The AI Effect on Employment – a Net Positive or Negative?

February 15, 2021 - 7 minutes read

artificial intelligence app developmentArtificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are growing rapidly, and we’re seeing advancements in many fields due to these emerging technologies. For a long time, industry leaders have warned that AI might eventually take over many jobs and force workers to learn new skills to stay competitive. A recent study by the London-based Confederation of Business Industry shows just how close we may be to the beginning of the AI takeover.

According to the report, nine out of ten UK workers will need to retrain entirely or learn new skills by 2030 to retain a job. The research shows that 21 million lack basic digital skills to keep up with digitalization. The cost to retrain and upskill these workers is projected to cost £130 billion over the next ten years.

COVID-19’s Role

The information coming out of the study is really worrisome due to the rapid timeline and the staggering data about 90% of workers not having enough technological skills. Does it mean that most people will end up unemployed in the next decade due to a lack of skill or training? Or will jobs and universal basic income be provided to stave off the economic implications of the research?

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New and emerging technology is often touted as the one to end many jobs, but in the past, new technology has only momentarily displaced workers. These workers eventually find a new niche due to upskilling, finding a new career, or combining experience with interest in a new field. Ultimately, AI development is expected to provide a massive boost to productivity with an unknown change to our future.

If you think the year 2030 mentioned in the UK report is really close, there’s a reason behind that. COVID-19 has greatly accelerated the timeline for AI and automation advancement. As more companies were forced to digitalize faster to stay in business at the beginning of the pandemic, it pushed up the timeline for AI adoption by more than a few years.

As an example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) call-in center started using smart automation technologies at the beginning of the pandemic to analyze and triage calls for appointment booking for emergency departments. And because a human call operator could be out sick due to the virus, the NHS thought this would be a good move to future-proof their technology. The department expects call volumes to jump by 50% and have 50% fewer human operators to handle the massive increase in calls. With AI, the NHS can manage demand effectively, use fewer resources, and help more patients.

Utilizing Technology Better

Automating contact centers is nothing new. They’ve been the early focus of automation and robotic technology for years, and new technologies like seamless AI-enabled chatbots offer less phone time, faster self-service, and utilization of a knowledge base to further drive productivity. Whereas these chatbots used to leave customers feeling unfulfilled and frustrated, a machine learning application called Natural Language Processing (NLP) has elevated how we see chatbots in the past few years. Add to that sentiment analysis, and chatbots are getting closer to becoming more human than machine.

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NLP is also being used in voice interactions with customers to detect a tone of voice and keywords. Using this information, the AI can direct customers to the person who can best help them. These technologies have been instrumental in transforming call centers, especially during demanding periods like during quarantine or during the start of the pandemic. Many human call operators have said that AI makes their jobs easier and more productive during these busy times.

Supporting Humans

At call centers, AI supports agents with tools that more rapidly allow them to help their customers with their questions and problems. Agents find that there’s less repetitive work, and this frees them up for more creativity in solving customer problems and improving the customer experience. As a result of the successes that many companies have had with automation and AI, competitors are looking to jump into improving their own business operations. At the start of the pandemic, companies that had already deployed automation and AI were able to quickly pivot their businesses to support customers and employees while addressing complaints.

However, without humans, AI cannot learn or train itself as effectively to perform as well. Humans are needed to collaborate with AI for optimal success. Companies also need to implement new technologies in a way that’s apparent and transparent for employees and customers. But at the end of the day, humans need to be comfortable working with technology to take full advantage of the improvements AI offers. Companies will also need to revisit how they benchmark productivity and performance for their employees. Ideally, there needs to be more of a correlation between the customer experience and the long-term value generation by the employee.

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Human-Robot Teamwork

AI is becoming a necessary technology in almost every industry, and we have the pandemic to thank for the rapid adoption of this emerging technology. But unless we train humans to work better alongside AI, we will face economic turmoil and job loss in the next decade. Human-robot collaboration and interaction are imperative to business productivity and efficiency, but companies will have to help their employees bridge any skill gaps along the way.

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