The Impact of AI on the Workforce


Ask ten people what the impact of AI on the workforce will have on the job market, and you will probably receive ten different answers. It’s an emotive question that has devoted followers at either end of the spectrum.

Some paint a picture of a dystopian future where robots have taken over the world, turning humans into a sluggish, overweight race. But history shows that this vision is far more suited to science fiction than it is reality. While AI in business is fueling massive changes, it’s a pessimistic view to say that it will replace humans.

Will Artificial Intelligence lead to massive unemployment?

Warnings of technology being a harbinger of death for the job market is nothing new.

MIT Economist David Autor in Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation noted that the Luddite movement of the early 19th century was one of the earliest examples, in which a group of English textile artisans protested against the automation of textile production by seeking to destroy some of the machines.

But in fact, that wasn’t the case, and basic economics intervened. Automation made it cheaper to produce fabric, which in turn led to more customers, which drove demand for more products. The job might have changed, but during the industrial revolution, there was no shortage of work for semi-skilled labor.

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University School of Law looks at more modern examples in his blog post Automation Paradox. Software, for instance, made it cheaper and faster to trawl through legal documents; so, law firms searched more documents and judges allowed more and more-expansive discovery requests. Likewise, ATMs made it cheaper to operate bank branches, so banks dramatically increased their number of offices.

While automation and AI in the workforce may eliminate some positions, it can also create jobs and help job seekers avoid unemployment. A report from the World Economic Forum estimated that AI would create a net total of 97 million new jobs by 2025.

These examples add weight to the point of view that, rather than AI taking jobs, humans and AI will work in unison and the impact of AI on the workforce will be positive.

 Impact of AI on the Workforce

Covid-19 has accelerated the workplace of the future

While businesses in every sector have been setting their sights on digital transformation over the last years, the unexpected crises brought on by Covid-19 has accelerated digitalization strategies in all industries.

Companies have relied on machine-learning enabled systems to engineer production delivery during massive disruptions in supply-chains. Other sectors have turned to AI technologies and automation to cover the absence the physical workers due to confinement.

The surge in companies pushing for automation and AI in the workforce doesn’t mean that large numbers of people are going to lose their job because of this. Employers must assess which technology is best for them and incorporate them into the company culture rather than replace the workers they have with these new solutions.

Importantly, in a summit held on AI by McKinsey Global Institute, it was estimated that while only 10% of jobs are at risk of being lost because of automation and AI, 60% of jobs fall into a category where at least a third of tasks could be automated.

Another study by PWC AI has found that “any job losses from automation are likely to be broadly offset in the long run by new jobs created as a result of the larger and wealthier economy made possible by these new technologies. In other words, workers will need to develop new skills and evolve to work alongside technology in the workplace in order to control the impact of AI on the workforce.

How AI is transforming the workplace

While many people warn that this time jobs are being sacrificed to AI in a much shorter timescale than with previous industry-changing events, so far, the figures don’t add up. Rather than wiping out jobs, AI in the workplace is increasing the skill sets of workers, and therefore remuneration, across a wide range of industries from healthcare to clerical.

Including Artificial Intelligence in the workforce can improve conditions. According to a report in the Economist, AI will help remove unconscious and conscious biases in the hiring and remuneration of staff. It also points out that AI in the workplace will benefit employees in other ways such as ensuring the appropriate safety gear is being worn using intelligent scanning technology.

In addition, chatbots are being used by HR to support training activities too. This follows on from the success many chatbots have had as in-house advisors to call center agents in situations where a high turnover of staff can often impact the consistency of answers and the knowledge to answer queries quickly.

The growth in AI is also creating new opportunities in other areas of emerging technology closely linked with it, such as Augmented Reality or IoT.

A recent global survey conducted by Accenture cites that companies are now not only deploying human-like AI to take over human activities, but to revolutionize the interaction between humans and machines, and creating new modes of commerce.

The future of chatbots and emotional intelligence

One area of business in which AI is gaining increased traction is in customer service, where enterprises have started to deploy artificially intelligent virtual customer assistants (often referred to as chatbots).

But how emotionally savvy are these chatbots? It might, if your chatbot uses conversational AI, be able to recognize sentiment.  For example, it would be able to detect that a customer is angry and sarcastic because they are annoyed you didn’t deliver and be able to respond with the appropriate terms of empathy. Or it may be able to distinguish that “I want to go somewhere nice” is positive, and “I want to go to Nice” is neutral, and therefore respond in a meaningful way.  But it doesn’t replace the need for human connection, just as talking on social media doesn’t fulfil the same need as sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee and a chat.

What AI does do, however, is free up contact center staff to deal with the emotionally charged issues. These are circumstances that can be quite difficult to train a chatbot to be prepared for. Those situations where a real person can use their life experiences and combine them with your policies and procedures to arrive at a satisfactory outcome.

So, that bottom line is AI has its place; as do humans.

For example, machines are good at making sense of enormous amounts of data, learning correct responses and statistically guessing the appropriate response.  They are amazingly fast at processing; at making logical choices based on statistical rules. But when your customer’s expectations and satisfaction rests on a little empathy, wouldn’t it be great to be able to detect a shift in sentiment and hand off to a live agent – with all the appropriate background of the specific problem so it doesn’t need repeating?

And that is the crux of the debate – machines are all about data and humans are all about emotions. The decision to purchase with a particular company is more often rooted in emotional need than rational choice.

Undoubtedly, AI will replace humans in some roles such as process-orientated tasks where RPA technology excels. However, computers are tools, not rivals. In every situation where technology threatens jobs, new positions arise, often because of changes brought about by technology. There will always be jobs that only humans can do, including designing, updating and enhancing the artificial intelligence technology itself.

Find out how Swisscom was able to increase its Net Supporter Score 18 points and now offers 24/7 service without having language barriers interrupt their great customer service.

Expanding the role of Artificial Intelligence in business

While there is no doubt that achievements made in the field of deep learning or neural networks are impressive, it is not the fastest, nor the most cost-effective way forward for the average enterprise to develop conversational AI applications. Just like a child learning a language, an artificial system for natural language understanding needs human supervision. Even a statistical algorithm that learns from data can only do so from structured training data carefully curated by humans.

So why is there so much hype around algorithms? Perhaps because statistical algorithms are supremely useful for some purposes, such as aiding and guiding the analysis of big collections of language data. And for some applications, neural network algorithms deliver very impressive results. Such algorithms have vastly improved speech recognition systems, the technology for mapping sound waves to text characters, which is the first step in processing speech.

But what seems like effortless communication to humans, poses multiple obstacles to a statistical algorithm. Unless training data are supplied in copious quantities, the signal—the meaning at the heart of the conversation—is lost in the statistical noise.

Put simply, when the algorithm is faced with too many ambiguities, too many options, and too little data, it gets confused.

The truth of it all is no matter how hard some may try to convince us otherwise, AI will not replace human emotional intelligence.  Or, at least, not anytime soon. As an article in Inc put it recently, ”there isn’t a mainstream consumer machine that’s close to achieving full sentience.”

The negative economic impact of AI on the workforce

As can be seen with the controversy regarding Whatsapp’s data privacy regulations, there are increasing customer concerns about what companies can do with our data.

There are growing concerns whether “without concerted action by the government, industry and academia, AI could end up “uncontrolled and unregulated”, with development monopolized by just a few powerful companies.

If enterprises sleepwalk into handing over their data to FAMGA on a silver platter, this could well be the case. In the past, the Cambridge Analytica debacle already highlighted the value of personal data, even innocuous statements, and the need to protect it. It is one of the reasons we stress the importance of data ownership in Conversational AI.

Without data ownership, not only do enterprises lose valuable data insight, but it also makes it harder to protect and secure the information.

It’s clear that as data becomes the driving force behind businesses that data protection regulation around the world is going to increase. GDPR and China’s Cybersecurity law were only the beginning. Data privacy will become a major issue for everyone as the use of AI increases. Starting to address this now will place enterprises in a better position in the future.

The Impact of AI on the Workforce in the future

Computerized automation does potentially put low-skilled workers, whose jobs could be easily automated, at risk. Conversely, this may be a short-term effect while the labor market re-adjusts. As Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne say: findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.

A survey performed shows that two in five businesses see a lack of technical expertise and skillsets as a roadblock to AI development, and a World Economic Forum report states that 50% of workers will need reskilling by 2025.

Perhaps the answer to the impact of AI on the workplace of the future is not to give dire warnings, but to look at how re-educating and re-skilling workers will develop technology to take us beyond AI to the next big revolution.


This article is an updated and expanded version of the post “The Impact of AI in the Workforce”, originally written by Andy Peart and published on September 18th 2018.

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