AI and the future of work
AI isn’t just the future - it’s the present. And now the Metaverse has arrived, the AI revolution is gathering even more pace, opening up a new world of opportunities. How can organisations make the most of them?
What is artificial intelligence?
In a nutshell, AI is the science of creating machines with human-type capabilities. It’s a huge leap forward: Machines that can plan, reason, communicate and learn are enhancing our lives, as well as lowering costs and boosting efficiency and profitability. But fears are also frequently voiced about AI’s potential for negative disruption, especially in the labour market, as they take over routine, low-level tasks.
There are several different fields of AI, all of which have a profound influence on the way we work now and how we'll work in the future:
Machine learning: This type of AI can “learn” based on recognising patterns in data. It's revolutionary because, rather than being programmed, the software can analyse the data it's given to make predictions, create rules, or make recommendations for action. Deep learning takes this process a step further, reducing human input even more and allowing the use of larger data sets. It's responsible for some of the recent progress in speech and image recognition and natural language processing. But machine learning is only as good as the data fed into it. For example, if that data is biased, the AI output will also be biased.
Robotics: Organisations are using robots to automate physical tasks remotely or by algorithms or sensors. As well as the now-familiar sight of robotic “arms” on production lines, robots have numerous uses today - anything from assisting with surgery to inspecting sewers.
Natural language processing: Although computers are very smart, they have found it surprisingly difficult to understand, generate and respond to human language. Natural language processing (NLP) is redressing this using machine learning. NLP has various applications, from translation, voice recognition and transcription to extracting information from reports.
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What’s the difference between AI and automation?
AI and automation are terms often used interchangeably. They're not quite the same thing, although they have the same purpose of helping humans by taking over routine, repetitive tasks. But while automation involves programming machines to carry out tasks, AI is all about machines learning automatically by recognising patterns in data.
How will AI affect the future of work?
AI is already deeply embedded into everyday life and work. Everything from digital personal assistants to smart appliances, online shopping to factory robots are made possible by AI. According to McKinsey's State of AI report, 56% of respondents use AI in at least one function. This rises to 57% in emerging economies, including China, the Middle East and North Africa. And this growth is set to continue, with automation and digitisation goals featuring in 54% of companies' long-term corporate strategies, according to PwC's Global CEO Survey.
AI is poised to make more advances in several areas.
Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are enabling an internet you can step inside - for games, entertainment, and work. Shared virtual spaces will blend with the physical world, transforming collaboration, communication and training.
By analysing large numbers of transactions, AI can uncover fraud trends. It can then automatically block suspect transactions or flag them up for further investigation. People can also use AI in cyber security to recognise and block threats.
Chatbots and digital assistants
As NLP is developing, so too are the capabilities of chatbots, allowing them to communicate more naturally with users rather than simply responding to “yes” or “no” questions. This is making significant customer service improvements and is freeing employees to manage the most complex customer queries.
AI in healthcare
The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, there will be a global shortfall of 18 million health workers. AI may be able to provide part of the solution to this by automating routine tasks, improving productivity and - most importantly - giving staff more time to spend with patients. Practitioners are already using AI in numerous healthcare applications, including hospital management, medical diagnosis and patient-focused apps.
AI doesn't operate in a vacuum. The fact that organisations are using it to reach decisions raises transparency, privacy, fairness, and responsibility issues. This is where explainable AI (XAI) comes in. It aims to make sure that algorithms' rationales are understandable by humans. XAI is also vital in helping with the detection of artificial intelligence errors.
AI in HR
As well as automating routine tasks, like payroll, AI is transforming recruitment. It can take over the lengthy process of filtering profiles. It can screen resumes, shortlist candidates and schedule interviews. This makes for a far more efficient process, especially at the beginning of the recruitment journey, saving an enormous amount of time and reducing costs. AI also has the potential to enhance training - 39% of leaders plan to use AI simulations to hire and train employees, according to one survey. And for job candidates, AI can avoid time-wasting by connecting them with roles most suitable for them.
What jobs will be automated in the future?
Perhaps the biggest concern about AI is that it will lead to loss of jobs and therefore, unemployment. But in fact, it’s estimated that automation will lead to far more jobs being created than lost – up to 890 million by 2030.
Plus, in the case of many jobs, AI isn’t automating all functions - just the more routine tasks, like payroll for example, or extracting information from documents. And humans are still needed to oversee the process and step in if things go wrong. So rather than replacing humans, AI will work alongside humans, helping us work better and focus on the more creative and satisfying elements of our work. For example, while AI might be used to help make medical diagnosis, it will still be down to doctors and nurses to treat patients.
What AI is bringing with it is a growing demand for people with tech skills, like programmers, statisticians, data scientists and analysts, as well as those with skills involving creative and emotional intelligence - the things AI can't provide.
Benefits of AI at work
AI has the potential to produce enormous economic gains. As well as greater productivity, it’s predicted that these gains will come from consumer demand as AI makes a larger variety of products more possible and more affordable. In fact, PwC estimates that AI could contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Artificial intelligence benefits include:
Productivity - productivity can soar without people and resources bogged down in routine tasks: 44% of business leaders are looking to increase productivity through automation, according to PwC
Efficiency - AI can carry out some routine tasks faster and more efficiently than humans. And of course, unlike human employees, AI-driven services are available 24/7 to monitor for fraud, answer customer queries and scan job applications, saving time and resources
Solving complex problems - advances in machine learning mean AI can now be put to work on more complex tasks - medical diagnosis, for example, again freeing up resources and increasing productivity
Innovation - AI-generated ideas in brainstorming sessions, interaction in virtual spaces in the Metaverse, and using AI in the supply chain to understand what consumers want (and then make relevant product decisions). AI is helping organisations innovate to succeed
Making AI work for your organisation
Being wholehearted about adopting AI is paying off for organisations. According to PwC's AI Business Survey, companies seeing significant ROI from AI are using it in three areas at the same time: business transformation, decision making and modernising processes.
But widespread adoption of AI in a company means big changes for the way people do their jobs. So how do organisations show employees that AI is a force for positive change? That it can help people do their work better, taking over dull tasks and giving them the chance to concentrate on more creative work that uses their skills more effectively?
One way is to stress that AI is designed to complement, not replace, human workers. Even more importantly, as people will be working alongside AI, it’s vital to make sure they have the tech skills they need to do so. This will involve upskilling and reskilling the workforce if necessary, so that they’re able to take advantage of all the opportunities AI has to offer.
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