Common misconception has positioned Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a job-killer; however, the truth is much more optimistic for workers, as hybrid workforces — composed of human and digital employees — take hold within enterprises.
Forrester Research predicts automation will displace 24.7 million jobs by 2027. This equates to a job loss of 17% between 2017 and 2027. Fortunately, Forrester also estimates new technology will also create 14.9 million jobs in the next decade, with automation creating jobs equivalent to 10% of the workforce through 2027. These changes will lead to a net loss of 9.8 million US jobs by 2027.
What happens to those estimated 9.8 million workers whose jobs were eliminated because of automation? According to a McKinsey study, A Future that Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity, new jobs and roles will emerge that will give displaced workers opportunities with companies that have shifted to automation. Gartner Research is also bullish on AI as a job creator. According to the research firm, AI will create 2.3 million jobs, while eliminating only 1.8 million jobs by 2020, and by 2025 AI will have resulted in 2 million net-new jobs.
If the concept of AI is new to you, think of AI in terms of a hybrid workforce as opposed to a workforce killer. AI will serve as a supplemental digital employee that can make roles easier, or eliminate repetitious tasks, or provide information to workers faster than a Google search or flipping through a company handbook. In this post, we’ll examine these three elements of a hybrid workforce and how AI will improve employee performance rather than eliminate positions.
1. AI Simplifies Tasks through Analytics and Automation
Think of the mortgage pre-approval process. A human worker typically works with potential lenders to gather income, debt, and loan information. The worker then runs the numbers to determine if a borrower qualifies for a loan, and what kind of loan the borrower should be offered. Think of all the manual steps this process entails, just from a data-entry perspective. With AI as part of the process, the borrower could simply enter data into the system on their own, and the tool could run analytics to automatically offer potential terms and rates, depending on what the borrower information dictates.
But what happens when people have specific questions that AI isn’t designed to handle? What happens if the system is confused by the data the potential borrower has input? At this point, it’s crucial for AI to escalate the concern to a human colleague. That person can work with the borrower to help decipher the issue, and instruct the AI on how to proceed. The human worker does not become redundant, or has less work to do; he or she has simply shifted from taking on an entire process to handling unique or problematic aspects of the process. This not only simplifies work for the employee, it also enables the employer to serve more customers at a quicker pace and at scale.
2. AI Eliminates Repetition
Ask any IT worker how often he or she receives tickets to reset passwords, or provide Wi-Fi access, or create new VPN credentials. There are entire IT roles focused solely on handling these routine tasks. Fortunately, AI can handle and fulfill these roles without human intervention. Employees can speak or type their problems to an AI system, and a digital colleague can run an automation to solve the issue immediately.
But doesn’t that mean fewer IT workers? Not necessarily. The smartest organizations will train employees who were stuck working on these routine processes to handle more complex issues. They’ll be able to research and devise fixes for less common but more important IT tasks. They’ll also be able to design and implement new automations to help eliminate even more routine and boring tasks from their remit.
Additionally, cutting-edge companies will find ways to turn these IT workers into revenue generators. Instead of resetting passwords and granting VPN access, they’ll be tasked with designing new products and customer experiences, or they’ll help to improve the speed with which back-office workers conduct tasks. Either way, they’ll still be able to serve the company, but in a much more productive and much less routine manner.
3. AI as a Whisper Agent and Digital Colleague
How often do customers speak with service agents who don’t have answers to their questions? How often do new employees have to interrupt workers to ask basic questions about simple processes or company policies? These commonplace exchanges in aggregate take up massive amounts of time and eat into overall productivity.
When AI is enabled, it can serve as the whisper agent, or as a digital colleague, providing one-to-one answers to any company or product-based question. If a service rep is on a call and doesn’t know the answer to a technical support question, he or she can simply type the question to the whisper agent for an instant response. If a new employee is unsure about how to book vacation days, he or she can ask the digital colleague, rather than contacting the HR department. The immediate and accurate responses provided by AI allow your knowledgeable employees to focus on their assigned tasks, and it gives your less knowledgeable employees a fast way to find information without disrupting others.
Regardless of how AI is deployed, it can help turn your carbon-based workforce into a hybrid workforce. Your human employees will be tasked with fewer repetitious and routine tasks, and they’ll be armed with access to information at all times. Jobs will undoubtedly change as a result of AI, but there is no need for them to disappear entirely.