Rhonda Scharf discusses the impact on our profession of what artificial intelligence can and cannot do
In the title of my latest book, I quip that “Alexa is stealing your job.” That’s just the title – I’m actually a big fan of artificial intelligence (AI) and what it can do for all of us.
I like technology. I try out all the new gadgets and embrace what comes my way, usually a little before most people do. However, I know that I’m in the minority and that many people are fearful of artificial intelligence. They’re genuinely afraid that it will take away their job.
Will artificial intelligence take away some jobs? Yes. However, according to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020, artificial intelligence will create at least 60 million more jobs than it eliminates.
That sounds good, unless it’s your job that’s being eliminated, and you find yourself unqualified for one of the new jobs AI creates, right?
Instead of worrying, let’s look at what artificial intelligence can and cannot do and see how it impacts our profession. With a little knowledge and forward thinking, we can ensure that even if artificial intelligence takes away parts of our job, we can put ourselves in a position to pivot so we’re working with it rather than against it.
Before we start, I should note that, although they are a form of artificial intelligence, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant represent just a tiny fraction of the artificial intelligence world. Artificial intelligence (also known as machine learning) refers to a range of technology that learns and adapts like a human.
There are many things AI can do, and it is (literally) learning more every day.
Artificial intelligence can:
It is good at doing tasks like answering phone calls, taking orders, handling customer service queries, and doing other front-line speaking roles. Imagine not having to answer the phone, route calls or answer routine questions. Imagine the only time you need to be on the phone is to have a conversation that pertains to things you know, that aren’t in the company FAQs. Having AI take care of our job’s routine telephone component gives us more time for strategic functions instead of filling our day with others’ priorities and busywork.
Imagine your Executive is traveling internationally with a client who doesn’t speak English well, and your Executive doesn’t speak the other language. We have simultaneous translation that is machine-based, which not only understands and translates the words, it also translates the context. Translation software used to be very poor but it’s getting better every day and soon it may become almost as good as translation done by humans. Instant translation is terrible if you work as a translator, but great if it is your role to make your Executive’s travel easier.
Back in 2016, Uber used its first self-driving truck to deliver 50,000 cans of Budweiser beer to its destination – without a human driver. Can you foresee the massive implications this has for the transportation industry? No more having to track down the limo driver who was at the wrong terminal. No more delays because the flight crew exceeded their allowable flying time in the middle of a snowstorm. No more worrying about driving and getting lost – we can just jump into a car that can take us to our destination. No more getting directions or worrying about transportation will make our (and our Executive’s) lives easier.
Artificial intelligence can recognize faces. This has massive implications for police work, payment portals, and even shopping centres, where AI can recognize you when you come in and know what you’re likely to want to buy. This will be helpful in law enforcement, security, and travel (although there are obviously privacy and ethical, as well as legal, limitations to this kind of usage of AI). AI can act as a receptionist (we already know it can speak independently), a gatekeeper, or office security. When your Executive is waiting for someone to arrive for an appointment, AI can manage the task. It will know who to let into the office and who to turn away. The former role of the receptionist can be assigned to other, more critical, office functions.
Artificial intelligence is already writing movies (such as Disney’s “Up”) that connect with us emotionally (remember the scenes where we saw Carl and Ellie’s life together). Automated journalism regularly appears in the Associated Press, Forbes, Washington Post, and the New York Times, mostly for stories that are based on statistics, like weather reports and sports scores. Back in 2014, an algorithm called Quakebot published a story about an earthquake on the Los Angeles Times website that appeared three minutes after the shaking stopped. Can you imagine how much time we could save by having AI respond to our emails automatically? It would free you from routine tasks and allow you to work on more complicated tasks that AI cannot do well.
Learning is the most significant thing AI does – in fact, it’s what defines it. We can teach artificial intelligence the same way we teach a student. Repeatedly show it a photo of a ball, and it will learn what a ball looks like. For travel, AI will know that your Executive likes the aisle seat in economy when the flight is less than two hours long and likes the window seat in business class when the flight is longer than two hours. It will learn that the preferred airline is only selected if the price isn’t more than 20% above the lower-priced alternative and isn’t the last flight of the night. It will make hotel reservations knowing you want the third floor away from the elevator, and feather pillows. It learns the same way we do, only much faster and with a higher degree of reliability.
But there are things it cannot do well either, so you shouldn’t be too worried about your job. As you can see, it takes away some of the time-consuming task-based activities that we do, leaving us more time to do tasks that require our critical thinking, creativity, and empathy.
What AI cannot do well or at all:
While artificial intelligence can write articles, emails, and even movie scripts, it can only follow a formula. AI lacks imaginative powers and cannot come up with new ideas. It cannot change a pattern to create something different. AI cannot suggest that we approach our customers with a marketing campaign focused on delivery or add a 100% money-back guarantee to our product. It can’t create what isn’t already a recognizable pattern. Your Executive can bounce ideas off you (and vice versa), and together you can brainstorm. You can be a priceless resource to the company in a way that AI cannot.
Consider current chatbots such as Nadia, a life-like chatbot used by the Australian government to help people access the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Nadia is voiced by actress Cate Blanchett, and can interpret, with 85% accuracy, the visual expressions of the people it chats with online. However, it doesn’t understand (the way a human does) what the chats mean and can’t feel emotions that the human who is chatting may be conveying through their words. Nadia has zero emotional intelligence. It has learned that you are sad when you have water running out of your eyes but doesn’t truly understand what sad means. It can adjust its responses to suit the emotion but doesn’t feel or understand the emotion.
This is the most significant opportunity for us as office professionals. American poet Maya Angelou famously said, “People will never forget how you made them feel.” We can care. We can sincerely express emotion. We can help people feel good about their decisions, get excited when they get excited, and help others’ self-esteem and confidence. A chatbot cannot do those things. And that’s the good news. Our emotional intelligence is worth far more than our IQ.
Maximize the capabilities of artificial intelligence so your company and your Executives benefit from it. Use AI to free up your valuable time for critical thinking, creativity, and the emotional intelligence that only you can provide.
Alexa isn’t stealing your job. Alexa is helping you do it better.