4 ways AI could change how we work — and how we can prepare for that changeOctober 30, 2023 | By Jana DeLancey
The next decade will be a defining one, with all of the systems and structures of the previous centuries intersecting with artificial intelligence. One of the most significant places where this crashing of new and old will happen is the business world.
Expectations for the benefits of AI are already sky-high, with McKinsey predicting that by 2030 AI could generate an eye-popping $13 trillion in additional economic output per year.
While the potential is vast, there are concerns that current business structures and ways of operating will become defunct in the new AI era. Advanced technologies could completely rewire how businesses work.
What could this future look like? A lot is still unknown, but here are four potential ways AI could forever change how we work — and how we can define the future of AI in the workplace, not the other way around.
A hybrid workforce
Labor as we know it could be upended. Jobs that need human workers today could increasingly be filled by AI and robotic systems, changing the workforce and talent planning of every sector from agriculture and food service to medicine and financial services.
In this future, workers may no longer simply use computers, software and other advanced technologies. Instead, people could partner and collaborate with AI, creating a hybrid workforce where roles — and entire occupations — are completely reimagined. Institutions may need to invest in retraining employees in the skills that advanced technologies cannot easily replicate. Fluency in tech will be a must, but so will softer skills like emotional intelligence, communication skills and the ability to manage and motivate teams — which are not yet replicable by AI and which are still key to running an ethical and human-centric business.
There should be clear divisions of labor, with employees understanding that certain tasks will be strictly reserved for humans, while others can use human-machine collaboration, retain a “human in the loop” or be handled independently by AI systems. This clarification would not only help create a sense of safety but would allow individuals to opt in or out of career pathways that lean more heavily toward interacting with the AI workforce.
It’s important to note that many other rounds of automation and innovation throughout history resulted in human jobs evolving but not significantly diminishing — many careers, in fact, were enhanced. That may happen in the AI era, too.
The next diversity opportunity
With AI playing a more critical role in daily business, the concepts of diversity and AI will take on greater import. Bias in AI systems will need to be rooted out to ensure, for example, that all job candidates are given a fair review by AI-powered human resources systems.
And if companies become overreliant on AI’s systems for innovation, consumer groups that are historically less represented in big data will be left behind. Institutions should audit datasets to quantify and address the impact newly deployed AI is having on the underserved consumer.
New definitions of success
Automation and AI may take on more of the roles and responsibilities formerly reserved for people. White-collar professionals — largely spared from previous waves of automation — will feel much of the pressure. As some jobs are automated, traditional rewards and marks of success (promotions, titles, bonuses) could be harder to achieve, and competition for them even stronger. The stability associated with white-collar work — like predefined working hours and a formal contract — may disappear.
This shift in power and responsibility will take a significant toll on people’s sense of self-worth, requiring a cultural shift that rethinks the meaning of purpose beyond work. As part of managing this transition, industry and government will need to clearly outline the role that people can play in the future of work — and ways for people and AI to coexist in the future workplace. Businesses can create new leadership pathways and reward systems that place a premium on emotional intelligence or other dimensions.
AI in the boardroom
AI platforms may be specifically designed to join executive teams and boards, or even replace parts of them, shattering the notion that AI and automation can be applied only to simple, repeatable tasks. Overreliance on AI in leadership positions could cause organizations to lose the ability to make critical decisions due to lack of practice. (Think of the last time you had to drive somewhere new without the aid of Google Maps or Waze.)
It could happen if our eagerness to embrace AI laps our understanding of it. More than half of IT professionals surveyed last year by IBM said they had accelerated their rollout of AI, but 63% of companies said they lacked the skills and training to develop and manage trustworthy AI.
Furthermore, the ability to detect problems and biases and diagnose failures may be stunted, especially as younger generations who are more reliant on technology enter the workforce.
Imagine a workforce where the best in human thinking and the best of AI could work together to create futures never before imagined. Here, governments and businesses could come to a consensus about how technology can be used to enhance the human workforce and drive business profitability. It is only by acknowledging and exploring these undesirable possibilities for the future that we can properly navigate the disruptive potential of AI.