AI will soon be your colleague, your boss or your subordinate
Technological advancements today are significantly affecting the way humans lead their lives and run their businesses. Artificial intelligence (AI) is at its centre, and we can see it everywhere, starting from the effect on the quality of human relationships and interactions (Facebook, Tinder and other social or dating applications), to the influence on consumer behaviour (through algorithms, embedded cookies and targeted advertisements), to the impact on culture and entertainment (Netflix, Youtube, Spotify), to urban surveillance and panopticism through facial recognition, to the transportation sector (autonomous vehicles) and even its impact on armed conflicts and human rights through the use of autonomous drones and smart weaponry.
Artificial Intelligence, as a term, was first introduced by the American computer and cognitive scientist Professor John McCarthy in 1955. Since 1955, AI has gone through many changes and developed so that today we can observe many advancements and tools implemented across different industries. These developments are creating a lot of benefits and risks, including many ethical concerns.
In January 2015, a conference in Puerto Rico brought together the world’s leading AI scientists from academia and industry. The conference, titled “The Future of AI: Opportunities and Challenges”, resulted in an open letter that has collected nearly 7000 signatures in support of more research into the benefits of AI while avoiding the potential pitfalls.
These almost 7000 signatories included academics, entrepreneurs and AI scientists like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. The letter concluded that developments in AI have the potential to bring extraordinary benefits to humankind. Thus it is vital to research how to maximise the benefits while avoiding adverse impacts.
Equally, the growing capabilities of AI are significantly impacting human society; therefore, it is up to AI researchers to ensure that the future impact is beneficial. Stephen Hawking clearly expressed his concerns when he described AI as “the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity”. Ethical concerns around the implementation of AI-driven technology remain a hot topic.
In January 2020, both the European Commission and US lawmakers called for a ban on the use of AI-driven facial recognition technology in public spaces for up to five years. Companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon are among the many that are currently working on developing technology related to facial recognition. Facial recognition allows technology to recognise a face using biometrics to map facial features from a photograph or a video and compares it to a database to help verify personal identity.
This technology could be considered a threat to personal privacy and data rights. The technology is still inaccurate as a recent study shows, especially when it comes to identifying African-American and Asian faces compared to Caucasian faces. While the West remains cautious about this technology, China is a big supporter, implementing the technology across the country and in pharmacies in Shanghai to prevent potential abuses from drug addicts or criminals.
Risks and Opportunities
One of the first studies on AI and its effect on employment considered technologies currently used in 702 different jobs in the USA. The study concluded that 47% of activities linked to employment are at a high risk of being lost to automation in the next two decades and that the salaries are inversely proportional to the probability of automation. It proposes that automation will come in stages: first, a blockage concerning a technology will lead to a technological breakthrough that will, in turn, lead to automation.
The 2019 edition of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) report Employment Outlook: The future of Work presented new evidence on the effect of automation and AI on job stability. This report provides an annual assessment of key labour market developments and prospects for OECD member states. The study concluded that the risk of automation to employment exists but will vary from country to country. 14% of jobs are likely to be completely automated, while 32% will significantly change. While new technologies will make specific occupations obsolete, it will also create new roles.
A study published in July 2019 by McKinsey Global Institute titled the Future of Work In America confirms that daily tasks could change in the future for all jobs as intelligent machines become an essential part of the American work environment. The study analysed more than 3000 counties and showed that millions of jobs would cease to exist by 2030.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, “the advent of cyber-physical systems involving entirely new capacities for people and machines” has introduced AI, automation, and robotics and has led to their strategic implementation intending to solve many daily management challenges. AI-driven robots are quickly becoming an essential asset of many establishments, driven by shortages in staff, the need for increased multilevel communication, and the need to create a memorable guest experience through flawless use of available customer data.
Even though today’s technology cannot fully replace employees, developments in AI, automation, and robotics significantly influence the human element. Significant effects are already reflected on job profiles, hours worked, employee relationships with their peers and managers, and compensation packages. AI, automation, and robotics are starting to directly change low-skilled positions, although most jobs requiring human interaction remain extremely difficult to automate. Yet, supercomputing might even impact cognitive tasks such as those of doctors, people working in healthcare, or even lawyers, judges, lecturers and researchers.
The risk of being put out of business by automation is much higher, for example, for a barista than for a barman. One can argue that while the barista’s job is about mixing and serving drinks, the barman’s job is interactive, unpredictable and involves conversing with customers. Two kinds of jobs are more challenging to automate: tasks involving emotion, and considering the context. Emotion plays a vital role in verbal and nonverbal communication; it helps humans prioritise and contribute to the decision-making process. Context as well can be quickly taken into account by humans while making decisions but is a challenge for automation.
I believe changes brought about by AI and technology will change job descriptions and job design in the future.
What about you, what do you think? Will technological advancements significantly affect how you lead your life and run your business?
Author: Georges El Hajal
Georges is a Lebanese-born PhD candidate at the University of Groningen, with extensive experience in HRM across various industries and countries. At Hotel Management School NHL Stenden, he is a member of the Professorship of Hospitality Studies and teaches HRM and strategic HRM. His research focuses on developing a talent strategy for the hospitality industry in Friesland, including creating a model to prepare for the future of hospitality jobs and upskilling the current workforce.
This blog is based on an academic paper written by the author and published in the Research in Hospitality Management Journal.