When you ask the layperson about examples of artificial intelligence (AI), the most common responses fall in line with rogue defense control systems (think WarGames with Matthew Broderick) or cybernetic assassins (Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Terminator movies). When you ask people about artificial intelligence in the workplace, the immediate response used to involve robots or machines taking away jobs; now computer programs are blamed for doing the same. Are people’s perceptions of AI accurate? Can AI be a positive addition to the workplace? Read on to learn more about AI and its potential when it comes to company culture.
What Is AI, Anyway?
AI is an area of computer science where intelligent machines are created to work and react like humans. As we reference it for our purposes, AI is the intelligence developed by computers or other machinery that use machine learning and algorithms to establish behavioral patterns. Traditionally, machines have only been as intelligent as we make them. We build or program them to perform specific tasks, whether simple or complex, and that’s all they’re capable of doing.
AI is a machine or system that is capable of learning and changing its behavior beyond the initial design—possibly even the ability to grow or learn beyond anything the designer had in mind.
What AI Isn’t
People often confuse AI with automation, especially in the context of the workplace. While AI can overlap with automation, they are not the same thing. Automation is simply coming up with a way to perform a repeatable task more efficiently. For example, a company introduces a robotic assembly line in place of humans, or you automate manual reporting through a series of scripts. While this can help get things done in the office and save time, it’s still just automation. That machine or that program will only work with the specific tasks it was built for and will not adapt to circumstance or be able to react to a new situation.
Why There’s Concern Over AI in the Workplace
The Disney movie Wall-E is a great example of how and why there is anxiety about AI. Wall-E is a sentient robot created to collect and compact trash. Throughout his adventures, the viewer is presented with a future where there is nothing for humans to do. Machines handle all tasks, whether they’re menial or complex.
A scenario like this can cause concern—what will we do if there aren’t any jobs left? Conversations around topics such as Universal Living Wage are already in the works. This would enable all citizens to have an income that would be sufficient to sustain them, even if work was not available for everyone. For centuries, the human race has adapted to new advancements and found ways to thrive. Let’s explore some of the ways we can use AI to our advantage.
How We Already Use AI
Many of us commute to and from work every day. Whether your drive is short or long, accidents and traffic jams can mean more time spent in your car and less time spent where you need to be. If you have the option to take a different route home and avoid an unexpected jam, you can potentially save time and prevent unnecessary stress. Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, can help you find the best route that day using AI. With the help of data from its users, Waze lets you know where traffic jams are, where speeds are slower than usual, and whether or not there are other obstacles that may get in your way. If an accident occurs when you’re already on your way to work, Waze will reroute you without having to be told. On top of that, it evaluates your patterns of travel based on time of day and destination. After driving to and from work day after day, you can rely on Waze to automatically plan a route because it has learned one of your various patterns based on your behaviors. This is just one simple way many of us take advantage of AI to facilitate our day-to-day.
Translating Artificial Intelligence into a Workplace Advantage
To leverage AI into tools that can improve a workplace, you have to take a two-factor approach: There should be a repeatable process (akin to something you would automate) and a decision required. In order for a product or service to be useful, it has to solve a problem.
Whether you work in law enforcement, IT, nursing, retail, or just about anything else that requires some degree of computer interaction or paperwork, a chunk of your day or week is likely devoted to administrative tasks. How much more effective could you be if you had ways to automate documentation and reporting? Is there a real benefit to you or a human, in particular being the one to perform that administrative work? Virtually everyone already uses the most basic form of documenting and reporting tools. Your spell-checker and auto-complete applets have the capability to learn, anticipate, and predict what you intend on writing in text messages, emails, and other documents. Think of the application when trying to design pivot tables, chart data, or map out architecture with a robotic assist to help you auto-complete your design. Sure, every now and again AI may not get it right, but compared to the time it takes for Excel formulae and functions to auto-complete, you’ll save on the many tasks as it predicts and learns. Most people find AI more help than a hindrance.
What about data analysis? There are software tools on the market that can take data from a myriad of sources and then help you make business decisions. Applications from companies such as Information Builders note sales trends based on seasonality, weather, social media mentions, and negative social media mentions of competitors. By that aggregation, these applications can drive pricing and marketing decisions.
When we look at the effects of AI on corporate culture, think back to the last time you were on the job hunt. Did you ever have to complete surveys that asked you similar questions over and over? The point is for a company to easily analyze those answers and find a good fit for their company with the help of a reliable survey. Some companies want people that are more creative and free. Others look for more rigidity. Regardless of what philosophy makes that company successful, these systems have been remarkably good at predicting if the applicant will be a positive fit for that employer.
Switching gears, tons of studies link physical activity to productivity at and outside of work. There are hundreds of gadgets that can help you track exercise, from heart rate to calorie burn and running pace. There are even trackers that analyze how your pace matches with the pace of songs from your music playlist and then adapts those patterns accordingly to maximize your training. Now imagine if Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or any other virtual assistant could analyze how productive you were in your workday relative to the temperature and lighting in the room, the music on your playlist, and other environmental factors, and then adjust these to help you reach peak performance and sustainability. In short, AI can improve company culture and productivity both on an individual and group basis.
AI to Further Innovation and Improve Company Culture
With all these examples of AI that free you from mundane tasks and eliminate the obstacles of administrative wastefulness, you and your colleagues can better engage in innovation, collaboration, and imaginative pursuits. Meetings can become a moment to look forward to, when thought of as an opportunity to engage in new ideas with your coworkers, rather than the added pressure of being taken away from mundane tasks that demand your time. Your company can cultivate a culture where value is placed on ideas rather than time spent. These are some of the goals you can strive for with proper application of AI in the workplace.
Establishing and maintaining a healthy, sound company culture is more than just important—it’s vital for company success. In the face of AI, company culture can take a hit. While increased automation can leave more time for collaboration, it can also reduce our need for human interaction. Make an effort to bring your team together and promote collaboration with events and shared meals. Company outings or catered lunches, for instance, are great opportunities to help your company cultivate innovation and culture.
Let’s be clear: AI will not completely replace human judgment anytime soon, but these systems can not only help you make better decisions, but also have better-supported decisions. You’ll even be able to run various what-if scenarios and test cases much easier if the system is able to properly learn patterns of behavior, and adapt. You can use predictive analytics and get a sense for how market forces are more likely to respond, and then gauge the risk/reward of various scenarios and campaigns for your business. You can fill your company with the people that are the right fit for the rest of your team, ensuring a more harmonious working experience. We have the ability to take the tools that the inhuman AI provides for us, allowing us greater ability to harness our imagination and creativity, two qualities that make us more human.