biometrics. The auto-suggestions from spellcheck use ai and natural language processing to help reduce spelling and grammatical errors in your typing. Almost anything Google-related, from search to maps to email filtering to personal assistants (Hey Alexa/Siri), uses some form of ai to understand you and your likes and dislikes so that it can serve more relevant digital ads to you.
Despite our daily interactions with artificial intelligence, there is still much uncertainty surrounding it. Every so often up pops another article proclaiming that ai will steal our jobs and we’ll be rendered redundant.
Unlocking the “Productivity Potential” of AI and Robots
While these articles make a good point that machines can do a lot of things humans can do, what they don’t highlight is that many of those things people don’t want to do. It is the mundane, monotonous, and time-intensive tasks that people often don’t enjoy doing that can leverage automation, machine learning, and ai. We refer to this as unlocking the productivity potential of ai.
Research conducted at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab analyzed 170 million online roles between 2010 and 2017. They noticed that while job title changes happen very slowly over time, the responsibilities or tasks alter far more quickly. However, their research shows that even with the rapid rate of change, just 2.5% of jobs include a high proportion of tasks suitable for machine learning1.
An example of these task-oriented roles is a ticket taker. Instead of someone manually checking your ticket, you will now often have your ticket scanned by a machine to verify its credentials and authenticity.
Where to now for Employees?
Companies used to be evaluated in terms of their profits and losses as well as the impact these had on shareholders. But now, they also need to consider brand reputation, employee satisfaction, and the impact on stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, and employees. You may have the best product in the world but, if it is created using unethically sourced materials and labor, or if your company is one where people don’t want to work and you have a labor shortage, it will likely be unsuccessful.
As we’ve frequently mentioned in this series, having a strong company culture has numerous benefits for your organization. One of the ways to maintain a strong culture is by investing in your employees’ ongoing learning and development. This has multiple benefits, especially once their monotonous tasks are managed by ai. By upskilling your people, you:
- keep them more engaged, which usually results in them being more content at work and more likely to stay with the company longer;
- they can then be reassigned to roles and tasks that require specific skills, which has the added benefit of promoting from within (again good for company culture/morale)
- Safeguard against skill gaps as you can identify present and future skill gaps and plan learning sessions in these
- All of which contribute to positive business outcomes
Employees still bring a LOT of value
As we can see, while machines and ai may take over part of your job, there is still plenty of scope within existing roles that make human workers necessary. Despite what the movies show, ai machines and robots are not at the point where they understand emotional intelligence and sensitivity. So long as organizations continue to plan for and invest in their workforce through training and upskilling, role changes don’t need to be a scary or bad thing.
Artificial intelligence robots shouldn’t be any more frightening than the transition from flip phones to smart phones. Not only did these devices have the same features and functions that the flip phones did, but they were incredibly powerful and akin to having a small computer in our hands, making us a lot more efficient and productive.
Ultimately, AI is only going to increase in the workplace. This highlights the importance of upskilling and reskilling employees so that they can be mobilized effectively to drive business productivity and success.