Business & finance professor, digital lawyer, restaurant owner, board member & traveler.
An often-heard complaint is that our work isn’t challenging enough. Too many times we get bogged down with monotonous tasks, standardized processes, and repetitive work. This experience kills the creativity that we all have in us.
And this isn’t helping businesses either. Companies are desperate to find the entrepreneurial spirit that is necessary to remain relevant and competitive in a fast-changing digital age. But, it will remain “business as usual” as long as employees have to deal with the ever-increasing amount of “boring work.”
This is where artificial intelligence has the potential to become crucial.
AI has the ability to remove the less pleasant aspects of our working lives. Most of the AI products, tools and applications will automate the many standardized processes and procedures we must deal with in our modern work environment.
AI can “augment” our intelligence and help us become more efficient and productive.
The integration of AI into our business world would “free up” time to focus on the things that matter to us as individuals. It can make us more “creative” and fulfilled, which would obviously benefit the companies that “we work for.”
For me, this is the real advantage of AI, but it often appears to be overlooked.
Apparently, there is a “mismatch” between the expected potential benefits of AI and its development and implementation.
I have experience with two possible explanations:
It is interesting to see that there is a lot of talk about “artificial intelligence” but it isn’t really clear what people think about it.
Do they see AI as an opportunity (like I do)? Or, are they genuinely worried that they will lose their jobs to artificially intelligent machines?
In order to get some answers to these questions and a better understanding of the “slow implementation” of AI, I decided to do a quick survey of colleagues and students. Having the experience of working both at a “big company” and a “university” puts me in the unique position of understanding both the AI expectation of the current and future generation of workers.
What I found was both interesting and somewhat surprising:
Most people don’t seem to know what to think about AI.
Sure, everyone knows C3PO, Agent Smith, or Wall-E, but they struggle to understand how it will impact their current or future life and work. AI remains firmly in the realm of science fiction. It is distant and unrelated to their everyday concerns. They don’t know that forms of “narrow AI” are all around them (and improve every day). Think weather forecasts, Google Translate, etc.
Of course, there is a minority of respondents who are much more “AI literate” and able to discuss the technical details and the latest developments in the areas of machine learning and deep learning.
This group understands that artificial intelligence isn’t yet “intelligent” in any meaningful sense (e.g., capable of having a conversation or making complex choices) and that now isn’t the time to be worrying about C3PO “stealing” jobs or “taking over” the world. Instead, the focus should be on the more immediate and mundane task of making AI work in real-world settings.
Ironically, this is the point when everyone wants to know more about developments in AI. When it becomes tangible and real. After all, there is no denying that most of us find certain aspects of our jobs tedious and repetitive and anything (even a machine) that removes that has to a be a “good thing.”
Bigger companies also recognize the value of artificial intelligence in automating standardized tasks.
They may be motivated by cost, productivity and efficiency gains, or the increasing pressure of regulatory compliance rather than employee happiness (which could be an important by-product), but the result is the same. They also understand that to remain relevant and competitive; they often must engage in AI research, introduce AI-based products and services, and implement AI tools and applications.
In some sense, every company now needs to operate as a “tech company.” Technology affects both products and services, and organization and operations.
As such, it is difficult to imagine a company or industry that will not be affected by artificial intelligence.
It is, therefore, not surprising that bigger companies are increasingly making investments in AI and the digital transformation. Think about today’s world from the point of view of the top executives of a company. They operate in hyper-competitive, global markets. This explains why companies are more and more involved in “artificial intelligence” start-ups as investors or acquirers.
But, it is also no secret that, with a few exceptions, most of these initiatives fail.
Larger companies have tried to solve these problems by establishing “corporate venturing” programs, introducing “innovation labs,” or implementing a “lean start-up” approach. Nevertheless, developing and integrating AI into the workplace hasn’t been easy.
What is needed is a more innovative, agile and entrepreneurial workplace (at least if they want to survive the current technological revolution). And this is a neglected aspect of the AI discussion.
What we need to be doing is freeing up employees’ time to become more creative and entrepreneurial. And, ironically, this is where first-generation AI tools and applications (i.e., those that handle repetitive work) can play a vital role.
AI can provide the trigger to make employees think more like entrepreneurs. Even if AI technology could take only let’s say 50% of the standardized and repetitive tasks away from employees, this would have an enormous impact on the dynamics of the workplace.
But here we run into a “chicken and egg” problem. Let’s call it “deadlock.” On the one hand, we urgently need AI solutions to give employees the freedom and responsibility to be more creative and entrepreneurial. But, on the other hand, those same employees are required to help develop and eventually use these solutions.
So, it all boils down to the need for more AI literate employees that assist in creating the solutions that will allow them to be happier and more entrepreneurial.
I have seen many projects where the implementation of AI failed because of the misunderstandings about the topic. These projects would have been more successful if “employees” would have received a proper introduction and instruction to the technology.
I am therefore convinced that company staff must be encouraged to use training time on developments in digital technology, particularly artificial intelligence. It’s encouraging to see that this is already happening.
But there is more.
In order to prepare the next generation, schools and universities should make artificial intelligence a mandatory course/topic in all of their programs.
And here I don’t only refer to the technology of AI. For some classes, the fundamental technological principals will most likely be sufficient. I also think of the history, the philosophy, the economics, and ethics of artificial intelligence.
The more people are involved in the development, the better it is. We will be smarter about AI and be better prepared for its enormous opportunities. Of course, there will also be tremendous challenges ahead of us, particularly when “artificial intelligence” becomes smarter, more intelligent, and perhaps “aware.”
But first, AI will be the trigger towards more entrepreneurship and eventually a better, more productive and happier workplace.
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