Last week 50 souls gathered for the AI Directors Forum: AI and Employee Engagement, an event focused on the impact and the ethics of AI on employees.
AI and what we can't do today
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has focused our attention on task based activity; the low hanging fruit of mundane, repetitive, and easy to define tasks. Another way of defining it is the combination of structured input data and structured processes, thus taking the robot out of the human.
The arrival of machine learning techniques (referred to generically and inaccurately for the purists as "AI") opened the door to more complex scenarios, where the tasks were not easily defined and the input data was far from structured. From natural language recognition to the written word, machine learning is being applied to help augment what people do today.
Machine Learning (ML) is not the creation of a super-intelligent computer, but rather very focused on improving a single specific need. Organisations today applying machine learning actually have dozens (or in one example hundreds) of algorithms in place, each focused on solving a specific problem need.
AI will continue to augment our roles, allowing us to do the things we can't do today, but still with people in the loop. Inevitably roles will change as they have for hundreds of years, from farmers to secretaries and (likely in the near future) truck drivers, each has reduced in number as technology has advanced, replacing their current role. Generations move on to other new roles, to the point where today we are actually enjoying high rates of employment.
Employees are changing
Not only companies, but employees themselves historically saw themselves as resources. In an era of one-size-fits-all sheep dipping, the jobs of robots were previously given to people! The market is evolving and both companies and employees alike are seeing themselves as more than just a resource but rather an individual able to provide tailored solutions.
Increasingly this is being achieved by providing the technology to employees to enhance their job.
Engagement is about the organisation, Experience is about the job
According to Gallup only 13% of people globally enjoy going to work!
Providing employees with new technologies to aid them in their role is now expected, and absence of appropriate technology support would cause employees to disengage further if the 13% is to be belived.
If engagement is about the organisation, then experience is clearly about the job being done. The new challenge created by increased automation is how do employees gain the experience needed to advance if the simple jobs are being done by robots. No one is yet answering this question, though all acknowledge it is something to wrestle with.
As a final thought, the ethics of the situation surfaced many times during the event. It can perhaps be best summarised by Jeff Goldblums character in Jurassic Park when he stated, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should."
In essence, the debate emerging for automation, is whether the pace of technological change now running away from the ethics of the situation? Taking this to a more personal level as everyone is getting comfortable with the idea that AI augments what is being done today, how would the same employees feel if it was the AI giving them the instructions, what would be the reaction of employees then?
Overall, the conference was thought provoking, interesting and enlightening and worth checking in on #aidirectorsforum
The team at Wzard Innovation are available design and moderate a variety of events or workshop formats, helping organisations to get started with Innovation, AI and Automation. Get in touch to learn more.