How is AI changing your workplace?

I’m as guilty of confirmational bias as the next voice entrepreneur and wholeheartedly accept Gartner’s prediction that by 2023, 25 percent of employee interactions with applications will be via voice, up from under 3 percent in 2019. As workloads and expectations on employees increase, so will their need for tools to free up time for higher value work. 

Voice first interactions are intuitive and usable in hands-free, eyes-free situations like when driving or operating equipment. They enable workers to optimise their time whilst on the go and get back some of those hours at the end of the day they would otherwise be spending catching up on email and administration. Beyond the traditional workplace, offering this ability to better multitask to the 50 percent of the U.S. workforce not behind a desk is like giving them a second set of hands.

How we interact with computers and workplace systems is transforming from a relationship one would have with a set of tools like Excel to a collaborative one we might enjoy with an assistant. In our homes, smart speakers are readily accepted as the trusted source of information, whether it be for the time, weather, recipe or fun fact.

How long before our relationship with Artificial Intelligence at work evolves into an inter-dependency or even a reliance to perform satisfactorily? 

More importantly, does this trust in our homes translate to the workplace? Let’s look at Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle to see where they see Artificial Intelligence driving the future of work.

The rollercoaster ride that the Hype Cycle symbolises echoes the journey so far for us at Verbz. The joy of seeing Speech Recognition mature along the Hype Curve is tempered by the acceptance that Natural Language Processing (NLP) still has a dippy ride ahead. 

A standout for me is the early states of both AI Governance and Augmented Intelligence which are both many years before maturity and the subject of rising customer expectations. As Gartner points out in their report; the focus needs to be on growing confidence in AI capabilities through;

  • Developing trust in the sources of data and the outcomes the AI generates.
  • Transparency in the accumulation of data sets and algorithms used.
  • A commitment to diversity in viewpoints and ethics in the algorithms designed.

Although beyond the scope of this discussion and certainly worth exploring, the potential for malicious use of AI is one rarely covered but a clear and present global threat. A report compiled by 26 authors in 2018 is a sobering breakdown. As AI becomes more integral to workplace productivity, so too will the report’s security concerns need to be addressed.

Gartner’s recent London Workplace Summit discussions on the impact of AI on the workplace drew some interesting insights;

  • Voice first assistants in the workplace like at home will be mainstream by 2025 but still hampered by privacy and security concerns.
  • AI will be initially used to take over the onerous and mundane tasks of employees such as scheduling, information management and picking up mistakes.
  • Managers too will see AI assistance infiltrate into activities such as task assignments, performance reviews, recruitment and approvals. 
  • The work environment itself will derive efficiencies from AI oversight of energy use, comfort and space optimisation.
  • Gartner sees AI augmenting worker productivity not replacing them. Their opinion is the efficiencies and value created drives business expansion which leads to more jobs. AI will increasingly take away the routine work, freeing workers to focus on creative and people oriented elements.

The Augmented Intelligence positioning isn’t universally accepted, with growing concerns against this potentially utopian view. An AI Bill is being shopped in the U.S. and lawmakers are investigating concerns on possible AI biases.

Beyond the risks of biases in AI algorithms, a common concern amongst workers is their vulnerability to being displaced by automation. 2017 and 2018 McKinsey reports on Automation highlighted both the enormous scale of job displacement, creation and challenging transitions that up to 375 million global workers or some 14% of the global workforce will face by 2030. The flipside of developing technologies where automation excels such as routine, predictable physical activity and data collection is that it’s also where the most vulnerable workers reside. 

Genesys’ 2019 survey of Australian and New Zealand employees gives some hints on how employees feel about an AI powered workplace.

  •  90% of respondents regardless of industry or country believe it is up to their company to provide education and training on AI tools in the workplace.
  • Younger age groups were more inclined to feel personal responsibility for their AI skill development; 17% (18 – 38 year olds) compared to 9% (55 – 73 year olds).
  • Whilst 68% felt AI wouldn’t be taking their jobs within 10 years, about the same number believed in some form of ethical policy for AI usage and a minimum requirement for human workforce was necessary.

It’s clear that our workplaces are benefiting from the introduction of AI services. Where they deliver productivity through taking away onerous, repetitive activities and free up the worker to focus on creative and interpersonal tasks; the adoption has been fast and painless. 

As AI services transition from tools that augment employee performance to virtual colleagues and keepers of governance; the adoption cycle will be longer. Organisations should address the challenges of adoption with employee training and bear in mind their employees will embrace emerging technologies such as voice first AI where they see benefits for themselves.

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