Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to a broad concept of machines that are able to carry out tasks in a way that we consider “smart.” Self-driving cars, lip-reading apps, and interactive robots already are examples that tend to fascinate people – but they also can frighten us.
Let’s face it – AI is not only one of the next big things in technology innovation, it is also one of the scariest!
The fear has been building…
For decades, popular movies have addressed humans’ fear that someday machines – like the infamous Terminator cyborg, or Sonny, the robotic murder suspect from I, Robot – could be as smart as, or smarter than, people are. No wonder as the use of AI becomes more commonplace, that fear continues to grow.
And it’s not only outside observers who are concerned. Many thought leaders from around the globe share their apprehension about the general principles behind AI. For instance, Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University, shared his insights in a recent article on people’s worries about AI. “The transition to machine superintelligence is a very grave matter,” he notes, “and we should take seriously the possibility that things could go radically wrong.”
There are also grave concerns about AI taking jobs away from people who need them. In the article, Julian Togelius, computer science professor at New York University, says, “I am worried about the impact on employment as more and more niches are filled by technology.”
I share this concern. As a millennial beginning my career and just finishing my master’s studies, I sometimes fear that computers may better fit for the jobs I want to pursue.
Can AI help more than it hurts?
It’s no wonder that many companies experience resistance from their employees when they try to implement AI technology such as machine learning. But perhaps there is another approach companies can take – one that is more respectful and helpful to employees.
The answer may simply be this: When implementing AI into your business, connect these initiatives to your company’s purpose.
When AI takes over the repetitive work of your employees, they will have more quality time to concentrate on other tasks – and one of these tasks could be finding new ways to contribute to the higher purpose of your company. For instance, rather than repetitively assembling parts on a factory floor, your employees could spend time thinking about how to improve overall processes. From this perspective, AI gives your employees a better chance to really make an impact. And it can be even more impactful if this opportunity is communicated by your CEO and top managers.
Think of it this way: Implementing AI in your businesses simply to reduce human resources for repetitive work without discussing your strategy with your employees will backfire. It is a bit like taking a coloring book from your kids without telling them why, and expecting them to be happy about it. However, if you give them a blank canvas and watercolors, and explain to them that they can be creative and paint whatever they want, they won’t complain about the lost coloring book.
From foe to friend
When you replace people’s responsibilities with AI technology, you can make AI a friend rather than a foe by communicating effectively with affected employees. Position AI as an opportunity for growth rather than a reduction of responsibilities. This approach offers employees the opportunity to develop new skills and make a greater contribution to the company, which in turn will boost their sense of value and self-worth.
This approach will help your company position AI not as a job-taker, but as a source of freedom for your employees. And it will help your employees see that they have the opportunity to concentrate on issues that are not only important to them, but to your company as well.