pepper the robot

We’re on the brink of a new industrial revolution. The plummeting cost of computing power coupled with the rising commodification of machine learning is ushering in a new age of artificial intelligence (AI) in business. 

Contrary to the image many have of a world populated by anthropomorphous robots, however, the future of workplace AI will be less cyborg and even more human than it is today. That’s because the reality of technology is finally catching up to its promise.

Rise of the Machines

While digital technologies have long excelled at performing repetitive and routine tasks, until now they have barely made a dent in activities involving creativity and intuition. The sheer volume of data production has both paved the way for machine learning and made it essential. 

Even today, in its infancy, AI is saving some companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually simply by identifying inefficiencies. Other organizations are using machine learning to increase sales, improve hiring and diversity, and decrease employee turnover. 

What’s great about machine learning is that it develops its own algorithms based on ongoing sophisticated analysis of big data, which, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), is expected to grow to 44 zettabytes by 2020

One of the many benefits of machine learning is that it has the potential to eliminate the human propensity to mistake correlation for causation. Cloud technology — and its eradication of storage restrictions — acts as a foundational enabler of this kind of artificial intelligence. This allows those new algorithms to explore and dissect massive amounts of data in ways unimaginable even a few years ago — and in ways that human beings (including data scientists) can’t begin to touch or, in some cases, even understand. 

Technology will, over time, begin to know us better than we know ourselves. Rather than fearing the rise of AI, however, the time has come to embrace it. 

The Enlightened Executive

This new emphasis on analytics signals a shift away from human interfaces and towards more intelligent and intuitive systems. 

In the not-too-distant future, companies will be able to leverage AI-powered platforms that provide invaluable insights into worker behavior. These systems will leverage all the data and metadata swirling around a digital workplace to learn about the network of people both inside and outside the organization, and understand the actions they are taking, the content they’re consuming and the colleagues they’re connected with. 

As a result, company leaders will be able to navigate this workplace social graph to pinpoint key internal change agents or subject matter experts and tap them as advocates to accelerate strategic alignment. 

The Actualized Employee

For employees, AI-enhanced interactive intranet systems will act as a hub for all of their daily workflows, seamlessly serving up the ideal content and tools at the exact moment and in the ways they need them. By anticipating and satisfying well beyond mundane employee needs, the technology will free time for people to focus on ideation, innovation and gaining competitive advantage. 

AI will adapt to each person’s individual workstyle and contextually and transparently connect them with the people, information and tools they need, no matter where they exist in the business ecosystem.

By anticipating employees’ next actions and needs, future interactive intranets will further improve tasks such as searching for experts and institutional knowledge across silos of corporate memory by short-cutting the steps they need to go through to find information. Eventually, departments, time zones and physical or geographical locations will become completely unimportant or even invisible. Employees, fully freed from many of the petty workplace frustrations they face today, will be more engaged, aligned and inspired to do the purposeful and meaningful work they long to do.

The Empowered Customer

Externally, machine learning will provide a company’s customers and prospects with many of the same advantages it offers employees. Besides intuitively and instantaneously giving people the solutions, answers and information they need when they need them, it also has the power to improve the customer journey by adapting to a person’s changing expectations and wants. 

Eventually, systems will identify and connect with online influencers, leading to a renaissance in brand loyalty and customer advocacy — one in which you will have far more control over your message than you do today.   

Far from resulting in a dystopian nightmare from a science fiction novel, AI can eliminate much of the training, guesswork and menial tasks that occupy our days, freeing us to be more imaginative, more creative and more innovative — that is to say, more human. 

And as the IoT feeds artificial intelligence systems with vast quantities of valuable machine data from relevant devices, sensors and applications, it will better predict and inform people’s day-to-day workplace tasks by giving them just the information they need, right when they need it.

Rather than serving technology, as many have warned would happen since the invention of the wheel, machines will serve us in ways that we are just beginning to comprehend. Over time, the current workplace network of applications and departmental silos will give way to a fluid, agile network of people — with all of our hopes, dreams and humanity intact. And wasn’t that the promise of technology all along?