AI – What does it mean for businesses and the workforce?

The development of artificial intelligence (AI) is a subject that is attracting a lot of attention from various quarters. It is a divisive topic, with Professor Stephen Hawking acknowledging that AI could be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity“.

Far from being a speculative idea that is restricted to the world of science fiction, AI is something that is already having an impact on how companies and individuals work.

So as far as business and the workplace are concerned, what do you need to know about AI and how should you be preparing for its growth?

The growing significance of AI

Some of the most influential and respected figures from the worlds of business and science have singled out AI as a phenomenon that is likely to have a transformative effect on the human race and the world we live in.

In addition to the aforementioned Professor Hawking, entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk has been vocal about just how significant the emergence of AI could be. After a team of researchers from Yale University and the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University predicted that AI will be capable of performing any task at least as well as a human by 2060, Mr Musk tweeted that we are more likely to reach that point by 2040.

These long-term predictions might seem removed from the day-to-day, practical concerns of most businesses, but research has indicated that AI is already influencing how many firms operate.

In February 2017, Deloitte released a study showing that more than four out of ten UK companies (42 per cent) have implemented robotics, AI and cognitive technologies within all or parts of their workforce. Another 42 per cent said they were trialling such innovations. The findings also showed that 88 per cent of firms recognise the need to embrace digital transformation and create the ‘organisation of the future’, but just 13 per cent feel fully ready to do so.

Anne-Marie Malley, UK human capital leader at Deloitte, said: “UK organisations clearly see the importance of preparing for the workplace of the future. Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and is rewriting the rules of work.”

Opportunities and concerns

There is little doubt that AI will play an increasingly important role in how businesses and workforces function over the coming decades. Whether you see this as a positive trend or a cause for concern largely depends on where you are looking from.

From a business perspective, there are clear opportunities to save money and boost operational efficiency by automating key processes. It only takes one look at a modern factory to show that robotics and automation are already very much a reality.

The development of AI could also help to usher in a new era of rigour and efficiency in areas like cybersecurity, data management and administration.

However, organisations also need to give close thought to cases where a human touch is still required. In the banking industry, for example, there will be many instances where certain tasks and functions can be automated, but customers might be put off by the idea that machines are handling their sensitive data and transactions.

A recent study by Nationwide showed that, while the vast majority of British consumers enjoy the benefits of digital services such as online banking, many people still prefer to deal with human beings for tasks such as collecting medical prescriptions, setting up new mobile phone contracts and arranging mortgages.

When it comes to the workforce, employees seem to be aware of the benefits AI can deliver. A survey by Jobsite found that more than half (54 per cent) of workers thought advances in AI and automation would enhance their existing roles, while 33 per cent feared human jobs could be at risk.

One of the key responsibilities employers have is to keep members of staff informed about how the business is using AI and how this could affect jobs.

Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future Research, has stressed that it will become increasingly important for business leaders to find ways of overcoming resistance to AI and helping employees affected by it.

 

It’s quite possible that this phenomenon could have a positive impact on the labour market, creating just as many job opportunities as it removes. But firms should also recognise that many workers could view the growth of AI as a worrying trend, and will require support and reassurance from their employer.