Much of the conversation about tech in the workplace centers on jobs that will be replaced by AI, as well as the technology’s impending effects on workplace dynamics. Without question, this is a revolution in the making, and some businesses will thrive within it while some get left behind. However, let’s not forget that this cutting-edge tech is still not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are some tasks that artificial intelligence excels at, and others that the technology will not be able to effectively complete for decades, or even centuries.
There’s no shortage of intriguing toys and tools that promise to futurize your office, but the real changes will come from implementing AI to augment and even replace human workers in a number of tasks. As a subject of real concern and controversy, it’s important for executives to know just how necessary AI implementation could be for their businesses to avoid jumping the gun and needlessly reducing human jobs.
Every company is different, and some will want to invest more heavily in intelligent machines than others. The question is of your company’s priorities: What tasks are ready for the AI switch, and which ones are best left to living, breathing people?
Strengths of an AI employee
Of all the common functions of business, customer service has the widest implementation of AI in everyday use. Chatbots capable of providing 24/7 support are at the ready for front-facing services. These bots are essentially highly sophisticated document retrieval software that promises to make hold periods a thing of the past. If your company deals with a high volume of customer calls, especially if those calls often end up requiring similar solutions, bots could prove incredibly valuable.
Another beneficial function comes for companies with an acute interest in protecting sensitive data. Companies apply IBM’s advanced Watson AI to assess security threats and provide lightning-fast threat analysis. If its performance on Jeopardy is any indicator, Watson’s impressive cognitive capabilities should be able to help cybersecurity specialists, and perhaps even one day replace them.
Manufacturing companies have used bots for decades already, but the arrival of AI will expand the machine’s reach into higher spaces adjacent to the assembly line. AI will soon process logistics and coordination and could even process special orders. This could lead to what experts envision as a more decentralized process based on smaller, on-demand builds as opposed to the central mega factories that create most consumer goods today. If your company is reliant upon manufactured stock, implementing AI now rather than later is likely the way to get a leg up.
AI’s workplace weaknesses
I’ve mentioned only some of the many stunning tasks bots can now handle. However, this isn’t to say AI will work for every company. For one, AI is still less than ideal for accommodating unexpected problems. A preprogrammed machine is suited perfectly for tasks with little variance, but tasks requiring empathy or emotional intelligence will be out of a bot’s realm of capabilities for a long time.
Nuance and causation are two more factors that AI is far from able to handle. While an AI can probably answer questions of “What?” or “How?” better than most humans, “Why?” remains elusive. The often complex world of human communication is a monumental task for AI researchers to tackle, and this work will take decades before companies can apply it toward solving problems in business. If your organization thrives on holistically assessing your clients and their needs, it’s probably best to leave that to the humans (for now).
Another important thing to remember is that even the best AI is not without flaw. Some pretty elementary tactics can fool even the most advanced image recognition software. Reliance on such security could leave your company vulnerable to attacks, which could render conversion a less than attractive option. Until we are able to close these and other computational gaps, full reliance on automated security is still a dream.
Looking to the future
The truth is that at this point, AI still has a somewhat limited use for most businesses. While a future filled with intelligent machines is not out of the realm of possibility, our present requires realistic expectations, especially when you have shareholders or investors to please. We have a thrilling future ahead, to be sure, but when you consider the demands of the present, you and your organization may find it best to consider all options, AI or otherwise.
AI is exciting to many because of the possibilities it offers for the future. We are on the cusp of a world where smart software can perform not only the drudge work, but some of the more thoughtful and dynamic tasks as well. But the world we inhabit today is the one that your business needs to make money in.
By all means, go ahead and dream of the day when AI will be your most crucial tool in growing your business. But when it comes to real applications, know the strengths of the tech before you make the leap.
Dave Rocker is managing partner of the Rocker Group, a management consulting firm specializing in analytics, compliance, and planning.