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Can Artificial Intelligence Make Work Better?

The image above is from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It is the "eye" used by computer system HAL 9000 to monitor a space ship and crew bound for Jupiter.  Released in 1968, the movie raises questions about what might happen if (when?) the artificial intelligence technology humans develop as tools to help ourselves develop self-determination and a conscience of their own.  At a critical point in the movie, Astronaut Bowman asks HAL to "open the pod bay doors".  HAL responds, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."  HAL's in charge and Dave is on a desperate mission to save himself.

I saw 2001 the year it was released - 50 years ago.  As a young teenager, obsessed with all things science fiction, I was obsessed with the themes in this movie and the questions it raised about whether there was a limit to how far artificial intelligence technology should go.  In 2018, we have more questions than ever on this front.  There is more technology active in our daily lives than we would have imagined possible in 1968.  There is more debate than ever about how artificial intelligence will change the workplace for workers.

The MIT Technology Review compiled all the sources they could find from pundits opining about how that burgeoning tech is going to impact the workplace and workers.  Their conclusion? The opinions vary wildly as to what impact AI will have on jobs.  Some believe that new jobs will be created, others that the need for many existing jobs - or parts of jobs - could be completely eliminated.  Both of these perspectives are true, depending on the jobs and industries under consideration.  Strategy consulting firm McKinsey says 6/10 current occupations have more than 30% of activities that could be automated and that globally up to 14% of the current workforce may need to change their occupation by 2030.

We decided to do some exploration of our own.  In partnership with Coleman Parkes Research, we recently completed a global survey of nearly 3,000 employees across eight nations.  Our research focused on employee attitudes about their workplaces and their experiences at work.  We got back a lot of insights about  their managers, the technology used in their organizations, and their perspectives about how artificial intelligence is likely to impact their jobs.

Overall, we found that four out of five workers can see the potential benefits in AI to improve their workplace experience, but have concerns due to a lack of strategy and/or communication on the part of their leaders.

Here are some of the survey highlights:

  • Employees around the world will embrace AI to make work easier and fairer
    • Employees from all eight nations would welcome AI if it simplified or automated time-consuming internal processes (64 percent), helped better balance their workload (64 percent), increased fairness in subjective decisions (62 percent), or ensured managers made better choices affecting individual employees (57 percent).
    • Workers in Mexico are most enthusiastic about AI's benefits while Canadian and U.S. employees are also ready to welcome the technology. Four out of every five survey respondents from Mexico felt AI would simplify time-consuming processes (81 percent/Mexico, 65 percent/Canada, 62 percent/U.S.) and better balance their workload (84 percent/Mexico, 64 percent/U.S., 61 percent/Canada).
    • The two countries where employees are least likely to embrace AI: France and Germany.
  • Lack of communication leaves employees feeling apprehensive
    • According to the survey, three out of every five organizations (58 percent) internationally have yet to discuss the potential impact of AI on their workforce with employees. However, two-thirds of global employees (61 percent) say they'd feel more comfortable if employers were more transparent about what the future may hold.
    • The U.S. is the most secretive, with 67 percent of employees reporting they have no knowledge of their organization's plans for AI. Employees in Canada (66 percent) and the United Kingdom (62 percent) are similarly in the dark. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of employees in Mexico say their organization has openly discussed AI with employees.
    • Some U.S. industries are more transparent than others. Organizations in financial services/banking (38 percent), manufacturing (35 percent), and logistics/transportation (27 percent) are already discussing AI's future impact on the workforce with employees.
    • In Canada, a similar finding: 37 percent of financial services organizations, 33 percent of manufacturing industries, 27 percent of logistics/transportation organizations have discussed the topic openly.
  • Gen Z and Baby Boomers have very different opinions
    • Globally, 88 percent of Gen Z employees believe AI can improve their job in some manner. However, just 70 percent of Baby Boomers feel the same way.
    • In the U.S., Gen Z sees the biggest benefit of AI as its ability to create an overall fairer working environment (48 percent). Canadian Gen Z employees hope it will bring more fairness to performance reviews (50 percent).
    • Younger millennials, older millennials, and Gen X employees in both countries think the biggest benefit of AI for them is elimination of manual processes and time wasted on basic, administrative work, each of which detracts from more rewarding workplace activities.
    • When it comes to Baby Boomers working in the U.S., 38 percent either don't think or aren't sure how AI would improve their job.
  • Cautious optimism: Employees hope AI will improve, not replace, their role
    • While four out of five employees (82 percent) see opportunity for AI to improve their jobs, about a third (34 percent) expressed concern that AI could someday replace them altogether, including 42 percent of Gen Z employees.

Would you like to learn more and/or get involved in the conversation?

  • Register to attend the webinar “Employee Experience Falling Short of Expectations: The Perception Gap You Can't Afford to Ignore” with Kronos and SHRM on Wednesday, Feb 21.
  • Join SHRM and me for a tweetchat on Wednesday, February 21st at 3 pm.  Use #Nextchat to join the conversation.


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