Few topics have caused more debate recently than artificial intelligence and the rise of OpenAI’s chatbot, ChatGPT, says Sam Carr.
The platform, backed by Microsoft, has taken the internet by storm, amassing more than 100 million monthly active users just two months after launch, thrusting artificial intelligence into the public’s consciousness.
However, every time AI hits the headlines, it prompts discussions about its role in society and whether it’s going to cause mass unemployment, an idea that the World Economic Forum has disputed.
Is it going to fundamentally change jobs and the workplace? Yes. Are we going to be working alongside robots in the near future? Yes. Does that mean sitting next to a load of potential cyborgs day to day while our colleagues are slowly made redundant? No.
Despite reports that AI content generation could do a quarter of all the work currently done by humans, I fail to envision a future workplace full of robots where human input has become redundant. Rather, business leaders should focus on how AI can redefine the workplace for the better.
The ChatGPT platform doesn’t require extensive training or teaching to be able to use, which is a key reason why it has connected with so many people so quickly. There’s huge potential to leverage this kind of technology to expedite and improve certain business processes, such as troubleshooting, training and education. For example, imagine if when implementing a new system, rather than bringing in specialists to design and deploy training on how to use it, you asked the system itself to generate this and then provide the post-go-live user support via Chat.
It can also expedite the design and build of the new system itself. We have seen first-hand at Slalom how generative AI is a revolutionary new approach for developers because it offers a brand-new way to approach software development. It can do everything from coding to debugging, problem-solving, and producing documentation, alleviating significant time developers would previously devote to learning and undertaking coding, as AI can assist employees with programming in multiple languages. This can provide developers with that time previously spent coding for strategy and creativity for the first time, shifting their role significantly.
Impact on jobs
AI doesn’t automatically have the ability to do any task well. It requires humans to train and ‘coach’ it on what good looks like before it learns to do this effectively, and there will still be a need to sense check and facilitate how it is deployed. There will be new jobs created to manage these AI tools, in areas such as machine learning, data science, and AI ‘training’ and ethics.
However, the automation of repetitive tasks, such as data entry, report generation and customer support will possibly result in some jobs becoming redundant over time, but this is no different to other business development and efficiency initiatives (e.g., self-service systems, Lean process re-engineering). And redundant jobs does not necessarily mean redundant people – there’s opportunity in how you redeploy the workers freed up as a result.
Every organisation, from not-for-profits to Fortune 100 companies, life sciences to financial services, can benefit from using Generative AI to augment specialist human skills, while automating mundane and routine tasks. By enabling AI to carry out these responsibilities, employees will have more time to devote to tasks that the software cannot grasp, such as strategy, client relations and business development. By automating time-consuming tasks, workers can pivot to focus more effort on higher-level tasks that require human expertise and analytical skills that AI has not yet developed.
And if humans are required to work a bit less, that may be no bad thing. Given recent research which found that 81 percent of employees feel at risk of burnout, perhaps AI is the key to a more manageable workload or unlocking that four-day working week everyone wants.
Generative AI will not just reduce workload for employees, it can also enhance the work they continue to do, by improving internal communication, knowledge management, and creating a more personal employee experience. ChatGPT can be used as an internal support tool where employees can receive instant, always-available support and information. GenAI ‘personal assistants’, such a Microsoft’s 365 Copilot, can automatically capture meeting actions and schedule the next meeting just by ‘listening in’ on the meeting, as well as provide feedback on how well you presented in that meeting. This has the potential to make employees feel more confident in their ability and more supported in the workplace, leading to higher performance.
In other words, the rise of AI should make workers better instead of obsolete. AI marks the next big (r)evolution in technology with the potential to enhance productivity, insight, innovation and overall employee experience.
‘Talent Intelligence’ is something Josh Bersin has identified as one of the biggest potential successes of AI – the ability to combine internal and external data to define and deploy the right people strategy to enable and sustain your business.
The information generated by AI can be aggregated at an organisational level to provide more accurate and meaningful insights – a far more holistic approach to employee listening than the periodic engagement survey, which could result in talent strategies and people initiatives which are tailored to actual needs and therefore more effective.
Understanding and enhancing the employee experience, from being a candidate right through to being an alumni, is what will help organisations win the ongoing war for talent and perform better overall. Knowing the ‘moments that matter’ to employees for them to do their job effectively, and what impact this has on the customer experience is the biggest lever to pull. As Richard Branon famously said, “take care of your employees and they will take care of your business.” The potential data sources and insights for this explode in volume and potential accuracy with AI, but organisations must be prepared to exploit this.
Of course, all of this depends on the quality of the information AI tools pull from, which is why data strategy and management are more important than ever. The Chief Data Officer is fast becoming one of the most critical roles in business. Having a robust approach to identifying, controlling and maintaining data is the first step to being able to reap the benefits of AI. Without this, organisations risk AI tools generating incorrect or irrelevant information, or sharing it with those who should not have visibility.
Business leaders must also understand the potential bias of AI tools. OpenAI has implemented various parameters and safeguards to ensure that its Natural Language Processing (NLP) and AI products such as ChatGPT behave ethically and responsibly. However, ChatGPT, like other radical technological advances (such as social media), are prone to biases, as they learn from users over time. If we are to see global uptake of ChatGPT from the business world, the platform must be fair and inclusive. Organisations must promote a culture of ethics in relation to AI in the workplace. This could include regular performance evaluation, greater process transparency and discussions around the pitfalls of their systems to allow for open conversations about its progress. It will also be important to test and learn before scaling these tools.
Ultimately, rather than viewing AI as a threat to one’s job, employees should view it as a tool to make their lives easier. OpenAI and platforms such as ChatGPT are productivity-enhancing tools rather than robots’ intent on replacing human jobs.
As artificial intelligence continues to advance, it is essential to remember that humans will always play a vital role in developing and using these technologies. One key reason is that creativity and emotional intelligence are still uniquely human traits, and AI cannot yet replicate our diverse thought processes. This means that humans drive strategic and innovative work, though they may use AI to bring those ideas to life.
The world of work is more complex and turbulent than ever before, but it’s also more promising. Leveraged correctly, generative AI will help organisations move faster and build more flexible, supported and satisfying jobs for all.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.