Demystifying Artificial Intelligence

December 3, 2018

by Nancy Boas

Ai Photo

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

– Stephen Hawking, interviewed by the BBC, December 2014

Despite the dire warnings from some of humanity’s brightest minds, every startup worth its VC funding seems to have a checkmark for Artificial Intelligence (AI). If we were to judge by the number of times AI appears in pitches and sales decks, one would conclude the world is already run by AI. From language apps that remember you have issues with pronouns, to the software that powers driverless cars, we seem to be suddenly surrounded by “thinking” machines, silently preparing to take over our jobs and eventually, everything, bringing about the doom predicted by professor Hawking four years ago.

The reality is different. Software that remembers or helps your car navigate does not necessarily run on AI, and after all, automation has been central to software code for decades. For the next three weeks, we’re publishing a series of articles to enlighten our readers on AI and its applications at work, and specifically, how this amazing technology is finally delivering on its decades-old promise: to make our lives better by taking over repetitive tasks which are uninteresting for humans and save time so people can focus on those which give them meaning.

In this article, we bring AI from the realm of the hyperbole to that of the real and tangible, so that our readers can understand how it can enrich the workplace and create more opportunity for all.

Mechanical machines: the feared steel monsters that enabled unprecedented progress

The advent of machines during the Industrial Revolution, which automated many tasks previously done by people, did not create a massive unemployment crisis. Quite the contrary, machines created more jobs, a trend that has continued for two centuries, and took over repetitive, dangerous and de-humanizing work previously completed by people. In a similar way, fears about AI taking over jobs to eventually render us all obsolete are based on the faulty premise that the nature of work is static and unevolving.

Automation back then coincided with a new generation of workers who were better educated than their ancestors. In an interesting article on the lasting effects of the Industrial Revolution, The Future of Working identifies more efficient production, cheaper prices, major increases in job opportunities, spectacular motivation, and an improved quality of life. All of these together resulted in unparalleled progress which the world had never seen before. Paradoxically, the steel monsters that many saw as de-humanizing work eventually made it more human.

Virtual machines: a new era of progress at work

Work itself is undergoing a huge transformation, and AI is there to enable it, not to drive it. As we wrote a few weeks ago in our article The Future of Work is Flexible, AI is changing the nature of work by augmenting what people can do, so that time-consuming tasks such as data entry, coordinating or scheduling can be done by a machine, freeing people to do work that stimulates thinking and provides meaning. This AI revolution in the workplace is taking place alongside a human revolution: millennials, now 35% of the workforce according to the Pew Research Center, demand work with meaning, and want to feel in control of their schedules.

The schedule control that millennials crave from their employers can be fully realized using AI. Specifically, AI surfaces complex relationships between various data sets so companies can accurately forecast their demand. With an accurate forecast, employers can then solicit and incorporate employee preferences and determine the optimal schedule across hundreds of thousands of potential outcomes. While optimization at this scale is impossible for humans, an AI-powered platform can complete this task in seconds.

In this sense, AI is not only augmenting what managers can do, it is creating opportunity for everybody and setting us on path similar to the one that occurred during the Industrial Revolution.

Applying AI wisely

Professor Stephen Hawking was ultimately an optimist, and his doom statements on AI were matched by practical statements on how to make AI work for us. In 2017 during  a speech at the Web Summit in Lisbon shortly before his death, he said that “Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus not only on making our AI better and more successful but also on the benefit of humanity.”

Like all technology that affects work, companies need to focus on applying them to augment what their people can do so that technology works for employees and not the other way around. The AI wave which  is transforming the workplace is no different: companies need to understand it and determine which parts of it they can apply to enhance their business, their people and their communities.

Three points to remember:

  • Artificial Intelligence can be confusing and intimidating. Understanding how AI can augment rather than replace people is key to maximizing its impact on your business
  • Historically, Massive automation in the workplace created by  machines has created unprecedented job opportunities
  • Work is undergoing a transformation driven by millennials with different priorities than previous generations.  AI enables companies to provide employees with an unprecedented level of schedule flexibility.

See how Legion’s AI-powered labor platform can help you easily meet the demands of your customers, employees and businesses.

Photo under license of Shutterstock.