Advantages of artificial intelligence for everyday workers
Element AI Element AI
September 6 5 min

Advantages of artificial intelligence for everyday workers

If you asked the average person to list the advantages of artificial intelligence (AI), there’s a good chance that “improving the lives of the everyday worker” wouldn’t feature high on the list. The earliest AI discourse tended towards a clear dichotomy — that businesses, particularly large enterprises and corporations, would benefit at the expense of the everyday worker, whose jobs would be replaced by automation. First-line workers, those in mainly customer-focused jobs, were seen to be most at risk.

The current reality, however, is radically different to that flawed view, with some reports even suggest AI will create more jobs than it replaces. More importantly, AI has the potential to significantly improve existing jobs, by increasing productivity, efficiency and freeing up time for workers to spend on more valuable and rewarding work. This remains the case even when considering first-line workers.

Adding value to the everyday worker

In 2013, Carl Benedikt Frey & Michael Osborne’s Future of Employment report published by the University of Oxford projected that 47% of jobs were vulnerable to automation in the next 20 years. Some publications reporting on the study went so far as to switch “vulnerable to” with “will be automated,” in what has since become a lesson in nuance and semantics. In fact, the report made it clear that certain functions within 47% of jobs had the potential to be automated. That might sound like a minor distinction, but the detail makes the difference between a job being enhanced by automation and outright replaced. As the saying goes, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still pulling its boots on,” and the nuance was completely lost. The statistic has since become symptomatic of the kind of scare-story discourse that surrounds AI.

In reality, AI is likely to improve a great majority of jobs by automating tasks within a person’s working day. Consider transport, for instance, a sector seen to be particularly vulnerable to unemployment via automation. In London, driverless trains have been a common feature of local transport for some years. The resulting changes have freed up staff to turn towards more managerial, customer-facing roles as train attendants. Staff on these trains move around the vehicle, monitor passengers, check tickets, and operate doors — as well as being able to manually operate the vehicles when necessary. In this case, the reality counters the popular narrative. AI provides the potential for more customer-facing roles to be created.

Proven advantages of artificial intelligence

Earlier this year, a study commissioned by Microsoft and published by Forbes Insights investigated a similar phenomenon. They wanted to prove that AI was much more likely to automate individual tasks within a job than to replace them. They found that 79% of knowledge workers surveyed agree that AI and related technologies are having a transformational impact on workflows and tools. 84% similarly agreed that AI freed knowledge workers for more creative, intuitive, and laterally thinking activities. A clear majority of people surveyed considered the advantages of AI to include improving, rather than replacing, their everyday tasks.

Consider, for example, an HR worker. There are plenty of tasks within their working day that are ripe for automation, including expense filing and onboarding. Plenty of more complicated tasks remain once these simple, mundane ones have been automated. These more complicated tasks include determining staff needs, recruitment, performance monitoring, discrimination prevention, and more, all of which can benefit from having more of the HR worker’s time available.

As well as this, the Forbes Insights study listed a range of benefits to knowledge and first-line workers, across professional industries:

  • More effective collaboration across teams and locations
  • Better quality of life and employee satisfaction
  • More time for focused, value-adding work
  • More frequent, effective communication of data and insights across an organization

Concrete improvements

In discussions about artificial intelligence, the potential to create small yet meaningful efficiencies is rarely reported. Discussions about industries ravaged and replaced by machines make for flashier headlines than conversations about improving processes, workflows, and repetitive daily tasks. It’s in the latter where the real potential for productive change lies.

Consider the example of a large global organization with 8,500 workers. The Forbes Insights study predicted that over a period of four years, the potential for cost savings in such an organization would be US$36.6 million. Of course, we know that AI promises significant cost savings for large multinationals. The fascinating part was how these cost savings were achieved through small but vital improvements to knowledge workers’ daily tasks. This included efficiency savings across several areas:

  • Streamlined data analysis
  • Automatically generated PowerPoint presentations
  • Intelligent search
  • Personalized, data-driven recommendations
  • Efficiency gains enabled by data-driven workplace insights

Framed through this narrative, the advantages of AI for the average knowledge worker are clear enough for anyone to see. The idea that jobs could be replaced by streamlining data analysis is, at best, tenuous.

Like any emerging technology, AI promises both opportunities and challenges. If used properly, improvements can be made on both sides of the coin — to both worker and organization. It’s up to each company to decide how they plan to make the best of it.