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How AI is transforming the workplace

By Marcus Lambert

Artificial intelligence (AI) has outgrown its buzzword status and is beginning to transform businesses and deliver tangible results. Looking to the future, it has been reported that spending on cognitive AI will grow nearly 70% by 2021.

Rather than attempting to predict our immediate future based on watching one too many Terminator movies on Netflix, maybe it’s time to separate the facts from the fiction. One of the most important things to remember about AI is that any biases hidden inside algorithms are configured by our human colleagues. Despite having a library of sci-fi movies at our disposal, AI can only do what we program it to do.

Safe in the knowledge that it’s people rather than machines that will continue to be responsible for their own destiny, let’s look at how this transformational change will affect you and your workplace.

Can AI Save You from a Robotic Existence?
The word automation leaves many people feeling very nervous and pessimistic about the future. But why? The days of having the same job for life are nothing but a distant memory and is that really such a bad thing?

Repeating the same tasks every day for thirty years without question like a robot and living for the weekend is no good for the soul. After years of convincing ourselves that “that we have always done it this way,” many have become a slave to their own routine. Contrary to popular belief, AI could actually set workforces free from a robotic existence and enable them to get back to being human again.

A career where employees are encouraged to grow and thrive in an environment of continuous learning is hardly the dystopian future that we have been warned about.

More Productive
Finance departments often spend months number-crunching on giant spreadsheets and legal teams will painstakingly go through mountains of paperwork. But is this really the best use of their time? Global financial services firm JPMorgan spent a phenomenal 360,000 hours every year interpreting commercial-loan agreements, but new software can now complete the same task to a higher standard and in seconds.

Depending on your mindset, you will either think this is a fantastic and more-efficient way of doing business or believe that automation will decimate the employment landscape. However, the reality is that mundane and repetitive tasks will be handed down to machines that can complete the work quicker and better than any traditional employee.

Once again, rather than people performing robotic tasks, they can get back to playing to their human strengths. Maybe it’s time that you accepted the idea of working alongside a digital colleague rather than competing against one.

The Next Generation of Workers
One of the most significant challenges facing employers is that many children in school are preparing for roles that do not even exist yet. However, with the answer to almost any question being just a Google search away, we desperately need to move away from a one- size-fits-all approach to education and memorising answers to questions.

To succeed in the workplace of the future, children need to focus on creative and critical thinking. By homing in on interpersonal skills and learning by doing rather than memorising, they can offer value to businesses.

Companies that will dominate the future will be those that understand that the best results will come from employees who are supported by intelligent machines and work together seamlessly. For example, a doctor or teacher will never be replaced, but they will deliver much better results if working with AI technology than without it.

Voice Assistants and Facial Recognition
We are increasingly using our voice in our homes and asking Siri, Alexa, or Google Home to manage our home heating and lighting. These expectations are already being carried into corporate meeting rooms where staff can ask Cisco’s Spark or Crestron’s assistant to start a meeting, call attendees, or load a presentation.

If you have ever forgotten the person’s name that you are speaking to in a video call, AI will have your back. Advances in AI can already identify individuals and superimpose their name over top of the screen, a feature that was even highlighted at the Royal wedding this year.

These seamless experiences are rapidly removing the blurred lines between our real and digital worlds.

Time is the New Currency
We are getting used to the fact that we have the entire world at our fingertips. We can get our hands on almost any product or service with a few swipes of our smartphone or even voice command. These expectations are now making their way into the business world too.

When your competitors make it easier to do business and have a turnaround of hours rather than weeks, how are you going to compete? Demand is no longer about B2B or B2C; it’s people to people (P2P), and everyone is trying to make the best use of their time and resources. Only by embracing technological innovations can a company have a seat at the table and a chance to thrive in the face of change.

Although we like to think that we can do everything better ourselves, we have reached a point where technology can parse data in seconds rather than months. Traditionalists who stubbornly cling to the past must evolve and adapt to new ways of working or risk being replaced or pushed out by colleagues who adopt new tools as they become available.

For any business to reach its objectives, there will need to be an entire culture change where everyone sees the value in working with AI rather than against it. We cannot return to the past, and the only direction we can go is forward. Refusing to adapt to the inevitable changes ahead will highlight how a legacy mindset is equally as damaging to a business as old technology.

The future is a hybrid workforce that provides the best of both human and computer intelligence. Neither can deliver the superior results on its own, but together, anything is possible. How you adjust to this brave new digital world will depend entirely on how you adapt to an era of continuous change.

One thing is for sure: It won’t be a machine that steals your dream job, but a colleague with the 21st-century attitude and a set of human rather than robotic qualities.

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