The future of work in the age of AI

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In his famous Foundation novels, written in the 1940s, Isaac Asimov imagined something called psychohistory, a discipline which used statistical modelling and a detailed understanding of the mind to predict the future. To Asimov, this idea seemed so futuristic that he placed it 20,000 years in the future. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), it’s already happening today. 

Data scientists are using the latest AI to model and predict the behaviour of crowds and other large groups of people in ways that help authorities plan the provision of services. In Japan, for example, the Kanagawa Prefectural Police is using AI to analyse variables such as weather data, crowd dynamics and even social media activity to predict crime patterns and deploy officers.

This is just one of the ways in which AI is making us smarter. From systems that use thousands of sensors to monitor freight vehicles to predict breakdowns before they happen, to chatbots that help users choose gifts for loved ones, AI is helping us live and work smarter. 

And as artificial intelligence becomes easier to use, its impact is democratised, spreading the benefits it can bring beyond a narrow circle of experts and data scientists to wider-society, helping us all be more productive and work more creatively.

The augmented knowledge worker

Today, a knowledge worker in a data-heavy field, such as finance or oil exploration, is only as productive as the slowest part of the system in which he or she works. An analytics system may crunch data in seconds, but that’s of little comfort if it takes two days to find the relevant data because it’s scattered across various teams and applications.

AI systems, as they become more intelligent and are plugged into more and more different systems, have the potential to change all of this. As AI becomes easier to manage and implement, it’s being deployed in an increasing range of companies and plugged into many different types of systems. In many industries, AI is now pervasive. 

Rather than spending two days searching for the data they need, the knowledge worker — who is not a developer or AI specialist — uses an intuitive interface to instruct an AI-driven global enterprise data management system to find and retrieve the information they need from its continuously updated database. The job now takes seconds rather than days.

A good example of the pervasiveness of AI in the modern workplace is the contact centre. Most contact centres do not employ teams of AI experts. But by working with third-party providers, contact centres for major brands have integrated AI-driven chatbots, voice and emotion analytics, predictive responses, and knowledge bases into their systems and workflows. 

Often bots act as a first point of contact, directing customers with routine queries to the right information online. Where that’s not possible, the bot can save the call handlers time by collecting details of the customer query, allowing the human employee to start work the moment the customer is transferred to them.

Another instance of where AI is set to make a significant difference, is the ‘augmented underwriter’. For simple contacts — think standard car or household insurance — companies will soon be using AI to evaluate risk. The customer simply enters the relevant details into an online form or chatbot and the AI decides whether or not the company will insure, on what terms and what the premiums should be. 

But even when dealing with complex claims, human underwriters increasingly fall back on intelligent systems to analyse risk from a range of available data — for instance medical data or even, with the customer’s permission, driving data collected from a GPS device. The AI can then use this data to provide the underwriter with risk predictions to inform his or her decision. 

Today’s competitive advantage is tomorrow’s price of entry

Progress is being made at an astounding pace around the globe, but with its traditional affinity for high-tech solutions and robotics, Japan continues to be at the forefront of developing robots. 

Today we are increasingly seeing human augmentation with machine intelligence. But tomorrow, it will be mandatory. Those companies which don’t augment their human workers and processes will not be able to compete.  Leading digital solutions providers are already investing heavily in AI research and development, ensuring their products and services deliver the competitive boost that customers need to stay ahead of the market. The fusion of human and machine intelligence - that is to say, the augmented knowledge worker - is the future of work.

Tom Winstanley, Head of Digital Consulting and Innovation at NTT DATA UK