Science fiction has a bizarre habit of predicting our future. Star Trek famously predicted sliding doors, and Minority Report forecasted the use of gestures as part of user experiences. If only the genre could be so optimistic about artificial intelligence (AI). Over the last twenty years, technology’s progress has twinned with some utterly devastating views on how AI could ultimately impact human lives. The likes of 2001: Space Odyssey, The Terminator, The Matrix, Westworld and even i-Robot all presented automation and machine learning as ultimately terrifying prospects; innovations that would bring about our eventual demise.
No wonder there’s been some concerns about how this technology could impact the world of work. As AI and machine learning have slowly bled further into our daily working lives, we have seen these technologies manage many of the tasks we would typically regard as both mundane and ‘deeply human’. Arguments have been made that using this technology within the workplace would eventually spell ‘replacement’: replacement of jobs, careers, businesses or even entire industries.
To intelligence and beyond
Business leaders are starting to take note. Recent research from SAP Cloud ERP found that 69 per cent of business leaders surveyed believe that intelligent technologies will help their business become more productive and efficient. What’s more, 87 per cent of respondents believe they could use AI to make predictive judgments on business-critical decisions in the future.
Looking beyond fiction for a moment, there is some truth to these arguments. AI will transform working life as we know it. But we can all relax about a possible dystopia. This transformation will be hugely positive for how we work, and how we develop our future careers.
These findings shouldn’t come as any real surprise. AI can process data, predict outcomes and make connections at a much faster rate than we can. With much greater accuracy on results. Using this technology, we can achieve and learn within a fraction of the time we could before.
These advantages therefore present a question with a seemingly very clear answer: if you had an opportunity to work in a place that gave you everything you needed to do your job quickly, focusing only on the more interesting and strategical aspects, would you take it? Or would you opt for the place without those tools, prompting you to spend more time on the responsibilities of your role you know you could do with your eyes closed?
This is the question now facing the next generation of tech-savvy talent as they look to step into the world of business. It’s a question that’s also worrying business leaders, with 61 per cent surveyed stating that they believe intelligent technologies will be crucial for attracting digitally-native talent in the future.
This younger generation has used everything from cloud-based software and storage, to hands-free virtual assistants and augmented reality. All from a young age. They will not only be expecting to carry this experience into their working lives, they will expect to build on it. The more advanced the technology, the better. Why should they settle for anything less? With this in mind, employers have to expect that this generation of talent will prioritise working in companies that can not only make their jobs easier and more enjoyable, but also accelerate their careers from greater access to high-level strategic thinking.
It’s not just the younger generation which stands to benefit though. AI and machine learning can unlock insights and value throughout the whole business – even for those at the very top. The pressure on leaders to make the right decisions in an uncertain, fast-paced business world is heavier than it has ever been. Intelligent technologies can be critical for ensuring the decisions they make in the boardroom are as informed as possible, and decided on at just the right moments.
It’s beginning to sink in across industries that AI can help educate and augment ‘gut instinct’ by enabling senior staff to make more predictive judgements on crucial business decisions.
Humility is king
What might be less obvious about the relationship between intelligent technologies and leadership, however, is that it will inspire leadership styles to change to better accommodate the use of AI in business. It’s always been known that humility is an important trait in the world of work, but over 40 per cent of leaders surveyed stated they now believe humility is the most important leadership quality in an age of rapid change.
Over 70 per cent of respondents stated that they felt ‘adaptability to opportunities and threats’ will be the most important trait for future leaders of the business world. This all reflects the fact that being able to identify and respond to new insights quickly will be crucial to survive in the future world of work. Leadership will change to meet these demands, and AI will help this leadership flourish.
Making a real difference
So how exactly are businesses already using AI and automation to transform their business operations?
Project managers from the likes of pladis and Royal Dutch Shell are using S/4HANA Cloud’s AI-powered project cost forecasting capabilities to reduce costly budget overruns and increase accuracy on resource investment decisions. Spain’s world-famous football league association, La Liga, is currently using AI and in-memory computing to support development of enhanced business processes and more agile innovation cycles.
Many retailers are using dynamic pricing to modify prices according to sales figures. Business managers are using AI to predict their staffing needs, depending on how projects or assigned jobs are judged to be progressing.
Separating truth from fiction
Despite the best efforts of science fiction to persuade us otherwise, a future based on AI and automation looks highly rewarding for the world of work. Despite an infamous ability to predict what future technology looks like, science fiction is ultimately still fiction. In the real world, AI technology will not be something that spells the end of days. It won’t have The Terminator on your doorstep or at your desk. There will be transformation, but this will be based on making businesses faster and more productive, careers more rewarding, and workplaces far more attractive to workers of all ages.
Melissa Di Donato, Chief Operating Officer and Global Head of ERP Cloud Solutions, SAP Cloud ERP
Image Credit: John Williams RUS / Shutterstock