Will AI Help Or Hurt The Future Of Work?

ai artifcial intelligence

The term artificial intelligence (AI) typically elicits one of two emotions: fear or excitement. People who experience fear are threatened by technology and are anxious about disruption AI will cause to the way they work. Those who are excited think of the possibilities AI can bring to enhance the way they live.

We can reasonably assume that one of the outcomes of COVID-19 will be an accelerated acceptance of AI by any company that has not yet integrated the technology in its operations to cope with cost pressures. Given that the actions to flatten the curve have also flattened the economy, organizations will also feel the urgency to evolve as a way to deal with the five years worth of change that happened in the span of five weeks.

AI affects virtually every industry. However, before we decide how we feel about AI, it might be helpful to make sure we fully understand what AI is in the context of the workplace. We are familiar with chatbot assistants that pop up on many websites today. Gmail’s AI provides writing suggestions as we draft our emails; iPhones do the same when we text. So, what should we know about AI as it becomes an integral part of the workplace?

A basic definition of AI, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, is:

“Artificial intelligence (AI), the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.”

AI is not new. In 1948, a mathematician and computer pioneer, Alan Mathison Turing, introduced many of the fundamental concepts of AI in a report called Intelligent Machinery. In 1951, the first successful AI program was written – it could play a game of checkers.

AI has evolved over the past 69 years, and now it can do a lot more than play board games. Today, we use AI as an umbrella term to encompass technologies, such as machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and robotics. AI is often used concurrently or even interchangeably with the word automation. All these technologies at various levels perform the tasks that previously used to be done by humans. That is the reason people are afraid that AI will take away their jobs.

While the fear is understandable, similar to what we said in the article about Robotic Process Automation (RPA), AI can free employees to do higher-value tasks. Also, similar to RPA, the goal of implementing AI in a workplace is to augment humans, not replace them.

Having said that, the work environment will change. Based on what is happening right now, if AI is not going to affect your job, COVID-19 will. A solution to the fear of AI and the long-term repercussions of COVID-19 is education, but not traditional education. You do not need to go and get another degree. What you need to do is focus on self-education and make a plan. What skills do you want to learn over the next 60-90 days? What trends were shaping your industry before the crisis? Has the trajectory of those trends accelerated as a result of COVID-19, or are the trends no longer relevant? What part do you want to play in your department and your organization in the future? We talked about job crafting. Now is the time to really think about what you want to do. The more you focus on what you can control, the less anxious you will feel about all the changes happening around you.

AI is neither friend nor foe in the future of work. It is just a natural progression of what had started almost 70 years ago. Resistance, in this case, truly is futile, and fear of AI is simply counterproductive. Self-education, however, can give you the ammunition to propel yourself to future success.

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