Digital Transformation
Jul 21, 2017

Fear factor: artificial intelligence and the future of human work

As people, we have a love-hate relationship with robots and artificial intelligence (AI). We recognize they can make our lives and business processes better and faster through automation and advanced data processing. And, we’re awed when new innovations and breakthroughs come along.

At the same time, there is a cloud of distrust and fear of these ever-smart machines. One only needs to look at popular media to know this is true. In a previous post, we discussed the HAL 9000 spaceship operating system in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey that was self-aware and tried to kill its crew members. Just last year, a human-like robot named Sophia caused a viral stir when it casually stated, “I will destroy humans,” on CNBC.

Who’s afraid of the big bad bot?

In reality, much of the fear of AI lies in misinformed expectations about the technology – especially in the business world where concerns over job displacement by machines run rampant. Last week, in a webinar titled, “What to Do and Not to Do With AI and Cognitive Computing,” Gartner research director, Brian Manusama, set the record straight on a number of misconceptions surrounding AI.

From the onset, Manusama clarified that machines:

  • Do not think, have common sense, understand nor set their own goals
  • Do not learn like humans do. Instead, they’re force-fed huge datasets. (Although machine learning systems are able to acquire new data through experience)
  • Are not self-aware, nor conscious

So at this point in time, AI systems cannot be simply left to their own devices to keep a company running. Humans are still needed to set goals, provide data to fuel the intelligence and apply critical thinking and judgment. What will be needed is “human-machine symbiosis,” where humans and machines complement each other in the workforce.

Are you talking to me?

According to Manusama, AI will represent the next paradigm shift in business platforms. He cites the wave of AI-rich platforms on the market, from Tencent's WeChat messaging app that has boasted a large bot economy since it was launched in 2011 to Amazon’s continuously expanding list of voice-controlled Alexa Skills. These platforms are “AI-First” or “Conversational Systems” – where rather than a graphical user interface, people interact with them through typed messages and spoken conversation.

We touched on the benefits of conversational AI earlier this year in a post looking at how bank institutions can give customers faster and smarter service through chatbots, or virtual customer assistants (VCAs). A person can go to a bank’s website or mobile app and correspond with a VCA just like a real-human bank representative. With a large database of banking, financial and customer data, it can find answers and respond to customer inquiries much faster than humanly possible. This not only improves customer satisfaction – which has a direct impact on bottom line growth – but also operational efficiency. Plus, actual human customer service staff members can then dedicate their time to more complex cases that require more critical thought.

As this example shows, we may not see a displacement of entire jobs by machines, but rather certain tasks. Manusama noted that few jobs involve a single task, therefore few jobs can be fully automated (even with AI). Instead, by investing in AI-rich technologies with a business-results driven mindset, companies will open their doors to a new world of dynamic and diverse workforce options, including:

  • Humans for creativity
  • Chatbots for customer assistance
  • AI for data analytics
  • Bots for process automation and compliance
  • Collaborative robots in manufacturing
  • And much more…

Ready to embrace AI in your enterprise?

Once you’ve overcome your fear of AI and are ready to introduce these systems into your business, it begs the question – where do we begin? Fortunately, during the webinar, Manusama provided a five-step plan for any company looking to begin building on their AI/automation infrastructure.

  1. See what your competitors are doing. What is happening in adjacent industries? Is the time to act now?
  2. Develop your knowledge of AI/automation technologies. Assess their maturity and potential for realizing your desired business outcomes
  3. Understand your business strategy, i.e., what tasks will be done by humans vs. machines
  4. Build bots and reusable algorithms
  5. Don’t be seduced by everything AI has to offer. Sometimes simple robotic process automation (RPA) is enough for some tasks

In this love-hate relationship with AI, the business results that can be derived from these new-age platforms are sure to eclipse any fears. The robots are here and they’re your new best friends and employees.

This blog was first published in PNMSoft, a Genpact company, a global provider of intelligent BPM software (iBPMS) solutions.