Evolution of the AI-Driven Workplace

January 9, 2019

AI's Won't Take Your Job

Editor's Note: This guest post was contributed by David Pann, GM of Global Search Advertising at Microsoft.

From the steam engine to the telephone, technology has been driven by milestone inventions that have completely transformed the landscape. In more recent history, the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991 marked one of the most game-changing inventions of our time, leading to our modern communication technology today.

One of the next milestones will be the widespread adoption of AI, which enhances human interactions through context and time savings. In fact, if you look back at the last 12 to 18 months, technologies not commonly heard of—such as machine learning and deep neural networking—have quickly become mainstream and part of our everyday vernacular.

But with new technology comes both challenges and opportunities. Below I’ve outlined a few thoughts on how I believe AI will change the workplace.

Change is not always easily embraced

AI is a thrilling technology that generates deep insights into consumer habits and preferences and presents remarkable opportunities to connect with customers in uniquely personal ways. Its ability to process vast quantities of data across homes and businesses creates a customized and connected experience not previously possible.

But hand-in-hand with that exhilaration comes fear. Fear of overwhelming maxed out staff. Fear of implementation costs and complexity. Fear of job losses from task automation.

While fear has historically heralded the introduction of new technologies, we also know that close on its heels comes adoption, acceptance, and even anticipation of the newest thing. Years ago, when automated teller machines (ATMs) took over routine tasks, tellers worried about losing their jobs. But while the number of employees required to run a branch decreased, the number of branches—and employees—actually increased since employees were freed up to focus on other tasks. Likewise, AI is poised to revolutionize how we do business by giving companies greater decision-making power by predicting consumer actions. AI enables faster decision making and opens the door to new job opportunities.

Embracing this change means overcoming anxieties and complacency and having a growth mindset. Companies must invest in ongoing training to keep their staff current in emerging technologies. Staff members must be willing to make learning a priority. Accepting the status quo is not an option if you want to evolve your company or the people that comprise it.

Implications of AI for your business

The ability of AI to streamline and automate is helping companies to be there for customers in new ways. Information can be synthesized from multiple sources, business is discoverable through both written and spoken language, and customers get a tailored and ‘human’ experience as users.

AI is already transforming marketing, helping to ultra-personalize brand interactions, deliver dynamic messaging and promotions, and connect brand experiences across channels. AI works in real time, making decisions on the fly and even predicting the actions of specific shoppers. Soon, with the increasing use of intelligent agents and digital assistants, AI to AI marketing will become the norm. AI and marketing automation are helping human marketers to optimize their efforts in support of business objectives and achieve new levels of ROI.

AI takes over repetitive tasks and frees up people up to do the higher-level analysis, interpretation, and innovation needed to generate new business and create new job opportunities. So, while AI-enabled robots may be used to stack warehouse bins or stock grocery shelves, humans are needed to manage and troubleshoot these robots. And while AI reduces the need for humans to analyze massive volumes of legal documentation, clerks must still put that data to use in legal cases.

Humans will continue to play an important role in the AI driven workplace. History has proven that as technology evolves, roles also evolve and as jobs are lost, new ones are created. The jobs we have today didn’t exist 10-15 years ago, and that will be true ten years from now—or even two years from now. There is a natural evolution of technology and its adoption that transforms the labor market.

Five years ago, you would never have heard of a data scientist. Not so today. I tell my kids not to worry about the longevity of the jobs they’re doing now because in five years there will be new jobs that will interest them too. They’ll have the opportunity to develop new skills and to keep learning.

New technology always creates new roles.

Embracing the evolution is the path forward

But for us to adapt to emerging technologies such as AI, we must evolve. We must embrace the risk of the new and unknown—including the potential for failure.  Yes, there are risks. But the greater risk is being conservative and possibly becoming obsolete. This means investing the time and resources to understand new technologies like AI and its possibilities for business and finding ways to take advantage of it.

Technology gives us the opportunity to do new things and to change the world for the better. My hope is that it inspires a new generation of diverse young people of all genders and races to get interested in technology and explore everything that it can do.

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