This article is part of a series on AI for Boards of Directors.
When discussing Artificial Intelligence, many people express concern about AI replacing humans in the workforce. Some jobs will undoubtedly be replaced, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Early on, companies will apply AI to the work that humans either should not, will not, or can not do, making the workplace safer and more efficient than ever before.
Here’s exactly what I mean:
1. Jobs AI can do that humans should not
Industries like logging, oil rig work, metal foundries, electrical line repair, roofing, and chemical factories are the cause of 2.3 million workplace deaths, 160 million illnesses, and 340 million accidents worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. This comes at a global cost of 2.8 trillion dollars, and an incalculable personal cost to those who lose loved ones.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The most obvious ways that an AI augmented workforce can help involve automation and robotics, like welding, the application of toxic paints and adhesives, lifting, moving, and stacking heavy items, and delivering goods with autonomous vehicles. Artificial intelligence technologies like computer vision and machine learning often enable machines to do these jobs as effectively as humans, without nearly as many safety concerns.
Looking deeper, AI can reduce workplace hazards even when humans execute the labor. Computer vision systems from companies like Intenseye and HGS monitor warehouses, factory floors, and other work environments to identify objects in the path of forklifts, unstable goods stacking, and even dangerous employee behavior like misuse of protective gear or execution of unauthorized work. Meanwhile, machine learning algorithms use data to predict when accidents are most likely to happen based on time of day, hours an employee has been working, age, experience, and a constellation of other factors too sophisticated for human supervisors to parse alone.
AI can even be used in training to proactively reduce accidents. Companies like Taqtile, Atheer, and Ario already use immersive technologies like VR and AR to prepare front line workers for difficult and dangerous roles. Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton predicts that AI solutions like natural language processing, artificial neural networks, and deep learning will soon be used to accustom workers to random but realistic workplace hazards so that they will be better prepared if such unpredictable events occur on the job in real life.
2. Jobs AI can do that humans will not
How about jobs that humans simply prefer not to do? I am talking about repetitive, boring, and low-paying roles that employers find difficult to keep filled. At the time of this writing, industries including agriculture, food service, durable goods manufacturing, and retail are facing an unprecedented labor shortage that some are predicting will last for decades.
AI-driven chatbots, perhaps one of the best-known labor shortage solutions out there, are at the tip of the spear. By removing the most tedious and predictable tasks from human customer service representatives, chatbots reduce not only the number of warm bodies needed at a call center, but also the fatigue and frustration that phone representatives feel answering the same mundane questions over and over again.
Likewise, machine learning in scheduling applications like those from Zira, Celayix, and Rotageek help allocate the right retail staff to the right locations at the right time, reducing inefficiencies and making the most of a thinly-stretched retail workforce. Hyper Food Robotics goes one further, with a completely autonomous fast food store that cuts human labor requirements down to virtually zero.
I have written previously about how AI, together with robotics and automation, can play a crucial role in reviving American manufacturing despite the labor shortage. Canon’s 3D Machine Vision system, for example, uses AI to execute human-like fine motor skill activities. This also extends to food production: Carbon Robotics produces an autonomous weeding machine which uses computer vision to distinguish weeds from crops and destroys them with a precision laser.
3. Jobs AI can do that humans can not
There is one more area where AI in the workforce can add tremendous value—jobs for which human beings lack the time, ability or the mental acuity to do. Imagine examining millions of business transactions or job candidate resumes, for instance, to identify insights that correlate to success. That’s incredibly complex and time-consuming, and now—unnecessary.
AI-powered supply chain startups like Quantiful and Remi and LeanDNA can help manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers decide what products to order when, what new products to develop, how to position and price them, and what volume of demand they should expect, based on such diverse data as historical sales, economic conditions, seasonal trends, and product lifecycle. Meanwhile, HR software vendors like Praisidio, Eightfold and Findem use AI to source, evaluate, interview, and retain employees.
The list goes on. Imagine analyzing thousands of customer accounts to identify and prevent fraud. Imagine designing industrial products with every possible machine stressor, environmental condition, and human error in mind. Or imagine trying to analyze the demographics and buying behavior of millions of consumers to discover micro markets and personalize marketing offers.
Whatever complex set of business conditions you can imagine, it is more likely than not that someone is working on an AI solution that can provide far more speed, accuracy, and nuance than any human could ever do alone.
There is a true groundswell of innovative AI workforce solutions coming to reshape the business landscape. Instead of worrying about AI replacing humans in the workforce, we should celebrate the potential of Artificial Intelligence to relieve us of undesirable work and empower us to do more meaningful work than we are capable of on our own.
If you care about how AI is determining the winners and losers in business, and how you can leverage AI for the benefit of your organization, I encourage you to stay tuned. I write (almost) exclusively about how senior executives, board members, and other business leaders can use AI effectively. You can read past articles and be notified of new ones by clicking the “follow” button here.