A great deal of hype surrounds artificial intelligence and its practical uses, but what effect if any, will it have on the future of our workplaces?
Google CEO Sundar Prichai said “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It is more profound than … electricity or fire”.
Most of us use AI at the moment even if we don’t necessarily know about it. Ever wondered how Google Maps (Maps) can predict how heavy the traffic is on your commute? Or how Netflix suggests your next favourite TV series? It’s all to do with Artificial Intelligence, and it’s been around for a lot longer than you think.
Commercial airlines have used autopilot technology for decades, with an average flight only involving around seven minutes of human-steered flight (usually for take-off and landing).
Complex algorithms are being used in the workplace now too. Many employers have used or are currently using Slack, which stands for ‘searchable log of all conversation and knowledge’, a workplace messaging app which helps managers assess how quickly it takes their team to accomplish tasks, amongst other things.
AI is also being used in the workplace to detect anomalies in expense claims, to listen in on customer service calls and to help with a range of health and safety issues. Major companies such as Amazon are currently working on a patented wristband that tracks the hand movements of their workers to show them when and how they can work more efficiently.
Employee movements are also being tracked around office spaces to help understand how their workflow can be improved, how social they are and how to better organise their office layout.
Surveillance in the workplace is nothing new. Employees have long clocked in/out, and many employers regularly check what work their employees have done on their computers. The world of AI has completely opened up the amount of data available to employers and it’s not just profit margins that will benefit.
For example; AI can help employees identify what health and safety equipment to wear and where, reducing the risk of accidents. AI can benefit training and development, which some people find frustrating, especially when starting a new job, helping employees become efficient more quickly. It can also identify more accurately those employees who are deserving of a pay-rise or promotion.
Inevitably however, there are a number of drawbacks. Algorithms could be designed, unintentionally, with biases that make it harder for those who have a longer commute or who benefit the workplace in ways other than productivity.
It also, as yet, remains unclear whether employees will have access to their data should they require it. This could lead to a very messy situation in the case of a dismissal for instance and could potentially put a company off using it in the first place. As companies look for a better balance between privacy and productivity there will undoubtedly be a few changes to how Artificial Intelligence is used in the workplace. However, AI looks set to significantly change the way we all live and work, and its arrival is imminent if not already here. Whatever the future might bring in regard to AI, it has the potential to benefit us all.