Popular culture tends to pit humans against machines. Think of the cyborgs in the “Terminator” films.
But that sort of gloomy, apocalyptic thinking is outdated, and it fosters the wrong-headed notion that machines will one day replace humans when, in fact, the reality has been quite different.
Instead of displacing us, artificial intelligence (AI) is freeing us from tedious, repetitive tasks, and by doing so, it’s helping us to avoid workplace boredom and extend our uniquely human capabilities.
For years, companies have increasingly automated their operations, first with simple tools like macros and “scraping screens,” then by deploying advanced systems, like robotic process automation (RPA) and sophisticated analytic applications.
Today, AI-based applications take on new roles as assistants, advisers, and “actors.”
For example, personal AI assistants, such as Amy (from X.ai), can schedule our calendars. AI advisors, like Einstein (from Salesforce), can answer business questions by running simulations. AI actors in development can evaluate options and make decisions autonomously.
With all these advancements, it’s no wonder why many people are fearing this new age of intelligent machines.
But here’s the simple truth: In this emerging era of AI, the greatest payoffs are coming not merely from mechanistic automation, but rather from the symbiotic ways in which humans and machines work together to emphasize the strengths of each.
Strengths of machines include handling repetitious tasks, analyzing huge amounts of data and processing routine cases. Human strengths are best applied in a number of other areas, including resolving ambiguities, using judgment to make ethical and moral decisions and exercising interpersonal skills (dealing with unhappy customers, for example).
Collaboration between humans and machines can lead to profound shifts in the way that work is done.
When tedious tasks are handled by machines, people are freed to focus on higher-value work that helps drive business growth.
Consider the healthcare industry, where AI technology is being used for claims processing. Specifically, language-processing algorithms are handling unstructured data from various documents, such as e-mails, claim forms, invoices, and doctor diagnoses.
AI systems can analyze all that information to process routine cases, leaving human claims processors more time to focus on resolving the more complicated cases. Over time, such advanced systems can even learn from the most experienced claims processors, for example, enabling them to become adept at fraud detection.
In essence, AI can enable people to be more creative in their jobs, enhance their skills and to focus on the complex—and ultimately more satisfying—parts of their jobs. This will lead to increased employee engagement and higher job satisfaction, which, in turn, will result in greater productivity.
Indeed, our research illustrates how AI has potential to increase productivity by up to 40 percent. That projected increase would not be driven by people working longer hours. Instead, it would be driven by advanced technologies enabling people to more effectively use their time for higher-value tasks, such as preparing an organization to make the transition to outcome-driven approaches from rules-based frameworks. This will open up possibilities for innovative business models.
Simply put, AI can open doors for us to become more uniquely human, by, for example, allowing us to be more creative, improve interpersonal skills and build stronger teams with deeper relationships with colleagues.
What does that tell you? There’s Hollywood science-fiction fantasy, and then there’s the very not-so-scary reality. We shouldn’t be fearing machines; we should be embracing them to get more fun at work.