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Is an AI going to be your next coworker?

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In just a few years we’ve become used to calling on AI like Siri to do everyday tasks like scheduling meetings and reminding us of anniversaries. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the same kind of technology that we use in our daily lives is now filtering into our workplaces.

It has been said that 2017 was the year of artificial intelligence (AI). Indeed, the technology really did hit the mainstream this year thanks to Google, Amazon, Apple and many other tech companies. But with the rise of AI came the fear of the future. There’s the fear that AI will take over our jobs, that we’ll be penniless in this new-fangled dystopian future. Then there’s the fear that AI will control our very lives, that we’ll be slaves to the machines. However, current AI in the workplace is more of a helper than a horror, with many AI systems now helping us with the mundane tasks that we don’t wish to do.

Meet the virtual AI assistant

One of the earliest applications of AI was in the form of virtual assistants like Siri. It doesn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that these AI assistants are now making their way into our work lives. Amazon recently announced an enterprise version of the smart home assistant Alexa. Meanwhile, Cisco launched its own version, Spark, a few weeks before. AI assistants won’t just be able to schedule meetings for you – they’ll be able to help with the running of those meetings as well. You won’t have to fiddle around with wires trying to connect your laptop to a larger screen, for instance. Video conferences will run more smoothly thanks to an AI automatically connecting everyone, optimizing the Internet connection and using facial recognition to help jog your memory in the event that you forget who the attendees actually are.

Enter the company chatbot

Companies everywhere have been experimenting with chatbots to help with customer orders and inquiries. Chatbots are a rather rudimentary form of AI but their potential application in the workplace is quite exciting. In a similar way to how a chatbot troubleshoots issues with a consumer, an enterprise chatbot can be used to help employees with IT issues or assist with the onboarding process. That said, much more work needs to be done in refining chatbot technology to make it sound more conversational and less, well, robotic.

A robotic recruiter

AI technology has also been proposed as a way to eliminate bias in recruitment. On one hand, an AI can assist with writing job applications. This is a service already on the market in the form of Textio. An AI could also sift through the hundreds of job applications that a recruiter usually has to read, thereby increasing efficiency in the recruitment process.

However, this could backfire. An AI needs to learn how to make the right decisions based on a set of training data. If this data is biased in any way, often the AI will make the biases worse because of the way that it learns and operates through a feedback loop. There’s an infamous story about an AI categorizing black prisoners twice as likely to re-offend as white prisoners, because of an underlying racial bias in the data it was programmed with. What’s to say that the same won’t happen in recruitment?

AI’s place in HR and talent management doesn’t just have to end at recruitment. AI-powered expertise finder ProFinda creates a birds-eye view of all the skills and knowledge contained within a workforce. It then intelligently matches people in the workforce to projects or proposals that require their particular set of skills. In the future, AI will make workforce allocation and planning as simple as saying “Alexa, find me someone who knows HTML and speaks fluent French, stat!”

AI to do our boring jobs

Our future workplaces are going to get a lot more creative thanks to AI. One thing AI is really good at is doing the same thing over and over again, much more efficiently and quicker than a human. A good example of this is sorting emails, compiling and maintaining a database or reviewing research papers. With the more labor-intensive and mundane tasks taken out of our hands, we’re going to have a lot more time for strategic decision-making and creative tasks.

Whilst this does open up opportunities for some, for others, it may mean they will have to re-skill in another area. The need for digital skills is more critical than ever before thanks to AI. In the future, all workers will require some degree of computer literacy in order to work effectively with AI systems.

An emotional AI

One other area where companies are exploring the use of AI is in determining employee satisfaction. AI service Veriato can monitor employee emails and other messages to determine their sentiment. In other words, how positive or negative the message it. If the overall sentiment of communications sent over the course of the day is flagged as particularly negative, then managers can be informed and then speak to the employee to find out what’s bothering them.

Of course, this does tread a rather fine line when it comes to privacy and the creep factor. Especially since a similar AI system could potentially flag to an employer whether a worker is about to leave the company based on their behavior.

The opportunity for workplaces

AI holds huge potential in the workforce, but it is still very much early days for the majority of the technology. Huge sums are being invested in AI, so developments are moving relatively quickly. However, many businesses are still unaware of the benefits AI can bring to the workforce. Before it comes to an office near you, business leaders are going to have to understand its many applications and benefits – as well as AI’s limitations and downsides. For our workplaces to become smarter, we’re going to have to get clued-up on AI.