Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Saturday, June 6, 2020
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AI-Employee Pairing: A Marriage Made in Workforce Heaven? 

AI-phobia, particularly the fear that intelligent machines will destroy jobs, is firmly rooted in a portion of the general public. By contrast, most business leaders are eager to embrace AI-related technologies and anticipate multiple positive impacts from them.

A new survey from Pegasystems , an RPA and customer engagement software vendor, reports that the business community is generally confident that AI, rather than killing jobs, will change the workplace for the better, augmenting the skills and decision making capabilities of workers while offloading tedious, repetitive tasks and even counteracting bias.

But the survey doesn’t paint a totally rosy picture for workers who prefer permanent, full-time employment. Unrelated to the emergence of AI, many business leaders expect continued expansion of the “gig economy,” in which freelancers are hired for specific projects on an as-needed basis. Studies estimate the independent workforce comprises nearly a third of American and European employees, and, according to the survey, this number is reach 46 percent within 10 years. It’s expected to spread even to large corporations, reducing the number of employees at Fortune 500 companies from the current average of 53,000 to 24,000 by 2030, according to the survey.

The trend toward gig employment isn’t so much caused by AI as it is something that AI and RPA will be molded to support as more freelancers enter the workforce. Pegasystems Ying Chen, head of product marketing, platform technologies, told EnterpriseTech that “robots and AI technologies will be sophisticated enough so that they can short circuit the training time required (by gig workers) and be able to make employees who are remote to be more autonomous.”

AI may also ameliorate customer service disruption caused by the employment of temporary workers. “This shift toward temporary staff will make it harder to cultivate an ongoing culture of customer centricity, according to eight out of 10 respondents (81 percent),” said Pegasystems. “This will make it all the more important to pair humans with AI to ensure consistent quality service. For example, nine out of 10 will use analytics to ensure customers receive the same level of personalization from one worker to another.”

“Organizations will be able to provide all customer-facing employees guided intelligence so that service levels are consistent no matter who is serving the customer,” Chen said.

The thrust of the survey’s findings is that organizations believe that pairing humans alongside intelligent machines will create a more effective, engaged and meritocratic workforce. Pegasystems surveyed 845 senior executives globally across industry sectors, including financial services, insurance, manufacturing, retail, telecommunications and media, and the public sector.

Among this group is a widespread belief that human-AI paring will become so ubiquitous that seven of 10 respondents believe the term ‘workforce’ will evolve to encapsulate both humans and intelligent machines together. Organizations also expect AI-augmented employees to generate tangible business returns such as more efficiency (73 percent agree) and better customer service (62 percent).

Other key findings:

  • Eight out of 10 (78 percent) believe AI and robotic automation will allow staff to make more informed decisions, leading to a flattening of traditional management hierarchies.
  • In the customer service arena, AI will help suggest next-best actions to contact center agents within the next five years, according to 77 percent of respondents.

However, while 88 percent are comfortable working together with machines, they are less enthusiastic about being managed by one: four out of five (79 percent) say they would not be comfortable with an AI-powered boss.

AI proliferation is primarily being driven by the emergence of new functionality “coming to the point of interaction,” such as voice commands via natural language processing within chatbots and virtual assistants, Chen said, adding that this, in turn, has fostered fears of AI as a job killer.

“RPA is not new, macro-automation on the desktop and back office has been around for 20-plus years,” Chen said. “But there’s more fear (of AI) because people are waking up to fact that robots can be used in more situations now – in part because of conversational user interfaces.”

This makes it incumbent on management to be “transparent” about its AI strategy and objectives, Chen said. “That’s a key goal, the survey shows humans want to stay in control. Four out of five respondents said they are not comfortable with an intelligent machine managing them, but they are comfortable with a machine working alongside of them.”

Interestingly, the survey group anticipates AI will promote more workplace meritocracy and also combat bias.

“As organizations increasingly come under scrutiny on equal pay for equal work issues, the study found the use of unbiased intelligent machines to analyze employee effectiveness could be the key to leveling the playing field,” stated Pegasystems, to wit: 74 percent of respondents think that within 10 years, AI will become standard practice for evaluating employee performance, while 72 percent predict it will be commonly used to set appropriate rewards and compensation.

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