Automation Designed to Humanize the Workplace

graphic display of AI artificial intelligence
Posted by Tisha Hulburd on Jul 31, 2020 2:59:13 PM
Tisha Hulburd

If the future of the American worker conjures up images of scarred landscapes dotting a smoldering planet menaced by machines, you’re not alone. While not quite of the movie-quality variety, various respected sources predict millions of workers will be displaced by automation of one kind or another, and many professions may be all but eliminated, akin to the type of far-reaching change brought about by the Industrial revolution.

A well-researched report published by McKinsey Global Institute predicted, “Artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics will make this shift as significant as the mechanization in prior generations of agriculture and manufacturing. While some jobs will be lost, and many others created, almost all will change.”

These changes will, unsurprisingly, disproportionately impact particular regions and demographics – also known as people.

McKinsey suggests there are trends that “could widen existing disparities between high-growth cities and struggling rural areas, and between high-wage workers and everyone else.”

So is the demise of the human worker in favor of the rise of the machine a foregone conclusion? Is there anything that can be done to prepare us?

What if we could humanize the way AI impacts human work?

What if we got really good at letting computers do the jobs they are best at doing and letting humans do the jobs they are best at doing? An equitable distribution of tasks.

Consider this scenario: the offloading of the countless mundane tasks that eat up your day, such as timesheet updates, for example. And my personal favorite, the copying of data from one location to a cell in a spreadsheet. Instead of using Microsoft Excel as our productivity hack, we could leverage AI (no offense, Microsoft Excel).

It would require companies to rethink the way they approach designing the automation of tasks, the adoption of new technologies, they would start with the goal of improving productivity, and not just replacing workers to reduce costs. AI implementations would target repetitive low value tasks, redirecting valuable employee time and skillset into higher value activities.

Besides the value this approach places on the social utility of community, there are good business reasons to do this, and many business executives have bought in.

The results may already be in.

A study published by PwC illustrates the potential: In their own roles, business executives see tremendous potential for AI to alleviate repetitive, menial tasks such as paperwork (82%), scheduling (79%), and timesheets (78%). In fact, 78% agree it will free all employees from such tasks at all levels across their organizations. Already, 34% of business execs say that the extra time freed up from using digital assistants allows them to focus on deep thinking and creating.

Reducing the volume of mundane tasks could make employees happier, which studies show measurably increases productivity. Another potential win for the human model.

Another way of looking at a winning implementation of AI is to utilize AI in areas where we know it to be better than humans: complex calculations and pattern recognition, for example (no offense, humans). And while machines may excel at number crunching, most business executives still believe humans bring skill to the table. According to PwC, 70% agree that “AI has the potential to enable humans to concentrate on meaningful work – motivating teams, understanding rich social contexts, acting with empathy and diplomacy, and influencing others to move toward their vision—while machines automate the rest.”

The data will give us the answer.

Good use-cases and AI implementations are only part of the solution. Machines and AI will become more ingrained in the American workplace, thereby redefining and reshaping the future of work, “with implications for individuals and incomes, the fortunes of local communities, and the footprint of companies and industries.” Since millions of Americans will need retraining to meet this new workplace demand, “responding to a transition of this magnitude will require collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including federal, state, and local governments; businesses; community leaders and residents; philanthropic organizations; educational institutions; and unions and professional societies.

Good use of data can help these community stakeholders prepare their workforce for these changes. In a report analyzing the future of work, The National League of Cities suggests that “understanding the gap between jobs with high and low automatability can create more opportunity and help city leaders formulate their own strategic plans for the future.” In fact, local governments can benefit from the AI revolution in other ways, too. AI technologies such as robotics and natural language processing (NLP) can automate city tasks that currently require myriad manual processes, such as processing of FOIA requests and permits. CityFront’s mobile app can deliver this technology rapidly, improving citizen engagement with local government.

The future of AI isn’t coming, it’s long been here. There are various opinions about to what extent AI implementations will grow, but companies can humanize AI implementations through a variety of applications intended to reduce repetitive tasks, allowing people to concentrate on tasks they are better suited for, including those that require understanding of emotional and social contexts.

About CityFront Innovations: About CityFront Innovations: CityFront partners with cities, municipalities and community organizations to deliver the first smart city integration platform, powering an artificially intelligent (AI) citizen engagement mobile app that enables citizens to engage with the city intuitively and intelligently. To learn more, contact us.

Topics: smart technology, smart cities, natural language processing