The year 2020 will be a pivotal one in AI-related employment dynamics — Gartner predicts 2.3 million jobs will be created and 1.8 jobs will be eliminated. While AI-prompted employee churn is a new reality, net job growth from AI will cross into positive territory in the coming years as companies evaluate the impact of their long-term AI direction.

The main contributor to the net job growth is AI augmentation, a combination of human and AI where each complements the other. AI will improve the productivity of many skilled jobs, eliminate “on the job”-trained positions, and create millions of new positions in highly skilled, management positions, as well as entry-level and low-skilled jobs.

AI agents helping humans

Any industry with vast amounts of data — so much that humans can’t possibly analyze or understand it on their own — can utilize AI. AI applications will bring new levels of decision quality, customer service, scale, and operational efficiency to processes formerly directed and run by human labor. For example, Stitch Fix, a personalized shopping company, showcases the synergies created between people and AI. Stitch Fix uses AI to narrow down merchandise selection but leaves the final choice of items and personal touch to human designers. Stitch Fix created jobs not only for 65 data scientists, but thousands of designers.

AI agents, such as Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant, can convert the spoken word into text. To encourage adoption of its agent, a vendor will offer developers a skills kit that enabling them to build upon voice queries or instructions. For example, both Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut have published a skill for Alexa. Users create an account at the retailer’s website, activate the associated skill, and then tell Alexa to order the pizza via that website.

AI-driven customer service agents can gauge user intent and capture information, along with the nature of the problem the customer is asking the company to solve. These applications can then examine possible resolutions without engaging a human. That being said, companies can still redirect higher-level issues to humans when needed.

Agents account for 46 percent of the global AI-derived business value in 2018, but will drop to 26 percent by 2022 as other AI types mature and contribute to business value.

Emotionally aware robots

Companies use AI to power smart products, usually in the form of cloud systems that can integrate data about a user’s preferences from multiple systems and interactions. They learn about their users and their preferences to hyperpersonalize the experience and to drive engagement.

A subset of smart products is mechanical robots with embedded AI that can move in, and interact with, the robots’ environment. Examples include autonomous vehicles and factory robots that eliminate the need to put humans at risk in dangerous environments — as well as help with cost-cutting. While the manufacturing industry is rife with examples of AI automated machines, robots have moved into many other industries, including hospitality. For example, humanoid robots like SoftBank’s Pepper can communicate through emotion, speech, and body language. Companies have even piloted smart technologies as hotel receptionists, hospital concierges, and caregivers.

Smart products accounted for 18 percent of the global AI-derived business value in 2017, but Gartner predicts it will shrink to 13 percent by 2030 as other deep neural network-based systems mature.

Job shifts

Job loss will predominantly occur in the middle-skilled jobs, typified by situations in which employees receive training while on the job. Many organizations may not pursue replacement via leading-edge uses of AI, but they will augment employees, customers, and ecosystem participants. Consequently, AI will enable increased productivity and business-value generation beyond what humans or machines could achieve on their own.

Now is the time to set the long-term AI direction. For the greatest value, companies must focus on augmenting people with AI. This will help enrich people’s jobs, reimagine old tasks, and create new roles, jobs, and even industries. We are at a pivotal point: Where will AI go? This is up to businesses — they will choose the problems for AI to solve. AI can handle previously identified patterns; it is up to humans to break new ground.

John-David Lovelock is vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory firm.