How AI Is Shaping the Future of Work

With all the potential AI has to offer, it’s easy to see why many companies are eager to embrace it. Despite the obvious potential benefits of AI, many managers, and their staff view it with a guarded optimism. In its 2016 report, The Promise of Artificial Intelligence, Accenture found that while as many as 84 percent of managers believe that AI can make their work more effective and engaging, more than a third of those surveyed expressed fears that it could threaten their jobs.

McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, estimates that approximately half of the activities currently handled by workers have the potential for becoming automated. And, in a recent survey of more than 2,000 U.S. workers, Atlassian found:

  • 39% are already using some form of AI at work
  • 87% think AI will change their job by 2020
  • 76% say that at least some of their job could be performed by a robot, algorithm, AI device or some other technology.

Understandably, statistics like these can lead to anxiety in the workplace about employment prospects in the future.

According to Accenture, the nature of work and the skills needed to remain relevant will change, but human beings will remain an essential part of the workforce in the future. The ability to quickly analyze big data is not a panacea – when the results of such analyses fail to suggest the best course of action, human experience and expertise, and good judgment skills will be needed to make critical decisions.

The structure of the workplace will change, too. As AI is increasingly incorporated into the work environment, it will break up existing workflows. It will be people – not machines – that will determine how to integrate AI and human workflows together in ways that are both efficient and effective and that truly enhance the overall productivity. This requires an understanding of the business model and the workforce that machines cannot duplicate.

Worker roles will also evolve as the nature of work shifts away from tasks that can be automated to work that only a human can do. To successfully integrate AI into the workplace, companies will have to adapt their training, performance, and acquisition strategies to greater emphasize human judgment and “soft” skills such as collaboration and a willingness to experiment – skills that machines cannot learn.

As more and more companies incorporate AI into the workplace, it’s clear that people are here to stay. While the work they do and the way they do it will change, McKinsey & Company suggests that concerns of massive job losses resulting in the widespread adoption of AI technologies are largely unfounded because of the potential it has for the creation of new kinds of work. They point out that a third of the new jobs created in the U.S. in the past 25 years – such as those related to computer technologies – were jobs that never existed before and predict the creation of as many as 250,000 new jobs for data scientists in the next decade in the U.S. alone.

AI is just one part of the business equation

With its massive computing power, AI offers unprecedented business intelligence – insights that can be used to make better decisions, solve critical problems, and foster innovation.

However, according to Accenture, less than half of all managers fully trust the advice of AI systems in making business decisions or would want to take responsibility for the work performed by AI systems.

Given this, companies that want to harness the power of AI must also invest in their people at the same time. They need to begin taking steps now to build a more data-driven culture by helping employees better understand the value of data and how to apply it in decision-making:

  • Give them training on how to understand the data and results that AI tools provide
  • Make the data readily accessible with data analytics and business intelligence tools
  • Encourage their workforce to incorporate data into their decision-making processes
  • Use data to measure staff performance and identify high performers so they can be rewarded and high-performance practices so they can be duplicated

As the results of the Accenture report suggests, companies that adopt AI with the primary goal of replacing people will fail to harness its power. It will take time for both employers and employees to fully trust and embrace AI. In the end, those that learn to think of AI as a colleague – one whose best and highest use is to augment human capabilities to amplify what they can achieve – will ensure its adoption in the workplace reaching its full potential.

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