The workforce must prepare for AI colleagues
Artificial Intelligence

The workforce must prepare for AI colleagues

Artificial intelligence is one of the technologies that’ll define the world over the next few years. While this innovation is still in the early stages, it’s already demonstrating that it can compete with human intelligence. From writing computer code to beating professional poker players, AI is constantly advancing.

In the business world, artificial intelligence can speed up complex, timely processes and improve efficiencies overall. When it comes to using AI systems in the workplace, opinion seems to be varied. Although many people see the benefits of this technology, others are worried that machines could eventually replace humans.

Either way, artificial intelligence and machine learning are set to transform an array of sectors. And businesses are already aware of this. According to a recent report from software firm Pegasystems, 86 per cent of firms said they’re happy with the prospect of bringing AI workers to office. Meanwhile, 67 per cent believe that the workplace of the future will consist of both machines and human workers.

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Whatever the case, there’s no denying that intelligent machines will dominate the workforce over coming years. Applying this technology to work environment offers both benefits and challenges. And considering these important points, it’s worth asking how prepared businesses and key decision-makers are for the rise of AI.


Societal challenges

Many businesses already understand that artificial intelligence will change the game in the foreseeable future. However, there are fears that the ordinary workers aren’t ready for these changes. Bob de Wit, professor of strategic leadership at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, says society isn’t prepared for the AI workforce. He says it’ll cause economic and political instability.

“Companies are preparing for AI workers but, most worryingly, society is not. Imminent changes are likely to create economic and political instability. Substantial advances in AI technology mean it is being implemented to fill increasing amounts of traditionally human roles. Naturally, companies have already begun streamlining their operations and cutting down on staff,” he says.

He tells us that firms will invest in artificial intelligence technology as a way to save costs, and this will cause devastating effects for economies around the globe. “Although this makes sound financial sense for the companies themselves, the economy, which relies almost entirely on employment and employees spending their wages, will take a huge knock. In theory, a seismic shift away from how economic structures currently work could throw the system into chaos and significantly widen the gap between the rich and poor,” argues de Wit.

De Wit believes that governments will need to work to resolve these issues and ensure that companies can’t abuse AI technology. “The onus will fall on politicians to resolve these issues. Yet with a growing deficit of funding, from the resulting decline in taxes and business subsidies, governing is likely to be problematic. This is why leaders, both current and future, must be encouraged to make ethical judgements when it comes to the use of new technologies like AI, in order to preserve economic and political order,” he says.


Don’t fear AI

The internet is scattered with negative reports of artificial intelligence, especially when it comes to replacing human workers. Mark Bridger, vice president of enterprise information management firm OpenText UK, says this is a common misconception. Instead, he urges companies to view AI as a unique opportunity. 

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“AI technology will completely transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitized through robotics and process automation. However, this disruption is not something we should fear. Collaborative robots – or ‘co-bots’ – will allow for greater efficiency while also taking some of the day-to-day strain off employees,” he tells us.

Bridger explains that artificial intelligence and machine learning systems can help companies and their employees become more productive. “From a productivity perspective, we spend a third of our time in the workplace collecting and processing data. AI and robotics could all but eliminate this work, freeing us up from time-consuming administration and allowing us to focus on other more creative or rewarding aspects of our jobs,” says Bridger.

He says that now is the time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to employment. And by investing in the technology, firms are set up for the future. “AI technology cannot replace people but it can work alongside humans to boost business productivity and make employees’ lives easier. With many UK organizations turning to digital transformation to remain competitive, there can be no denying that every job in every industry will soon be impacted by developments in AI and machine learning,” he concludes.


Planning ahead

Ben Pring, vice president of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, is another big believer in workplace AI systems. But for companies to reap the rewards, they must plan ahead and implement appropriate business strategies. “While the future of an automated workforce can be frightening, the artificial intelligence revolution will create a huge wave of opportunity for businesses and individuals who are prepared. Typically, every previous revolution has followed such a pattern: innovation bubble, stall, and then boom. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be no different,” he says.

“Without the right business model to support data-fueled machines, companies will struggle to be successful. Business leaders will need to decide how to instrument everything, how to harvest all the resulting data, how to ask the right questions of the data, and to ‘teach’ the AI systems what to look for, what is meaningful, and what is immaterial.”

Jonathan Ebsworth, head of disruptive technologies at global technology agency Infosys Consulting, says firms, technologists and governments must develop regulations and systems to protect human employees when AI goes wrong. “In terms of imminent threats; different parts of AI and related technologies are going to come into play at different speeds. We should look at the consequences of AI applications specifically in the light of current and anticipated legislation – and the prevailing levels of enforcement; asking ‘is this adequate,” he says.

“Looking further ahead, we should be exploring and modelling the impact of the more extreme possibilities, so we can begin to anticipate more significant potential consequences and attempt to direct and shape development of technology for the greater human good. The challenge is to be able to do this calmly, rationally and thoughtfully – which probably means that not all activities or findings appear on the front pages of national news reports, or on Google or Facebook.”

It’s impossible to shy away from the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Should firms fail to do this, then it’s clear that they risk falling behind from the crowd. By investing in AI systems, companies can achieve a plethora of possibilities. But at the same time, they need to be mindful that there are risks. As a result, planning ahead is crucial - not only for capitalizing on the benefits but also mitigating risk.


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Nicholas Fearn

Nicholas is a technology journalist from the Welsh valleys. He's written for a plethora of respected media sources, including The Next Web, Techradar, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, TrustedReviews, Alphr, TechWeekEurope and Mail Online, and edits Wales's leading tech publication. When he's not geeking out over Game of Thrones, he's investigating ways tech can change our lives in many different ways.

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