One of the biggest challenges posed by an increasingly automated world is the threat it poses to the jobs market. When a new machine in a factory can do the work of ten human beings, it logically follows that ten human beings will be made redundant. When a self-service checkout can serve hundreds of customers an hour without needing to be paid, we can be similarly sure that the days of human cashiers are numbered.
And yet, there’s reason to be sceptical of this view. For one thing, we are living in an age of unprecedented automation, and yet unemployment is at a near-record low. Clearly, the jobs that are being taken up by machines are being replaced by new ones elsewhere.
So where are the newest frontiers in automation, and how are they best explored?
AI can do things humans shouldn’t
Every day, workers spend a given portion of their time performing drudgeries to which they are not suited. Scheduling appointment and taking minutes are both in this category. That’s why both tasks, increasingly, are being performed not by humans, but by AI-powered virtual assistants.
This frees up a workforce’s mental resources, which can be directed toward other tasks. When management don’t have to trawl through spreadsheets in search of relevant data, they’re able to perform their decision-making duties more effectively.
Blurring the line
In some cases, the line between a human being and an AI is deliberately blurred. Just think of a customer support team. In the past, a hundred or so human operators might have fielded questions from customers, and the vast majority of these questions might have been very similar. Now, thanks to sophisticated chatbot software, these hundreds of operators can be replaced with hundreds of chatbots, each of which is programmed with automated responses to common problems and questions. When the call goes beyond the capabilities of the bot, a human supervisor can seamlessly step in and deal with the problem directly. This illusion is so convincing that forward-thinking businesses might be ethically obliged (if not legally obliged) to make clear that a customer is speaking with a machine and not a person – and, indeed, customers might expect such a clarification to be made.
Getting everyone talking
Among the greatest challenges to would-be multinational businesses are language barriers. How can departments on the other side of the world convey meaning to one another? In the past, language software wasn’t sophisticated enough to capture the intricacies of a given statement. But with the help of AI, that’s changing; Skype now offers text translation in more than sixty languages. This allows collaborators, colleagues and customers around the world to communicate with one another, without the need for costly training.
AI can do things humans can’t
As well as removing the burden of time-consuming and tedious tasks, AI can also perform tasks which would be next to impossible for a human equivalent. A great example of this is the collection and interpretation of vast amounts of data. Take Mediahawk’s call-tracking software, which amalgamates all of a company’s marketing output and identifies which channels are producing the greatest return.
At its best, AI works seamlessly alongside the existing workforce. The two perform the tasks they’re good at. A human being might compose a letter to a client, and then an automated spell-checker might flag up errors in spelling and grammar along the way. In some cases, misspelt words are corrected automatically. Thus, the automation process is something that’s familiar to most of us – even if the pace of change has never been greater!