AI and the Workforce: Augmenting Human Skill, Not Replacing It

Despite the concerns of some knowledge workers, AI-based cognitive solutions will most likely offload mundane tasks while improving higher-level job functions.

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IBM and IDG Content

There’s no denying that the general perception of artificial intelligence (AI) is often tinged with concern, if not outright fear. After all, even if sci-fi scenarios of robotic overlords are a stretch, AI-based solutions are sure to displace thousands of knowledge-based employees, right?

Not so fast. As cognitive technologies that leverage AI have entered the market, their main impact has been augmenting existing job functions, not eliminating workers. In fact, information systems that can reason, learn, and interact naturally with people will likely eliminate many mundane tasks, help employees do their jobs better and faster, and free up time for more interesting tasks.

Indeed, most employers buy into an “augment-not-replace” approach to AI. In an IBM survey of 6,000+ business leaders worldwide, nearly 60% cited improvements in customer satisfaction as a top goal for investing in cognitive technologies. Furthermore, almost half identified six other top goals, ranging from customer retention to increased revenue growth.

Lagging well behind these diverse business benefits was the potential for cognitive technologies to help companies reduce headcount, an outcome anticipated by about one-quarter of those surveyed. Virtually the same percentage said these technologies would allow them to redeploy employees, presumably in roles where AI-based technologies can’t match human intelligence and interactions.

Subhead: On Balance, A Positive Impact

“Any technology can be applied poorly,” says Brian Goehring, AI/Cognitive lead at the IBM Institute for Business Value. “But our clients tell us that AI as a trend and strategy is more focused on top-line growth rather than cost reduction.”

For most employees, cognitive technologies will likely enable them to move into new, possibly more rewarding roles, or to get AI-driven assistance in their existing jobs. In other words, most employees – along with their employers – are likely to experience positive effects from cognitive technology deployments.

Here’s one example. As discussed in an earlier post, IBM researchers identified 13 functional areas that could benefit from cognitive technology augmentation, including customer service.

How can cognitive technology improve customer satisfaction? Start by sorting through vast amounts of information to better identify customer attitudes, needs, and desires. Then feed these insights back to employees to help anticipate and resolve customer issues more rapidly and effectively.

As an example of this potential, an IBM report describes a North American communications provider using natural language processing and machine learning to help identify the best answers to customer queries. After implementing these technologies, the company has achieved a 90% success rate in customer self-service, avoiding the need to escalate to other customer care channels.

At the end of the day, the adoption of cognitive technologies will more often prove a benefit than a threat to employees. But many workers may not see the benefit – so CIOs and IT professionals must take the time to position these solutions as job enhancers, rather than job reducers.

Click here to learn more about IBM’s cognitive computing solutions and thought leadership.