The growing enthusiasm for Artificial Intelligence (AI) is unquestionable and well documented. CEOs marvel at the potential of AI and deep learning to perform cognitive functions such as problem solving and reasoning – functions previously undertaken only by people.
But along with the AI hoopla are visions of millions of workers being displaced and demeaned by their own irrelevance and obsolescence. However a growing body of experience and research is pointing to another reality, one in which AI makes us better at being human. In doing so, AI will drive and amplify human potential, not destroy it.
AI making us ‘better at being human’
A great example of this optimistic view of AI is given in medical research. Today the power of the Internet makes it possible for cancer researchers in Boston to access and translate research papers from cohorts around the world. Realistically though, how many of these dense, data-rich papers can a researcher read? Enter AI platforms with the ability to ‘read’ these papers hundreds of times faster than any human. The platforms then cull out trends, patterns, and other vital insights a single researcher could never find alone. This makes the researchers measurably more knowledgeable, and therefore far better at their roles. In other words, their human potential is greatly enhanced, not replaced or obsoleted.
Consider the application of AI to the challenge of retaining talented employees. Traditional employee mobility and succession planning has been a linear, top-down process, with the boss evaluating employees during performance reviews. AI changes this dramatically to the benefit of individual workers. AI platforms leverage data from a very wide variety of sources beyond employee records. This data can include past performance in other roles, Myers-Briggs and other test indicators, job openings, projections by the AI platform of job openings, peer feedback or ‘raves’, and other social media data.
The AI platform can then cross-reference employee profiles with company job openings anywhere in the organization to match employees to jobs they may not even know were open. It can then advise employees on training and experiential criteria that can better qualify them for advanced positions. In doing so AI effectively takes the ‘boss’ out of the career path equation, putting the employee in charge – a clear plus for human potential.
It is a small then wonder that organizations are aggressively ramping up AI spending. One recent major study predicts that spending on AI and cognitive systems will grow from $19 billion this year to $52 billion in just three years. The study urges:
Every industry and every organization should be evaluating AI to see how it will affect their business processes and go-to-market efficiencies.
Good AI news for workers
One key finding in another large study, by McKinsey, is the strong suggestion that AI’s biggest effect on the workforce could be changes in the work that people do, particularly ever-greater collaboration between machines and people – not overall reductions in the workforce. And more directly, McKinsey maintains that:
Despite reasonable concerns about AI being used to automate existing work, respondents tend to believe that AI will have only a minor effect on overall company head count in the coming years.
Thus rather than replacing workers wholesale and causing major employment disruptions, AI is far more likely to “inject more pride and dignity into work focused on enhancing our communities”, as suggested by author and former president of Google China, Kai-Fu-Lee. But without advanced systems and platforms that workers other than data scientists can access and use, the greatest benefit of AI – maximizing human potential – will not be realized.
Making AI user-friendly
Grimco Canada is a leading wholesale sign manufacturer and distributor, with more than 50 locations across Canada and the US. Grimco is also a pioneer in the use of AI platforms designed to help workers become more efficient by reducing menial tasks, while at the same time speeding time-to-market for its products. As Michael Bollinger, President of Grimco Canada says:
In our business it is all about speed and agility. Being able to have data and AI allows us to get ahead of where everyone else is.
This early adopter of an AI platform has leveraged AI to take a look at its vast inventories, wherever they may be located, and find needed products far more quickly. Bollinger says this allows Grimco to make better and quicker decisions for its customers:
We can quickly determine if we have a product in stock in Toronto, or if we have product ‘z’ in stock in Montreal, for example. We can pull out this information quickly and speed our response times to customers.
Realize the human potential
Research and early adopter experiences point clearly to a ‘glass half-full’ outlook for AI. As AI platforms take over many of the mundane, uninteresting and repetitive tasks in many jobs, workers can be retrained to leverage the great power of information and knowledge on-demand to address pressing work environment problems. They can better tap into their own stores of imagination and creativity. They will become better at being human.