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How AI is impacting the workforce and how – as an employer – you can account for that

(Image credit: Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock)

While Artificial Intelligence continues to infiltrate our lives, its true power is yet to be properly understood in the full ‘self-aware’ sense (as science fiction describes it). As well as impacting our personal lives – from Amazon’s recommendation engine to Netflix’s tailoring of relevant content – there is increasing deliberation around what AI means for the workplace. One particular area for debate is creativity and decision-making in jobs, and how AI is impacting the creative industries like architecture, advertising and filmmaking.

In the advertising world, ‘programmatic advertising’ is now commonplace – where machine learning algorithms analyse visitor behaviour and optimise campaigns in real-time towards those visitors most likely to buy. Classic examples of this include Google AdWords and Facebook, whilst companies like Albert (opens in new tab) seek to utilise this approach across channels.

In entertainment, AI is regularly used today to generate film trailers, such as the one for the sci-fi horror film Morgan (opens in new tab). It would have taken a human editor up to 30 days to complete the trailer, whereas the AI supercomputer ‘IBM Watson’ shortened this process to just 24 hours.

And thirdly, some of the most forward-thinking international architecture studios are making exceptional use of AI’s predictive analytics and image generation capabilities. Here in London, Spacelab uses machine learning and virtual reality in order to visualise their architectural drawings in a very tangible way. This also enables them to make changes to the structures in real time – something that wasn’t possible before the arrival of these technologies.

Do these examples show that humans are being replaced by an intelligence that can work faster and more reliably than a human brain? Ultimately, yes – and no. 

IBM Fellow and Manager of Multimedia and Vision at IBM Research, John Smith, argues that adding machine learning capabilities to creativity actually enhances it: “With filmmaking, 99 per cent of the work is actually very mundane. It’s going through hundreds of hours of video in some cases to arrive at the core pieces to use. So there’s still a very good reason to use technology as an assistant here, rather than replace the human in the loop.”

With today’s technological advances, what we are seeing is not that human beings are being traded in for machines, but rather the human is freed from the more mundane and repetitive tasks – creating the opportunity to focus on the non-linear and the creative. And this is happening across all sectors in factor, not just the creative industries.

According to a McKinsey report (opens in new tab) from 2012, the average worker spends 28 per cent of the working week managing emails and nearly 20 per cent looking for information internally. Whilst the percentages may have changed over the last few years, it’s no revelation to point out that there is still a lot of time wasted on processes completed manually, that could be streamlined using smart technology.

As machines take care of more and more repetitive tasks, a growing number of us are falling into the ‘Knowledge Worker (opens in new tab)’ category - where employees are required to use their knowledge, and ability to learn and increase this knowledge, to direct the technology at their disposal towards desired outcomes for the organisation. With the rise of the ‘Knowledge Worker’, we are seeing a shift in roles that requires a vastly different skillset from manual labour. Communication skills, factual and theoretical knowledge, the ability to access and apply information as well as continuous desire to learn are becoming key skills in the job market.

All this said, many well-established organisations are not prepared to foster a culture where these skills can flourish. For a ‘Knowledge Worker’ to be effective, they need to have sufficient flexibility in order to have time to think and, because they often think in new, non-linear ways, they need to be allowed to challenge the status quo – something that has previously been unthinkable.

So what can company leaders do to adapt their organisation to these changes and make the most of AI for the overall business?

1.       Accept that change is happening.

Some organisations are only now starting to acknowledge that the world of work really is changing. It can be tough to see the bigger picture whilst dealing with ‘business as usual’. When an organisation is doing well enough to sustain itself, the threat of disruption seems distant. One of the most famous examples of this occurrence is Blockbuster. You don’t want your organisation to be the next Blockbuster.

2.       Challenge the firmly-held, limiting beliefs within the organisation.

Simon Hayward, author of the book “The Agile Leader (opens in new tab)” advocates that leaders need to steer their organisation around a clear vision and set of values, whilst at the same time seek to disrupt their business through these types of innovations. One technique Path59 (opens in new tab) advocates is taking your team through an ‘innovation safari’. This type of workshop demonstrates how both start-ups and traditional organisations have successfully adopted new technologies, in order to explore your own future possibilities, today.

3.       Dismiss nothing, even old ideas.

Some leaders I’ve worked with ruled out brilliant, game-changing ideas because they didn’t work in the past. This can be a trap; more often than not the idea was good, but the timing was wrong. A successful innovation programme captures all ideas and puts into place mechanisms to revisit them in the future when they might be more relevant and easily implemented.

4.       Put simply: be open.

To succeed, it’s vital to be open to change, to new ideas and to new ways of doing things. We need to be continuously evaluating how we do things and ask why. Only when everyone in the organisation is clear on the why can they move forwards in the same direction - and AI can help us do this much, much faster.

Merje Shaw, Founder and CEO, Path59 (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock

Merje Shaw is the Founder and CEO of consultancy Path59, which helps bring start-up level disruption and agility to traditional industries and helps companies transform their businesses.