man standing next to an old Apple computer
PHOTO: Bob Newman

Employees are willing and ready to work with artificial intelligence (AI), but businesses aren't training them on the skills needed to do so or in some cases, failing to introduce the tools at all. 

So found a recent survey released by Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle and research firm Future Workplace. The report, AI at Work, surveyed 1,320 US human resources executives and employees to dig deeper into the relationship between workers and artificial intelligence. It found employees understand the benefits of AI go far beyond automating manual processes, but fear by not getting the training and experience working with the tools they need, it will result in reduced productivity, skillset obsolescence and job loss.

Is History Repeating Itself With AI?

One of the most striking findings of the survey was the discrepancy between AI's role in personal lives versus work lives. While most respondents use some form of AI at home, very few are using it in the workplace. Specifically:

  • 70 percent of people are using some form of AI in their personal life.
  • 24 percent of employees are currently using some form of AI at work.
  • 6 percent of HR professionals are actively deploying AI.

The study aimed to clarify why this is happening, if employee perceptions of AI played a part and if not, what other obstacles stand in the way of AI adoption. Among the findings were:

  • Employees said they believed AI will improve operational efficiencies (59 percent), enable faster decision making (50 percent), significantly reduce cost (45 percent), enable better customer experiences (40 percent) and improve the employee experience (37 percent).
  • HR leaders said AI will positively impact learning and development (27 percent), performance management (26 percent), compensation/payroll (18 percent) and recruiting and employee benefits (13 percent).
  • And finally, 93 percent of people said they would trust orders from a robot ....

Emily He, SVP of Oracle HCM Cloud product marketing told CMSWire she was surprised by the huge gap between consumer and enterprise adoption of AI. “If the proliferation of mobile and digital technologies has taught business leaders anything, it should be that we all now expect the same experience when interacting with technology at work as we receive with services like Facebook, Apple and Google in our personal lives. I am surprised history is repeating itself with AI as it doesn’t need to be that way."

Related Article: Why AI Still Has a Long Way to Go in the Workplace

AI: Too Much, Too Soon?

She also noted the apparent disconnect between employees and business leaders. The research shows, she said, that employees are enthusiastic about the potential of AI and saw a number of important benefits.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the traction artificial intelligence is gaining in the workplace. While there are benefits, it's not necessarily all good, according to Aimee Lessard, chief of analysis with New York City-based analytics firm Signafire. She said any technology that helps businesses achieve their goals and objectives is good, so long as the company is using data responsibly. “That said, I do believe that the hype of AI is currently outpacing the actual applicability of the currently available technology. It will catch up eventually, but for now, companies need to focus on which technologies they actually need to meet their current goals and overcome their challenges,” she said.

According to Alexey Sapozhnikov, co-founder and CTO of proof of concept software solution provider prooV, virtually every technology vendor is touting its AI capabilities — whether it's robo-advisors in finance, virtual nurses in healthcare or chatbots in sales and marketing roles — yet AI failure is rampant. Sapozhnikov doesn't ascribe the failure to lack of enterprise interest, but because in a number of cases, the technology fails to live up to its rhetoric. "Unfortunately for many organizations, AI failure stems from challenges upfront in evaluating the technology to ensure it meets business, technology and employee demands," he said.

Related Article: Workplace Chatbots: Too Little, Too Soon?

3 Obstacles Hindering AI's Reach in the Workplace

The Oracle survey echoed some of these concerns. Ninety percent of human resources executives said they were concerned they would not be able to adjust to the rapid adoption of AI as part of their job and to make matters worse, they were not currently empowered to address the emerging AI skills gap in their organizations.

But aside from concerns with speed of adoption and growing skills gaps, other concerns are also holding businesses back from adopting the tools. Chris Collins, CEO of recruitment chatbot RoboRecruiter and expert in AI and machine-learning, identified three main issues slowing down the introduction of AI in the workplace:

1. Perceived difficulties with deployment

Most employers feel that integrating an AI-driven element into their daily activities would be too hard to install. They fear it will take too much time to get up and running and feel that time would be best spent elsewhere.

2. Lack of understanding

Many times employers don't understand how the addition of an AI component can help their bottom line. While it sounds nice and futuristic to have an AI helping you out, at the end of the day it can be confusing to see whether AI will actually function in a way that helps rather than hurts, especially if the AI is consumer-facing.

3. Excess of AI tools

The number of AI-driven tools and platforms available can make it difficult to choose the right one for your goals. This, coupled with the lack of understanding mentioned above, means no one wants to take on the ordeal of choosing and implementing an AI solution.

Related Article: Workplace Consumerization, Suite Backlash and More Trends From RSG

Why AI Is Consumer-Driven

Consumer adoption of many new technologies often leads that of businesses, said Beerud Sheth, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based AI bot messenger platform provider Gupshup. This phenomenon happens because consumers have fewer complications and are willing to tolerate the inevitable glitches as they embrace emerging tech.

“Businesses tend to be more conservative as they need to review every aspect of the new technology — such as security, admin controls, access controls, reporting, bulk pricing, integrations, etc. — before deploying it in the organization. This difference will not last long and workplaces will catch up soon,” he said.

As a final thought, it should be remembered that AI technologies are still based off of machine learning models that are programmed by humans. If there are flaws in the input, then that easily leads to flaws in the output. Course-correcting an AI system that has flaws in its original programming can easily outweigh the work it takes to work without the system in the first place.

“[The] recommendation is that companies use an augmented intelligence approach, in which they couple human analysts with the kinds of technologies that help them derive the best, most actionable insights,” Lessard of Signafire said.