AI doesn’t replace humans, it replaces human roles and creates new ones

Technological evolution and automation go hand and hand. First, machines took on physical tasks, then computers replicated transactional activities, and now Artificial Intelligence (AI) is beginning to execute cognitive processes related to decision making.

Major advancements in workplace automation are often accompanied by anxieties of human obsolescence, but history has repeatedly shown that rather than replacing workers, technology augments their roles. Indeed, even as automation expands into new areas and industries, employment numbers in the US remain notably robust. As we enter the cognitive AI era, there are a number of new ways that employee roles will evolve and even excel.

AI increases human productivity

By taking over routine tasks – be they physical, transactional, or cognitive – automation amplifies the ability of workers to be more productive and efficient.

For example, last year Allstate hired Amelia as a “whisper agent” for its call center. Now, when live human agents are on call with customers, they are simultaneously interacting with Amelia, who elevates relevant information and dynamically leads agents through services processes, step-by-step.

With Amelia, Allstate agents never need to place a customer on hold to search for information or transfer them to a more experienced co-worker. During the initial few months, agents collaborated with Amelia on more than three million calls, during which she lowered the average call duration by 9% and reduced the need for a follow-up call by 24%. Lower average call durations, as well as fewer follow-up calls from customers, means agents can handle additional call volumes, which benefits customers and the business as a whole.

AI makes humans more human

By taking on routine tasks, AI allows employees to emphasize uniquely human traits to benefit the company. For example, in the above Allstate example, when Amelia automated many of the routine procedural tasks (looking up customer information, plan details, or process steps), the agents were freed to use soft skills to make customers more comfortable (through courteousness, pleasant conversation, and personalized interactions). When user-facing roles are augmented with AI, companies are incentivized to recruit human agents with above-average people skills (which are difficult to teach) as opposed to IT skills or industry-specific knowledge (which can be learned).

By taking on routine tasks, AI allows employees to emphasize uniquely human traits to benefit the company.

Creative problem solving is another human trait that can be emphasized with intelligent automation. In particular, AI lowers the barrier to experimentation by making businesses nimbler. For example, when user interactions are automated by a digital employee such as Amelia, it becomes easier and quicker to update products, messaging, or policies. Changes can be implemented at machine speed as opposed to the time it would take to train employees. With Amelia, an insurance company would have the ability to rapidly deploy a new coverage plan to perspective buyers, or new steps can easily be added (or subtracted) to a call process for optimization, compliance, or even A/B-testing.

Wherever automation is added to a value chain, business processes of all kinds become easier to change (or change back), which frees human employees to implement creative new solutions that can benefit the business.

AI makes work more rewarding

By taking away the monotony of work and allowing employees to emphasize creativity and soft skills, work can become more meaningful. The opportunity to use uniquely human skills to make an impact makes it easier for companies to recruit and retain the best talent.

According to a poll of IT workers by Smartsheet, 78% of respondents said “automation will allow them to spend more time on the interesting and rewarding aspects of their job.” With employment numbers in the US about as good as they’ve ever been, employers are under additional strain to attract and keep quality talent. In order to be as attractive as possible, AI can help make the work more rewarding, and less routine. For example, a poll of the Allstate agents working with Amelia found that 99% were “completely satisfied” with their interactions. All other variables being equal, these agents might find working as a service representative at a company without a digital colleague to be a less attractive alternative.

While there are many anxieties about how AI will affect human jobs, the companies that embrace these technologies will find that uniquely human skills aren’t only necessary, they’ll be increasingly valuable.