robots at work
PHOTO: Jehyun Sung

Contrary to Hollywood hype and the warnings of doomsayers, workers shouldn’t be fearful of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies that power automated systems. Quite the opposite, they should embrace them. In many cases, the arrival of intelligent machines could have a positive impact not just on businesses and their performance, but on human workers as well.

In fact, a recent global study conducted by my company, Pegasystems, and Marketforce found that organizations believe that the combination of humans and machine intelligence will create a more effective, engaged and meritocratic workforce. The study was based on a survey of 845 senior executives in various industries, including healthcare, financial services, retail and others. Of those respondents, 69 percent said that they expect the term “workforce” to eventually encapsulate both human employees and intelligent machines. In other words, the future is expected to be made of machines working alongside humans, not replacing them.

A Look at the Workplace of the Future

What will the human-machine workplace of the future look like, and how exactly will it benefit workers?

The advent of automation may not mean that humans will be displaced from the workforce, but rather that they will be diverted to other areas of the business where they can deliver greater value.

In our study, 69 percent of the executives polled said that they expect automating manual and mundane processes will play a significant role in enabling human staffers to handle much more varied duties. Moreover, 78 percent said that they believe support from AI will allow workers to make informed decisions at a more junior level, leading to a flattening of traditional hierarchies.

This is good for businesses because it means automation will create more flexible working patterns and allow organizations a focus on higher-value tasks. It is also good for employees, who may find their new duties more stimulating and rewarding. In all, it’s a win-win situation.

Related Article: Why AI Will Create More Jobs Than it Destroys

Finding the Ideal Balance of People and Automation

It’s clear that automation will play a bigger role in some areas than it will in others, because some operations involve more dull, repetitive tasks than others. However, there are customer-facing roles that will still require a degree of emotional intelligence and nuanced judgment that can only be provided by humans. Companies (and their customers) will experience transformative results with the right human-automation partnerships.

In the survey, 62 percent of the respondents said that they expect AI and automation will improve a company’s ability to deliver positive customer service. They envision these technologies being deployed for tasks such as scheduling, task allocation, work coordination and routing, intelligent escalations and quality control, as well as matching agents with customers. A human and a machine capable of providing timely, relevant customer data can be a potent combination. What this tells us is that it’s not an either/or situation when it comes to machines and people — both can work together to augment each other and thereby add significant value.

Related Article: How to Survive When the Robots Come for Your Job

Creating a More Transparent, Meritocratic Workplace

Another area where AI and automation could make a significant impact is in human resources. Intelligent systems can be used to support activities such as hiring and recruiting employees, writing performance reviews and setting compensation policies.

In our survey, 65 percent of the executives polled said that they believe that within the next 10 years AI will be used frequently to conduct interviews and shortlist candidates, 87 percent said that AI could help managers evaluate employee productivity, and 74 percent said it could play a role in assessing individual performance.

AI-powered systems fueled with data about an employee’s performance and contributions on a minute-by-minute basis will help to spot and promote talented people with proven track records of adding value to the organization. With its unbiased and ruthless logic, AI could very well prove to be the key to creating a more transparent, meritocratic workplace.

Ignore the Negative

What does this all mean? Primarily that we should ignore the hype and negativity that surrounds the introduction of intelligent machines into the workplace and instead embrace the benefits those systems can bring. A smooth transition to an automation-enhanced workplace will involve identifying the tasks best suited to automation and then starting small, learning fast and working with technology and people to get the best results.

At the end of the day, savvy businesses will see the emergence of automation technologies not as a threat, but as an opportunity to make quantum leaps in efficiency and effectiveness.