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Is AI streamlining the workload or the workforce

The impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an ongoing and ever-growing global debate.

The technology is already playing an increasingly dominant role in our day-to-day life, from established services such as Google Maps, which uses machine learning to provide real-time travel information, to new AI chatbot assistants such as MeetCleo, which uses read-only access to bank accounts to assess spending habits and suggest budgeting techniques. AI’s capabilities are rapidly increasing and we may see self-driving cars take to the streets of Tokyo as soon as 2020.

But one of the biggest questions often associated with AI and its impact on our lives is the extent to which it will replace jobs, effectively displacing the human workforce. The concern is justified in Japan, as research by the Nomura Research Institute and the University of Oxford estimates one in two workers could lose their jobs to artificial intelligence and robots by 2030. However, there are differing views on the subject.

Currently, AI performs just 29% of workplace tasks with experts anticipating this will increase to 42% by 2020 – the equivalent of 75 million jobs. While this number may sound alarming, it is predicted AI will create 133 million new roles – far more than it will displace. Many of these roles will inevitably be in tech and present valuable opportunities, for example a café in Tokyo recently unveiled remotely operated server bots designed to create jobs for workers with disabilities.

So, where AI is used to automate traditionally human employment it won’t necessarily replace workers entirely, but instead complement their roles. This will help to increase speed, accuracy, and productivity, ensuring that the human touch will still be an essential part of the majority of jobs. According to research by Vanson Bourne, 58% of business leaders in the APAC region believe automated systems will free up their time, and 48% believe they will have higher job satisfaction by offloading tasks to machines. By filling talent gaps and supporting human workers to ensure they are not overloaded, AI could potentially help create a better work-life balance and increase overall wellbeing.

AI can potentially give more to the workforce than it takes away, but before businesses set about implementing the technology, there is another pressing issue to consider. AI is only ever going to be as good as the data that feeds its algorithms, so it is important to ensure only accurate, clean, unbiased data is used. Fuelling AI with quality data will help mitigate the risk of erroneous data skewing output and ensure that future applications will improve productivity and effectively support the workforce – rather than create problems.

There are three ways this can be achieved. Firstly, it’s important to treat data ethically. With vast quantities of consumer data produced by each digital interaction, much of the data is collected, processed, and stored by companies to fuel AI algorithms and inform business decisions. But with consumers increasingly aware of the value of their data, it must be treated with respect and to the requirements of global data protection legislations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Secondly, if bias is present in data used to fuel AI, its output will inevitably be subjective, and potentially prejudiced – as we saw with Amazon’s sexist chatbot. Businesses may also need to consider the degree of diversity in their workforce as unconscious biases of human programmers can easily seep into the algorithms they create.

Lastly, all too often companies attempt to introduce AI tools without first consolidating their data, meaning the technology has incomplete information to work from. Before introducing AI tools, companies should orchestrate data across the organisation using a centralised hub, which can bridge multiple data siloes to create a single source of truth. With consolidated data, organisations can power better AI decision-making to effectively support the human workforce.

As adoption of AI increases it will inevitably have an impact on employment, but with the technology automating only certain tasks and creating more jobs than it displaces, AI should streamline the workload, not necessarily the workforce. As long as there is a robust foundation, with complete and accurate data that is ethically sourced and free from bias, AI can be a positive development for workers, complementing and supporting their tasks and increasing speed, accuracy, and productivity.

Joseph Suriya is a results driven marketer with extensive knowledge in cross regional, lead generation programmes, with more than 11 years marketing experience. As Director of Marketing at Tealium APAC, Joseph is responsible for developing and implementing the company’s brand strategy across the region. Prior to joining Tealium, Joseph held the role of Senior Manager, APAC Marketing at Limelight Networks, where he was responsible for managing and leading a team of experienced marketing professionals across APAC to drive business initiative, and net new business growth. Before joining Limelight Networks, Joseph held marketing roles at HP, MicroStrategy, IBM, and Interwoven.