Man Vs Machine – How AI is making the workplace more human

By Zachary Hadlee

Posted 7 months agoGROWTH

As though it’s not enough that we have to worry about deadly viruses circumnavigating the globe, we also have to worry about our jobs being stolen by C-3PO…..or do we?

Becoming human

The reality is that artificial intelligence will actually make our workplaces more human, not less. That doesn’t mean downloading our ‘human-ness’ into robots as some of our popular films suggest but working side by side with them (although not in a weird new best friend kind of way).  In a recent Tedx Talk, Pedro Uria-Recio highlighted the ways in which AI will actually reinforce the human touch within our offices, warehouses and factories. 

Although some machines are created to save businesses money, It’s important to remember that all of this new technology has also been created to make the lives of us fragile human beings easier.  Our technology is all about making things better, including the working lives of our staff and a better user experience for those all important customers.

When done right, this can provide a more personal and intimate service for customers and, a happier workday for employees – creating more free time for creativity and fun stuff.  Let’s take a look at how this is done: 

Factory reset

We’re not going to lie, the use of AI in automation means that some tasks which are traditionally conducted by humans, will now be performed by machines.  This doesn’t, however, mean that human employees will be replaced by beeping droids with quirky personalities (we’re looking at you, George Lucas)! 

Within our factories and warehouses, machines will play a bigger role in repetitive tasks which require little or no skill – which is actually a really good thing.  Why? Because this will leave employees free to concentrate on quantitative reasoning tasks which will lead to more fulfilled staff as well as reducing the number of production line injuries including RSI (repetitive strain injury). 

It’s estimated that, when it comes to ‘thinking’ tasks, these will continue to be covered by human beings 80% of the time – so there’s no need to ditch your CV just yet.    

Customer service

From chatbots to internet banking gizmos, there’s no doubt that the world of customer service is changing – for the better. Let’s face it, customer service can be tedious, frustrating and promote dark thoughts about customers on a bad day. 

As technology replaces some of the irksome and mundane aspects of customer service, professional and well trained customer service employees are able to hone and refine their skills.

For customers and colleagues, this will mean a much more reactive service as staff are no longer devoting time to very simple queries and transactions.  For example, a customer service representative in a bank is no longer answering calls about the bank’s transfer process (over and over again) and is therefore able to spend more time on complex customer queries – basically flexing his or her most important muscle – the brain!

An example of this is that, once upon a time, a bank cashier’s job would be to perform cash withdrawals for customers – an action which, these days, is performed by an ATM.  The cashier is, therefore, free to perform more complicated tasks and feel that bit more useful. 

A lesson in AI

Whilst it’s true that the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning is being harnessed in schools and colleges, teachers and professors don’t have to worry about their jobs anytime soon.  AI is currently being used to create interactive timetabling and study aids across the globe which has a number of benefits to humankind.

Firstly, these innovations teach children to be more independent in their studies and, secondly, teachers are able to direct their time and focus where it’s needed most.  For example, the teacher who is not physically handing out assignments and explaining the guidelines is likely to have more time to spend on a student who is having difficulty grasping a concept within the assignment. Another good example at the moment is the apparent need to teach children how to wash their hands!

Nice to meet you

The hospitality industry is another area in which, according to the doom-mongers, is set to resemble a scene in i-Robot.  In recent years, hotels and restaurants have taken advantage of machine learning in order to streamline their booking and customer service systems to save customers and staff time and effort.  While it’s true that some restaurants are now using robot waiters, this is, for the most part, a novelty and doesn’t herald an end to the human variety. 

Again, in these cases, AI is being used to perform straightforward tasks rather than the more human-centric ones.  Most hotels, bars and restaurants recognise that the majority of their guests enjoy interaction with human employees and have no plans to replace them.  As with other industries, taking away the mundane aspects of an employee’s job will result in a more engaged and contented workforce. 

Robot thieves

Regarding the concern that robots will ‘steal’ jobs, this is far from the truth. Surprisingly, we will still very much need humans in our workplaces.  In fact, an increase in technology will create not just more jobs but more skilled and interesting jobs which will increase job satisfaction. As well as the need for more people to actually design and build the AI systems, other roles may include: 

  • Interaction designers to liaise between personnel and machines
  • Simplicity consultants to streamline processes
  • Wellbeing coaches to improve health and harmony in the workplace
  • Analytic HR teams to analyse and identify areas where improvement – and more human staff is needed. 

In 2020, the working world is changing.  Following on from the ‘work smarter, not harder’ mantra, businesses are now recognising the benefits of healthy and happy staff – and the connection between this and production rates.  Job satisfaction is now a priority for most employers and this is where AI will shine.

By taking away tedious and time consuming tasks, employees are able to allow employees more creativity and input – making for a fully engaged team.  Not only does this greatly improve the day to day lives of employees but, the knock on effect is that customers are happier too as they receive a more involved – and more human – service. 

And in other news……….

In South Korea, the Hanwha Eagles Baseball team has found a novel way of making its stadium look full – by introducing robot fans.  The robots, which can cheer, chant and join in Mexican waves, are interactive and, fans at home can even transplant their own faces onto a robot fan!  

About the author Zachary Hadlee

Technology Journalist from London, currently based in Malaga. For 2 years now, I've been writing stories about how our internet works - and how it is changing. From artificial intelligence to UX things are happening today at a pace that can seem bewildering. I am the future-processing.com associate.

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