How will AI will affect the workplace?


The 19th century industrial revolution led to a series of riots in England as a result of automation in the textile industry. Fears that machines were taking away jobs and changing the way people lived were a catalyst for anarchy at the time.

Technological improvements and fear seem to go hand in hand. By biological design we tend to be resistant to change.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where a real life sci-fi thriller is being blown out of proportion by the media – promoting artificial intelligence, while instilling curiosity and fear in the general population.

Whether a sci-fi movie or a book written by James Patterson, scenarios of artificially intelligent machines taking over the world seem to be a hot topic. Whether there is truth to that or not, artificial intelligence (AI) will affect the workplace.

According to Facebook Vice President, David Marcus, there are now more than 100,000 chatbots on the Facebook Messenger platform, up from 33,000 in 2016.

Whether you have realised it or not, chances are you have already interacted with artificial intelligence. If you have searched a query on Google – AI has been in the background, crawling the internet for the most relevant answers to provide. Your email account knowing which email to place into the spam folder – is the handywork of AI.

Only recently has the rise of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, made AI a trending topic throughout the world.

It isn’t a new concept for technology to be impacting our workplace and potentially our job titles. The millennials of today are often working in positions that did not exist in their parent’s era – think UI/UX, App Development, Social Media Marketing etc.

Needless to say, AI will bring about another sweep of changes to the job market for future and current job seekers. Without giving into fear, lets look at the facts on how AI will affect the workplace.

1. AI (initially) will create more jobs than it displaces.

A study of 1,000 companies revealed that AI systems created new jobs in 80% of the organizations they were implemented in. In fact, a 2017 Gartner report predicts that AI will create 500,000 more jobs than it will displace over the next three years, providing an increase in employment opportunities for medium-to high-skilled workers.

As with every new technology, adaptation and adoption will take place periodically. Jobs and companies will be created as a result of organisations implementing AI into their workplace. New software requires training, policy improvements and people to oversee it all.

2. Regardless of Skill – there will be Displacement

As stated above – typically, the jobs created will be in the middle-high skilled work categories. Displacement, however, will occur across all skill levels. We have already seen automation occur in warehouses across the country, particularly in the automobile industry. Lower skilled workers losing their jobs as a result of a technological improvement is typically the image that first comes to mind.

That is not necessarily the case with AI. AI will definitely improve automating mundane and repetitive tasks, potentially eliminating positions associated with lower skilled workers.

However, AI’s true benefit is the ability to interpret patterns at an incredible speed – patterns often associated with high skilled data analysis and higher skilled workers. Jobs that involve number crunching and understanding the data derived from those numbers are at risk of also being automated.

3. Advanced Data Decision Making

Although jobs will be displaced, advanced profit-making decisions will be able to be made from an improvement in pattern and algorithmic understanding. Now irrespective of human error, machines will also be able to interpret the data faster, more effectively and drive better decision-making abilities for organisations as a whole.

This leads to improved profitability and sustainability – potentially leading to job creation and increased worker output.

4. AI will compliment human skills

A major component of the impact AI will have will be the adaptation of those humans working alongside the technology. With better data comes better understanding of your customers and markets - improving marketing and product decisions. AI allows the human component to make innovative, creative driven decisions faster and more effectively than before.

5. Coding as a New Language.

We have already seen it begun. Some schools are teaching coding as though it is a second language. Which is what it will become, if it hasn’t already. As machine interactions become more common, learning how to understand their language will be necessary to adapt to the growing change.

The maintenance, reparation and auditing of AI will be a significant component of people’s jobs in the future. All which point to the code that is written and the people doing the writing.

6. Improved focus on Social Skills

“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvellous” – Bill Moyers.

Routine and repetitive time-consuming tasks reduce the opportunity for creativity. With automated procedures in place, more focus can be placed on social intelligence – the one area that AI can’t outperform humanity in.

You cannot teach creativity or empathy. Jobs that require a customer centric focus will never be automated – healthcare, tourism, entertainment etc.

A job market that focuses on empathy and social skills as opposed to hard skilled data may become the norm of the latter half of the 21st century.

For your organisation, AI may work alongside customer facing roles to improve quick access to information, making personalization specific to the individual customer simple and accurate.

7. Hacking and Cybersecurity

Like a house of cards, the one thing that could bring AI to its knees and the workplace back to the stone age (not literally) is a criminal activity – hacking.

“91% of cybersecurity professionals are concerned about hackers using AI against companies in cyberattacks.” Webroot, 2017.

With malware software already dependant on AI technology, fears of AI being counter used to attack personal data and sensitive information is a very real threat to the future of AI’s adoption into the workplace.

AI raises questions about human’s role in the workplace and what our purpose will become. Training people to keep up with the change will be critical to staying relevant in the job market. Whether governments will be required to implement a universal welfare system or not is purely speculation at this time.

One thing we do know is that AI is here to stay, it’s impacts will be felt in the workplace, the only question is to what extent?