Our working world is changing. For several years now, we have been experiencing how artificial intelligence, algorithms and robot systems not only change our private lives, but also work processes: doctors are supported by algorithms in the evaluation of X-ray images, robot systems are used in nursing and journalists are guided by AI systems in their research. As a result, personal routines as well as organisational structures are breaking down, and employees and companies have to rethink their work.
The world of work in constant change
Looking back at history, the world of work has always changed: inventions and technological advances – especially since industrialisation – have always required machines to support people in their work. In the long run, this has led to higher productivity, greater prosperity and jobs, and thus to an increase in the common good in society. Just like the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the digital revolution is poised to bring about a disruptive change in the world of work. The dimensions of these changes, however, are often difficult for individual employees to assess.
AI & work – a controversial topic
The uncertainty leads to mixed feelings: while some people see the positive effects of the digital working world, others suspect the negative effects – and in the worst case, even the loss of their jobs. The result: a polarised and emotionally-charged debate. The explosive nature of this debate is hardly surprising, as work is not only a means of earning a living, but for many people it is also an area of life that creates identity and meaning.
A wide variety of questions are raised: what opportunities and risks arise from the use of artificial intelligence in the world of work? What is the relationship between machine and human being? Do the latest developments for humans lead to more freedom and autonomy in the work process? Or is the opposite the case? And last but not least: how do we actually want to work and live?
Fact check: does AI endanger jobs?
There are numerous questions, numerous uncertainties – but what influence will automation and artificial intelligence have on the world of work? Time for a fact check: numerous studies were published in the first half of 2019 alone. The OECD study “Employment Outlook 2019” attracted particular attention. The result: in the 36 OECD member states, 14 percent of all jobs are in danger of being replaced by automation in the next 15 years. Germany as an industrial location is particularly affected: almost every fifth job is threatened.
However, a study by the World Economic Forum adds a decisive factor: although around 75 million jobs are to be eliminated worldwide by 2025, around 133 million new jobs will be created at the same time – a figure that sheds a different light on the debate. The accusation that artificial intelligence and automation are destroying jobs is therefore untenable. So if the question is not so much whether AI and automation will destroy jobs, the much more important question is: how can AI and humans work together optimally?
The future of work: between automation and meaningfulness
Especially in the area of knowledge workers, a particularly differentiated approach is necessary. Studies in industrial psychology have come to the conclusion that employees categorise their work into two different areas: while the core work predominantly covers intellectual and creative activities, the so-called peripheral work often includes tedious or monotonous activities (e.g. organising meetings) which are not actually part of the central field of activity of an employee. In the case of the latter, employees would be willing and even relieved to hand them over to Artificial Intelligence. Creative or intellectual work, on the other hand, should preferably remain within a person’s work activities.
How could the collaboration between AI and employees therefore be optimally designed? “The key is to create a system in which the end user still provides the intellectual spark,” says Amy Lokey, VP of user experience at Google, alluding to an important fact: AI can help to make everyday work more humane and pleasant by automating repetitive, monotonous and often tedious tasks. This leaves more time and space for those activities that require creative and/or emotional intelligence and have a meaningful effect on people.
Ready for AI with lifelong learning
If artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the work of tomorrow, then education – from schooling to higher education – has a special role to play. Employees should be provided with adequate training opportunities at an early stage to prepare them for new or changing job profiles. This, however, requires not only an economic and political but also a socio-cultural change in thinking. A culture of lifelong learning can help workers and employers alike to make the most of the benefits of AI applications in the world of work.
Zoom in: AI in Journalism
A good example of a professional group that is supported, but not replaced, by AI is journalism. Here, NLG programs can generate texts from data-based information faster and more extensively than any human. Even today, algorithms for sports, financial and weather reporting automatically create finished texts that journalists would never write about – whether for cost reasons, because the work is too monotonous or the target group is too small. Think, for example, of the lower football leagues, smaller Olympic sports or local weather reports in real time. NLG systems thus cover areas that could not have been dealt with by journalists. The telling of stories with creativity, empathy and irony, the writing of pointed comments and astute analyses remains the core competence of the human – and, incidentally, is also one of the preferred activities of journalists.
The future of so-called “robot journalism” lies by no means in the replacement of the human journalist, but in supporting him or her in order to provide time and space for important and meaningful activities. While technology takes on unpopular, routine tasks (transcribing interviews, formatting or SEO-optimising articles), journalists can devote themselves to their actual essential work. Such a cybernetic (ergo: non-replacing) interplay of AI and machine processes on the one hand, and human creativity and competence on the other, can thus improve the journalistic offer for readers and make the daily work of journalists more pleasant. A win-win situation for everyone involved.
About Retresco | @retresco
Founded in Berlin in 2008, Retresco has become one of the leading companies in the field of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning. Retresco develops semantic applications in the areas of content classification, recommendation, as well as highly innovative technology for natural language generation (NLG) . Through nearly a decade of deep industry experience, Retresco helps accelerate its digital transformation, increase operational efficiencies, and enhance customer engagement.