AI won’t replace humans in the workplace - here’s why

Representation of AI
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Ever since the launch of ChatGPT more than a year ago, the fear of machines taking human jobs has been a topic of dinner-table conversation around the world. But techno-fear is nothing new, and is often misplaced. Looking at the history of technology from the Industrial Revolution onwards, innovations are often accompanied by the fear of job losses - but lead to higher living standards and better pay. In the 1980s, the arrival of accounting software such as Microsoft Excel sparked predictions of the death of accountancy and huge job displacement: the reality was that it created 1.1 million new, better-paid jobs such as financial managers and management analysts between 1987 and 2000, while causing just half a million job losses in lower-paid roles, according to Morgan Stanley. In similar fashion, artificial intelligence will augment human workers, not replace them.

Research with business leaders in the past year indicates artificial intelligence will be a ‘co-worker’, rather than a replacement for human beings. Gabriela Vogel, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner® says, “Machines are evolving from being our tools to becoming our teammates. Gartner® predicts that by 2025, GenAI will be a workforce partner for 90% of companies worldwide.”

Our own research with 12,000 workers worldwide found that employees see technology as a co-worker and a boost for their abilities, rather than as something that might replace them. Most employees (81%) prefer to use a mixture of human understanding and AI responsiveness to deal with problems, and almost all (87%) feel that artificial intelligence has a positive role to play in their working life. AI is not some technological bogeyman, but a boost for human capabilities, just like every tech revolution before it.

Artificial neural networks achieve human-like results by imitating some functions of the human brain - but these systems are not human brains, and without being fed data and set tasks, they will achieve nothing. AI needs human beings to get results, and human beings can use AI to boost their own abilities. Both work better together.

Massimo Chiriatti

Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Lenovo.

Solving problems with man and machine

Artificial intelligence can be harnessed to improve the performance of IT departments, boosting the whole business, with humans working in step alongside tireless AI systems who are more than happy to resolve an issue at 2am, while human workers sleep. Our research shows that 91% of employees believe they would be more productive if IT issues were resolved quickly, and a shocking 74% saying that poor IT support has reduced their motivation.

For business leaders hoping to drive productivity, AI-assisted processes hold out the promise to free up large amounts of employee time, with AI working in step with human employees to resolve issues automatically. For human workers in the IT department, this frees up time for them to concentrate on thornier issues where they can truly deliver value to the business. Artificial intelligence can also enable predictive maintenance, spotting patterns so that human IT workers can be dispatched to deal with problems before they occur. With IT environments becoming more complex with each passing year, thanks to the adoption of cloud services and emerging technologies such as the metaverse, AI will be a crucial crutch for overworked IT teams, and a productivity driver for the business as a whole. Such human-anchored AI systems can not only help organizations simplify their day-to-day operations, they can also help to navigate the pain points of a digital transformation process.

Enabling human interaction

Artificial intelligence is often seen as a force which can solve the same problems humans can, and thus must inevitably displace humans. This is a false idea of the capabilities of the technology, which is limited by the information humans feed to it, and the tasks humans assign to it. In the real world, AI commonly empowers humans to interact more efficiently, sometimes in ways that would be barely imaginable even a decade ago.

To take one example, AI software is enabling deaf or hard of hearing people in Brazil to communicate easily with other people, even when they don’t share a language. An AI engine can create real-time text and voice translation of Libras, the official Brazilian sign language., ‘understanding’ complex physical gestures and turning them into text or voice in real-time. Powered either by cloud or by edge servers (so that the computation occurs near where people are talking) the technology holds the promise to allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate in spaces where a sign language interpreter may be unavailable (such as workplaces, shops or hospitals). Rather than being a technology which takes the place of human beings, AI enables human interactions, working to drive human goals.

Accelerating into the future

Innovations such as automated machine learning (AutoML) hold the promise of accelerating progress even beyond the dizzying pace of AI innovation we are experiencing now, but humans will remain central to the safe use and efficient operation of AI. AutoML automates the time-consuming aspects of developing machine-learning models, removing the need for much of the human effort. Crucially, it also means that business users without expertise in machine learning can train effective machine-learning models themselves. But even at this highly automated frontier of AI technology, human expertise will still be essential.

AutoML automates the process of selecting and tuning algorithms, automating tasks including model selection tasks, which usually require input from experts. But research published in the 2021 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems found that even as AutoML improves, human oversight will still be essential to ensure the safe and efficient operation of such systems.

The future is human-centric

In the coming years, artificial intelligence will be a transformative force across every industry, changing the way people work and boosting economies across the world. This is a technology with the power to change the way the world works: but, just like other technologies, it is nothing without humans to instruct it. AI can be an unbelievably productive co-worker, one that unlocks the best in every employee, but it’s no replacement for human beings. The successful businesses of the future will not get rid of human workers in favor of AI: instead, man and machine will march into the future hand in hand.

We've featured the best AI website builders.

This article was produced as part of TechRadarPro's Expert Insights channel where we feature the best and brightest minds in the technology industry today. The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily those of TechRadarPro or Future plc. If you are interested in contributing find out more here:

Massimo Chiriatti is Lenovo's Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.