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Think professionals are afraid of AI? Well, you might be wrong

(Image credit: Image Credit: John Williams RUS / Shutterstock)

Artificial intelligence (AI) will destroy jobs, robots will replace humans… We are no stranger to these talks about the evolution of AI and the rise of robots. Some go as far as predicting that one in three jobs will be replaced by robots in the next 20 years (including clerical jobs), while others preach that sophisticated software in tiny gadgets that will end up affecting our self-worthy and identity. In the meantime, studies show otherwise, and all this automation anxiety is simply overblown. The only thing professionals should be afraid of is becoming obsolete – by missing the chance of turning this technology to their advantage. 

It’s all about productivity  

The AI revolution is here, and professionals already seem to embrace it. A recent survey “What if Artificial Intelligence could boost the economy?” conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Julie Desk shows that 47% of professionals in the UK are keen on letting AI-powered assistants take over a part of their daily tasks. Virtual assistants of this sort manage the back-and-forth mailing, the agenda, schedule meetings, book tables at restaurants, fill in the daily minutiae that take up to 2 hours weekly for professionals to accomplish. Other AI-powered assistants like Do You Dream Up, known as chatbots, offer turnkey solutions to guide professionals and address their daily inquiries, like informing them on the remaining days of paid annual leave or booking conference rooms to ensure a better flow in the workplace. In other words, virtual assistants lead to new ways of doing business, where efficiency is a key-word.     

In the Censuswide/Julie Desk study, 79% of the respondents claimed to forget appointments, 41% to double book themselves, to cancel plans, and so on. Human error is natural – but virtual assistants use natural language processing (NLP) to process and generate emails, and they constantly evolve thanks to learning algorithms. Of course, up to a point, AI is built on statistics, so initially the 0% error rate is a myth. But the learning algorithms identify the recurring patterns and are capable to predict their users’ habits, preferences, choices, like the time slots when they prefer to meet their business partners at the office or the ones when they would rather set up a business lunch.   

Delegating vs directing  

By doing so, AIs fill their tasks based on what is convenient and effective for their users who, conversely, can gain independence to focus more on creative projects and managing their own performance. Delegating tasks to a machine forms a stronger commitment than directing by giving instructions. It requires a dose of confidence and, up until now, professionals were routinely surprised by machines, as they steadily become more reliant on them. 

Once, a client of Julie Desk asked if he could meet Julie, his contact person that he’d been exchanging mails with for the past couple of days; needless to say, that was not possible, as for now, Julie lives on the other side of an email address. But these anecdotes are more and more recurring and, without doubt, they show just how helpful and human technology will become. In fact, 56% of professionals already claim that they will use virtual assistants in the near future to answer and manage emails, 50% will retain their services to schedule meetings, and 49% will opt for booking travel tickets solutions (source: Censuswide/Julie Desk). 

What professionals do with their saved time  

In these scenarios, AI is a way to complement our work, not compete with it. It is all about the workers’ needs. Repetitive tasks are part of every job, but it’s essential for productivity to automate as many as possible, as showed in another study: “Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace” (source: ADP Research Institute). But saving time on repetitive tasks doesn’t necessarily mean working more. A balanced life is also key to being productive. Indeed, the Evolution of Work study shows that more than 25% of the UK population is reportedly unhappy with their work-life balance. With the help of AI, people would spend the time they saved on personal activities such as taking care of their families (24%), shopping (21%), making love (20%) or taking a bath (22%), the Censuswide/Julie Desk study shows. 

The domino effect of AI  

Technology is a true game-changer in the workplace, and the phenomena is inevitable. To gain a competitive advantage, businesses have to remain ahead of the AI adoption wave. Of course, advances in technology have always caused disruption and seldom sparked the fear of losing jobs, but in the long run they created a boom that ultimately lead to new jobs. For instance, during the industrial revolution, machines replaced farm workers, but millions of them found new work in factories. Things are not any different the AI revolution. The challenge is to prosper. At the moment, certain sectors benefit more from the automation impact than others, and companies like Amazon or Facebook are doing a great job at integrating AI into their products. They create new tools to engage in a dialogue with the AI like Amazon Echo, and new industrial actors emerge to create new AI based services and businesses at home and in the private space, like invoxia’s Triby, Philips Hue, Vivint’s Sky Smart Home Security system… 

To do well in an AI world, companies have to be prepared, employers should anticipate on their employees needs and professionals should learn to coexist with robots. The mindset is already changing at a rapid pace. Surprisingly, the Censuswide/Julie Desk study shows that even people over 55 seem to trust AI at 35%. A percentage that flips to 62% for Millennials (aged 17 to 24). Outside the UK, others study show similar trends. In France, for instance, an IFOP/Do You Dream Up study on the perception of chatbots shows that 70% of Millennials approve of AI, and 71% of people over 50 believe that intelligent virtual assistants will simplify their life in the future.   

Are we really evolving towards an era of AI augmented people, after the BYOD trend? Time will tell, but the domino effect of AI spreading across companies is ongoing. For the least, to effectively enhance productivity, people will need to start partnering with these smart machines. After all, computers are already a part of us and who would not feel naked without his smartphone?   

Image Credit: John Williams RUS / Shutterstock

Julien Hobeika
Julien Hobeika is the CEO and founder of JulieDesk. Graduated from the top engineer school Polytechniques, he explores the new frontiers of AI based services and coaches young startups.