Posted on 18 Nov 2016
If you’ve read anything about technology in the news recently you might be inclined to think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to take over the world, leaving us mere mortals to find new ways to earn a crust. Indeed, the plethora of new services, even turning AI into its own service (AIaaS – AI as a Service), will start to redefine the way we communicate, work, and experience the world. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has been bold enough to say “In the long run, we’re evolving in computing from a ‘mobile-first’ to an ‘AI-first’ world”.1The important part to note here is “in the long run” – if you’ve interacted with Siri, Amazon Echo, or Microsoft’s Cortana, you will know that while useful, they’re still only capable of assisting with a discrete set of tasks pre-programmed by their designers. There’s a lot that needs to happen before AI can automate entire professions, and we’re seeing research that shows that jobs requiring human interaction (thankfully HR is one of these) will be the hardest to replace.2
Increase in Google search trend for Artificial Intelligence:
Showdown: AI will take our jobs vs. AI won’t take our jobs
As with any broad scale changes that affect people’s livelihoods and the economies that we rely on for stability, views about the future impacts are many and varied. The grim outlook points to higher levels of income inequality, impacts on the unskilled workforce, and even impacts to mortality (e.g. increased suicide and substance abuse in white middle-aged Americans).3Just one segment – driverless vehicles – has the potential to wipe out millions of jobs globally (truck driving accounts for 8.7 million jobs in the US alone).4
The positive outlook, on the other hand, points to historical data showing technology has generally created more jobs than it has replaced despite the pain of re-skilling in the short term.5 A possible middle ground is that while lots of jobs will be automated, we’ll likely see economic reform (e.g. a guaranteed base income) that will help to propel people into more creative and entrepreneurial careers.4,6 We’re already seeing that experience is king for the Millennial generation, and organisations will have to keep innovating to provide more integrated learning, and unique experiences as a standard employment offering.
Augmented Intelligence (or how we’ll still be relevant)
Many companies are already tapping into AI to improve productivity, with services ranging from scheduling, communication assistance, to service desks and frontline customer support.7 These services take the form of chatbots or assistive technology embedded into existing familiar products. Google has recently been embedding more and more assistive features into workplace apps, including predictive searching, scheduling and help with things like layout and suggested images to insert in their docs.8 In fact, Google has been doing this for years with their smart inbox and spam filtering behind the scenes. These improvements are just the beginning of what we’re likely to see across all of the enterprise applications we use day to day. The outcome is that AI is augmenting our own intelligence by automating the mundane and letting us spend more time on creative work, or tasks that we’re much more suited for than machines.
Another area that will help in transitioning service level jobs is where humans are part of AI workflows, called “Human in the Loop”. The idea is that including humans for tasks that we are more suited to complete can provide a higher quality service overall. We’re seeing companies like Crowdflower starting to offer these types of services as an evolution of traditional outsourced thinking made popular by services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Bias ghosts in the machine
One of the key underlying components in Artificial Intelligence is the machine learning algorithms that are crunching all of the data to make decisions on our behalf. We’re already seeing that the data that is fed to these systems, or even bias introduced by the designers, has an impact on the outputs. You can read more on specific gender bias examples here, and we would highly recommend watching this video on bias in algorithms that predict the likelihood of a person committing future crimes.
Luckily we are seeing machine learning being used to reduce bias, particularly in the recruitment process. You can (and should) try this right now with platforms like Textio that read job descriptions and help to write less biased advertisements.
It’s critical that we’re asking how AI introduced into any software that manages, or interacts with a business’s workforce is protecting and empowering people, and also protecting the organisation from potential discrimination lawsuits.9
So, what can we do now?
Keeping up to date with the progress in AI is going to be critical for seeing how it fits into your organisational roadmap. Companies like Deloitte are now offering free introductory courses on how these technologies will create opportunities in business.10 Posing questions to the business like “What will your future workforce look like if it is augmented by intelligent systems?” and “What are some of the ethical considerations in introducing AI that affect your industry?” will help to get the conversation started. Looking at your workforce plan to understand where people can be re-skilled rather than laid off will prove powerful branding for the companies that get it right.
Given the rate of change in technology, it’s also important that organisations make sure they’re continuing to innovate with existing technology. We have previously covered how performance management is being disrupted and going through an evolution (part 1, part 2). Take a look at how we’re supporting Everyday Performance on mobile today and ask how this could support your business to become more agile in promoting workforce engagement and productivity.
As technology advances, one thing is clear: we’re going to see more and more AI in our work lives and there are real opportunities for gaining competitive advantage, particularly for HR to lead the business, particularly where AI intersects with the evolving workforce.
About The Author
Product Manager, PageUp
Aaron is based in Singapore and is the voice of PageUp’s product strategy across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. He has previously led the regional pre-sales team and earlier on in his PageUp life lived and breathed our awesome service promise as a Technical Account Manager. He’s a self-professed techie, who is passionate about people systems (i.e. HR) and how they engage, empower, and make us even better at what we do. He can often be found exploring new places across Southeast Asia.