, March 13, 2024
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There’s a lot of hype around AI or smart tech and its power to interpret and sort data at scale, solve complicated problems and automate various tasks simultaneously, which can save time, effort and fill in operational gaps missed by humans. For some, this is raising reasonable fears that AI will ultimately replace human workers. But a reduction in force is not what smart organizations should be focusing on. In fact, companies that automate their operations mainly to cut their workforces will see only short-term productivity gains, say the authors of an article in Harvard Business Review. Instead, it’s more important to think about AI and its power to rehumanize IT and the way that we work.

Successful organizations foster worker collaboration with AI

Rather than doing the same work faster and with fewer people, AI creates an opportunity to redesign jobs and reengineer workflows to enable people to focus on the parts of work that humans are particularly well-suited for, such as relationship building, intuitive decision making, empathy, and problem solving. It can free workers from the 24/7 onslaught of tasks, back-to-back meetings, and emails created by having to be “always on,” or chained to their desks. This will prevent burnout and help modern workers find a better work-life balance, making them happier and more productive in the long run. In fact, some studies estimate that AI and machine learning will contribute to a 37% increase in labor productivity by 2025.

How can AI and humans work together?

There’s no reason to fear that robots will replace all human employees. Research, involving 1,500 firms in a range of industries, shows that the biggest performance improvements come when humans and smart machines work together, enhancing each other’s strengths. For instance, what comes naturally to people (making a joke, for example – well SOME people) can be tricky for machines, and what’s straightforward for machines (analyzing gigabytes of data) is difficult for humans. Business requires both kinds of capabilities.

The evolution of artificial intelligent technologies

The relationship between intelligent technology and workers has evolved significantly over time.

  1. Substitute for workers: At first, technology automated workers out of tasks that were dull, dangerous, or disconnected. 
  2. Augment workers: Next, technology functioned alongside workers as a tool that provided additional or enhanced capabilities and insights. 
  3. Humanize work: Now, technologies are emerging that aren’t just a substitute or supplement for workers but to help them improve who they are—enabling humans to become better humans and teams to become better teams.

Given where we started with intelligent technology as a substitute or supplement for humans, it’s ironic to think of technology being used to make humans more human. Yet that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. Technology can help us improve what we already do best—things like driving well-being, practicing emotional intelligence, and fostering creativity and teaming, which are things technology itself can’t do.

Real stories of human AI collaboration

Check out the inspiring work the organizations below are doing to make the world more accessible for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to care for themselves, navigate independently or connect with others. These are just a couple examples that illustrate the immeasurable impact of humans and AI joining forces. 

  • Microsoft: Microsoft leveraged AI to build the Seeing AI intelligent camera app, designed for people with blindness and visual impairment. This app narrates the world around the user, translating the visual world for them and enabling greater independence. The many functions of this app range from describing the people around you, including their facial expression and emotion, to identifying currency bills and reading text.
  • Toyota: Toyota’s Human Support Robot (HSR) is essentially an electronic butler that can be voice-operated or controlled by a tablet and uses machine learning to understand how to independently navigate the specific surroundings unique to a home. The HSR can help with everyday tasks such as getting a drink of water, retrieving items from the floor or high places, open the curtains, and more. HSR is an example of how Toyota is using technology to assist elderly and disabled individuals and moving towards their vision of becoming a mobility company.
  • Voiceitt: This company developed patented automatic speech recognition solutions to assist people with non-standard speech due to disability, age, and accents. Their API and standalone app facilitate in-person and web-based conversations with real-time transcription, synthesized speech output, dictation and more – breaking down communication barriers for people with speech differences. Their proprietary algorithms maintain high accuracy with limited data, greatly reducing ML training time. 

AI and humans together improve customer service

While AI-driven chatbots can guide customers through their purchasing journey, it's the personalized product recommendations, human-written thank-you notes, and responsive customer support that truly resonate with customers. Smart organizations are using AI to speed up the response time of customer support agents. They use AI to clearly identify the need of the customer and display the right information to the agents, thus bringing best-in-class customer service when AI and the humans work hand in hand. After the customer service call, AI can then analyze the conversation between the customer service representative and the customer and offer ways to improve the customer experience via understanding the customer's level of frustration, the need for escalation and quicker resolution of problems.

The best utilization of AI is not to replace human interaction, but to enhance human interaction and decrease the friction in the customer experience. For example, if there are tech questions such as resetting passwords that can be directed through AI responses, that is a great use of the resource. But if someone has a unique problem, they need a human touch. An unfortunate yet common experience is encountering angry customers, and it takes human skill to handle them appropriately. Customers want their dissatisfaction taken seriously and their problem resolved as quickly as possible. It is essential that a customer service agent listens and responds with genuine empathy and compassion during these interactions. A skilled customer service agent should take responsibility and accountability for the organization. "Mr. Smith, I'm sorry this happened. Let me see what I can do to resolve this situation for you as quickly as possible."

AI can now measure customer wait times. Historically, poor service has been difficult to track at scale. With AI, you can collect actionable insights on each interaction and use that transparency to perfect your customer service.

Human AI collaboration will have positive effects on customers, product quality, site safety, the environment, and more. You’ll know your organization is making progress in humanizing IT with AI if workplace technology is improving teamwork and helping teams stay connected, and if workers are improving their personal capabilities with more time to focus on high-value cognitive tasks such as creativity, ideation, and innovation. 

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