How is AI changing the workforce?


Artificial intelligence (AI) is steadily growing more sophisticated, particularly in regards to advanced decision making capabilities, making it increasingly appealing to corporations. A survey from Narrative Science shows that 62 per cent of organisations will be using AI technologies by 2018, while Gartner is predicting that three million employees worldwide will be supervised by AI in 2018. The question that remains is what will this transformation look like?

While computers are capable of making intelligent decisions about financial trading, medical diagnoses and even flying planes or driving cars, several factors have kept businesses from adopting AI broadly. One of these is accessibility. To make truly intelligent decisions about the world, AI takes impressive system resources, which often go above and beyond what a company has or is willing to dedicate.

A solution to this problem could be the adoption of cloud based technology; this way most computations take place off-site. The current scenario around the world has shown that instead of  owning and maintaining powerful computers needed to run sophisticated artificially intelligent programs, companies are now willing to use others to run the software, which is turning AI decision-making accessible even to smaller business.

AI does and will continue to exist just not as we know it

Modern AI machines can perform a variety of tasks, such as data analysis. Arguably in this area, AI can execute commands with greater efficiency and accuracy than humans.

If future predictions are to be believed, virtually all number-crunching tasks performed by human management will soon be relegated to AI. In fact, Narrative Science’s study revealed that 58 per cent of respondents amongst over 230 business executives indicated they are using predictive analytics already. A great example of using AI smartly is Uber: the company has very few human employees overseeing tasks, and most driving jobs are distributed by AI alone.

Additionally, many companies are now looking to replace humans with AI for an array of repetitive managerial tasks that are easier to automate. Air traffic control, as an example, is a managerial task that falls into this role. Looking ahead, AI will also transform the gig economy in Australia, which is described as a fluid economy where temporary positions are common. It’s quite simple for AI to predict a temporary employee’s success in completing a single task. In comparison, modelling long term success involves more variables and may be more difficult. As a consequence, AI may soon handle most short-term hiring at many companies.

AI will begin with simple tasks such as these, but as technology develops further, we can expect to see more and more managerial tasks automated, including many that can’t currently be predicted. So the question is, when does human management become obsolete entirely?

Suspicion from above, not below

Traditionally, the tasks performed by low level employees are those that are first automated. An automotive company, for example, can decide to replace humans for robots assembling cars on an assembly line.

However, as AI becomes more feasible to all business models, it may not be the base level employee whose job is perhaps eliminated. If the managerial decision making of AI is proven to be more efficient and more accurate than humans, the traditional roles and responsibilities of the executive team may need to be reviewed.

A human touch in a corporate reality

While analysis and decision making is important, one of the most important and often overlooked characteristics of an effective manager is emotional intelligence. A good manager needs to take employee morale into account to relay orders without sounding authoritarian, to take employees’ irrational or emotional behaviour into consideration when making decisions and to engage in emotionally fraught situations, such as firings, with grace.

When developing artificially intelligent software, companies have been tasked with giving the software a human touch that encourages people to welcome AI into their business and personal lives. However, some attempts have failed miserably. As a consequence, developers are using novel techniques to craft an interface that makes people want to cooperate as AI becomes a more important part of our lives and begins to manage situations where human compliance is crucial.

The road to creating “friendly” software can leave developers apprehensive. They worry about “the uncanny valley,” a theory that says that when an artificial image –  or mode of interaction – seems semi-human, but not quite there, it seems more eerie and off-putting than when it’s completely and obviously inhuman. Eventually, developers may well overcome this hurdle; however, in the intermediate period, managers will still serve a vital role as the human face that relays instructions. A manager’s job would lean more toward emotional labour rather than decision making.

Given that the world is evolving so quickly, it is difficult to predict how it will look like in few years. Artificially intelligent software is already surpassing many people’s expectations, but is there more to come? Taking this into consideration, the only certainty here is that the world is likely to be very different from now.

About the author

Chris Tithof is the Channel director for Unit4 in ANZ region. Specialising in cloud business management, Tithof leads Unit4’s business, being responsible for developing new business, strategic account selling and continuing the successful partnerships with Agilyx, Connexxion and S1 Consulting within the region.