The Future of Work: Humans and Machines

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Once upon a time, artificial intelligence was just a vague, futuristic possibility. But today, it’s a real player in business, and it’s already transforming the way we work. For example, The World Economic Forum reports that AI handled about 29 percent of the tasks across twelve industries last year and LinkedIn predicts that 62 percent of search and data processing tasks will be managed by machines in the next three years.

This wave of change has caused a lot of panic. Many fear our blue-collar jobs are going to be automated away, and others fear it’s the white-collar jobs on the chopping block—business analysts, hedge fund managers, and lawyers. Either way, these bleak forecasts leave a significant percentage of workers unemployed and bereft.

But what if we looked at this a different way?  In a recent paper, MIT Sloan’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee remind us that just because aspects of our jobs are being automated, that doesn’t mean our entire jobs are being obliterated.

“Our findings suggest that a shift is needed in the debate about the effects of AI: away from the common focus on full automation of entire jobs and pervasive occupational replacement toward the redesign of jobs and reengineering of business practices.”

In other words, it’s not our jobs themselves, but only certain tasks related to our jobs, that are likely to be automated away, and so we need to focus on reorienting our perspective to make the most of the time, energy, and resources we get back once AI takes some of these tasks off our plates.

In short, the future isn’t “humans vs. machines,” it’s “humans and machines.”

Artificial intelligence isn’t our newest competitor—it’s our newest coworker. And as it takes over some of the more mundane aspects of our jobs, it will minimize costs, enhance productivity, and leave us free to apply our skills in more impactful ways.

Take legal work, for example. Attorneys aren’t about to be replaced by bots in the courtoom, but AI can be used to tackle a significant portion of the mundane, time-consuming work that goes into building a case. ROSS Intelligence has created the first AI laywer, ROSS, and a recent Law Technology Today, article highlights its capabilities: ROSS can read over a million pages of law in a second, finding passages, citations, and precedents attorneys need and flagging documents that might be relevant to a case. It can also help with contract review and even predict case outcomes based on years’ worth of legal data.

With all this drudge work automated, the attorney is free to focus on what she went to law school for: the high-level strategy, critical thinking, and creative work. What’s more, this automated support can help level the playing field in terms of access to legal support. “With a machine quickly performing legal research,” says the article, “the lawyer doesn’t have to charge for that time, which can save clients thousands of dollars and eliminate research costs.”

And then there’s Quantified’s bread and butter: communication improvement.

We use artificial intelligence to provide communication and leadership training to leaders, high performers, new hires, and middle managers alike. Rather than threatening their jobs, artificial intelligence is actually making them far more effective by providing objective feedback.

The emotion-free character of data-driven feedback makes it much easier for coaches, supervisors, and mentors to have productive conversations about improvement with leaders and other employees. And if AI can evaluate an entire group of high performers’ communication proficiency, the talent management team is empowered to put together knockout development strategies that leverage each team member’s strengths—and help drive significant impacts in their key areas for improvement, ultimately helping these high performers become more effective leaders. And even more powerful, the AI platform’s power to evaluate and return aggregate data on hundreds of employees at once empowers the human expert to create effective development plans tailored to a team’s specific needs.

Here again, the story isn’t about humans versus machines. It’s about how humans and machines can collaborate to achieve even more powerful outcomes and make critical services accessible to a wider range of people who need them. So next time you start to get sci-fi chills down your spine when you hear about AI and the future of work, see if you can shift your perspective, focusing instead on the powerful potential your new colleague will bring to the table.