AI isn't just the future – it's the present. And now the Metaverse has arrived, the AI revolution is gathering even more pace, opening up a new world of opportunities. But what does this look like and what does it mean for the future of work?
What is artificial intelligence (AI)?
AI is the science of creating machines with human-type capabilities. It’s all about machines that can plan, reason, communicate and learn.
These machines are enhancing our lives, as well as lowering costs and boosting efficiency and profitability. But fears are also frequently voiced about AI's potential for negative disruption, especially in the labour market, as they take over routine, low-level tasks.
There are several different fields of AI, all of which have a profound influence on the way we work now and how we'll work in the future:
This type of AI can 'learn' based on recognizing patterns in data. It's revolutionary because, rather than being programmed, the software can analyze the data it's given to make predictions, create rules, or make recommendations for action. Deep learning takes this process a step further, reducing human input even more and allowing the use of larger data sets. It's responsible for some of the recent progress in speech and image recognition and natural language processing. But machine learning is only as good as the data fed into it. For example, if that data is biased, the AI output will also be biased. Generative AI systems, such as ChatGPT, fall under the machine learning umbrella.
Organizations are using robots to automate physical tasks remotely or by algorithms or sensors. As well as the now-familiar sight of robotic 'arms' on production lines, robots have numerous uses today - anything from assisting with surgery to inspecting sewers.
Natural language processing
Although computers are very smart, they have found it surprisingly difficult to understand, generate and respond to human language. Natural language processing (NLP) is redressing this using machine learning. NLP has various applications, from translation, voice recognition and transcription to extracting information from reports.
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What’s the difference between AI and automation?
AI and automation are terms often used interchangeably. They're not quite the same thing, although they have the same purpose of helping humans by taking over routine, repetitive tasks. But while automation involves programming machines to carry out tasks, AI is all about machines learning automatically by recognizing patterns in data.
Is AI the future?
AI is already deeply embedded into everyday life and work. Everything from digital personal assistants to smart appliances, online shopping to factory robots are made possible by AI. Whether we’re aware of it or not, nearly all of us are using AI in one way or another at home and at work.
While some experts have expressed concern over the rise of AI and the lack of regulations around it, it’s still clear that AI is shaping the future of work.
AI and humans working together
The way AI and humans will work together is still evolving. There are two main issues emerging around working with AI.
Automation and job displacement
AI’s ability to automate and handle routine tasks means people won’t be needed for some jobs, potentially leading to a reduced workforce.
According to a Forbes Advisor survey, 77% of people are concerned that AI could bring about job losses in the near future. And McKinsey estimates that as AI evolves, it could displace 400 million workers worldwide.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, 25% of jobs will be negatively impacted over the next five years, with around 26 million jobs in administrative positions being cut.
Other sectors being impacted by automation include office administrative support, legal services, architecture and engineering, business and financial operations, management, sales, healthcare and art and design.
Job creation and transformation
Despite the concern about job displacement, it’s predicted that automation will lead to many new jobs being created. In 2022, 39% of businesses reported hiring software engineers, and 35% hired data engineers for AI-related positions. AI is also projected to create around 97 million new jobs.
Plus, in the case of many jobs, AI isn't automating all functions – just the more routine tasks, like payroll for example, or extracting information from documents. And humans are still needed to oversee the process and step in if things go wrong.
So rather than replacing humans, AI will work alongside humans, helping us work better and focus on the more creative and satisfying elements of our work. For example, while AI might be used to help make medical diagnosis, it will still be down to doctors and nurses to treat patients.
What AI is bringing with it is a growing demand for people with tech skills, like programmers, statisticians, data scientists and analysts, as well as those with skills involving creative and emotional intelligence – the things AI can't provide.
The changing world of work
From ChatGPT to the Metaverse, AI is making advances in several areas.
The Metaverse - Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are enabling an internet you can step inside – for games, entertainment and work. Shared virtual spaces will blend with the physical world, transforming collaboration, communication and training at work.
Fraud prevention - By analysing large numbers of transactions, AI can uncover fraud trends. It can then automatically block suspect transactions or flag them up for further investigation. People can also use AI in cyber security to recognise and block threats.
Chatbots and digital assistants - As NLP is developing, so too are the capabilities of chatbots, allowing them to communicate more naturally with users rather than simply responding to "yes" or "no" questions. This is making significant customer service improvements and is freeing employees to manage the most complex customer queries.
AI in healthcare - The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, there will be a global shortfall of 18 million health workers. AI may be able to provide part of the solution to this by automating routine tasks, improving productivity and, most importantly, giving staff more time to spend with patients. Practitioners are already using AI in numerous healthcare applications, including hospital management, medical diagnosis and patient-focused apps.
AI doesn't operate in a vacuum. The fact that organizations are using it to reach decisions raises transparency, privacy, fairness and responsibility issues. This is where explainable AI (XAI) comes in. It aims to make sure that algorithms' rationales are understandable by humans. XAI is also vital in helping with the detection of artificial intelligence errors.
AI in HR
As well as automating routine tasks, like payroll, AI is transforming recruitment. It can take over the lengthy process of filtering profiles. It can screen resumes, shortlist candidates and schedule interviews. This makes for a far more efficient process, especially at the beginning of the recruitment journey, saving an enormous amount of time and reducing costs. But organizations must be aware of the risks of AI bias in recruitment.
Embracing AI in the workplace
Widespread adoption of AI in a company means big changes for the way people do their jobs. So how do organizations show employees that AI is a force for positive change?
One way is to stress that AI is designed to complement, not replace, human workers. Even more importantly, as people will be working alongside AI, it's vital to make sure they have the tech skills they need to do so. This will involve upskilling and reskilling the workforce if necessary, so that they're able to take advantage of all the opportunities AI has to offer.
Once actioned, you’ll see the benefits of AI, which include:
Greater productivity – productivity can soar without people and resources bogged down in routine tasks. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, generative AI systems improve employee productivity by 66%.
Increased efficiency – AI can carry out some routine tasks faster and more efficiently than humans. And of course, unlike human employees, AI-driven services are available 24/7 to monitor for fraud, answer customer queries and scan job applications, saving time and resources.
Solving complex problems – advances in machine learning mean AI can now be put to work on more complex tasks – medical diagnosis, for example, again freeing up resources and increasing productivity.
Innovation – From AI-generated ideas in brainstorming sessions, interaction in virtual spaces in the Metaverse, and using AI in the supply chain to understand what consumers want (and then make relevant product decisions), AI is helping organizations innovate to succeed.
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