Once upon a time, artificial intelligence was something only seen in science fiction. These days, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s becoming a more important workplace collaboration technology than ever before. The introduction of the co-bot is allowing us to replace routine work and allow workers to do something else, said Elizabeth Reynolds, executive director of MIT’s Work of the Future Task Force.
But what will the workplace of the future look like? How will artificial intelligence transform the way we work
Some forms of workplace collaboration technology have already begun to use artificial intelligence. For example, Unilever is using artificial intelligence to simplify and streamline the recruiting and hiring process. The AI can map an applicant’s skillset and use video analysis to conduct an interview, allowing the human hiring manager to finish the hiring process more quickly and efficiently. Without our biases, computers may be more fair than human recruiters; Unilever has expanded diversity fourfold with their AI screeners. Amazon has been expanding Alexa’s capabilities into the workplace. Alexa for Business is using natural language processing to accept and execute commands, serving as a virtual assistant. Does this mean that Alexa will be taking over the job of the administrative assistant? Not likely. When it comes to audio-visual workplace collaboration technology, artificial intelligence has the ability to make conferences and meetings more productive and pleasant. Whether it’s Cisco’s Webex voice commands, Logitech’s RightSense technology, or Voicera’s EVA, companies have already been working diligently to make workplace collaboration technology work for meetings. AI can correct the lighting and background noise in a room, use voice commands to initiate conference calls, and even take meeting notes. In the call center, AI-based workplace collaboration technology has been a part of customer experience for some time already. Artificial intelligence powers chatbots all over the Internet and on company-specific apps, providing answers to customer service requests and customer questions. IBM’s Watson assistant can perform automated queries and replies, assist call center agents with information retrieval, and store and retrieve customer information effortlessly. This type of workplace collaboration technology frees up call center agents to focus on customer service rather than data entry, promising to improve the customer experience.
Robots aren’t limited by human capacity. They don’t get tired, and they can lift and move far more than most ordinary humans. Robots at FedEx are lifting large, heavy, bulky items too heavy for humans to manage effectively. Robots in healthcare are being trained to help transfer patients from the bed to the chair or the chair to the bath.
When it comes to artificial intelligence in workplace collaboration technology, AI and machine learning has potential to take on a wider array of roles and responsibilities. Microsoft has long been experimenting with AI capabilities in its Office and productivity software suites, as well as with their Microsoft Bot framework. Google has been researching AI and machine learning for years, and they rolled out their AutoML initiative into beta testing in July 2018.
While Microsoft and Google are vying for dominance in the AI workplace collaboration technology space, they’re hardly alone. IBM, Amazon, and Apple have all invested heavily in AI and machine learning, and even Adobe and Salesforce are experimenting with AI capabilities in their platforms.
AI isn’t going away any time soon. Given the advantages in productivity, job satisfaction, and creativity that artificial intelligence can bring, the future environment is likely to be one where humans and bots work together on a daily basis. Paul Daugherty, senior technology leader at Accenture and co-author of Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, says, “[P]eople are good at emotive capability, communication, improvisation, generalization, things like that. And the machines are good at, you know, memorization, transactions, prediction.”
When the human predilection for improvisation and communication meets the machine’s forte at data management and analysis, the result is a workplace collaboration technology that has the potential to create jobs and lead to more effective workplaces. By 2035, AI should increase growth in 16 industries. With 58% of IT decision-makers using, testing, or researching AI for their companies, it’s likely that workplace collaboration technology of the future will contain artificial intelligence features out of the box.
Imagine, if you will, a company just a few years into the future. The majority of customer service inquiries are handled by AI chatbots, which means that the human call center and live chat operators are all well-trained and accustomed to performing more complex interactions. In the sales department, AI is used to maximize sales; by filtering out the queries that are least likely to buy, sales representatives are able to focus on their best prospects. This allows them to close more deals with less prospecting and busy-work.
The marketing department uses AI to follow social media mentions and keep track of conversations and collaboration. AI serves as the “assistant” for everyone in the department, which means that the creatives can get back to creating instead of handling all the boring paperwork. In the product development department, AI uses facial recognition features and video analysis to examine focus group interactions and compile market research data.
In the warehouse, AI and machine learning helps robots pick products and lift heavy objects, which frees the workers to do the less strenuous and difficult work. AI maximizes the efficiency of truck and shipping routes, routing around construction and rush hour traffic to save gas and time. And throughout the entire company, AI is used to schedule facilities, take meeting notes, manage conference calls, help remote and out-of-office workers communicate, and even manage the condition of the break room.
AI won’t be replacing workers; it will be augmenting them. By taking on the “grunt work”, workplace collaboration technology with AI gives workers the ability to focus on tasks that are more interesting, less boring, and more creative.