We are at the height of the digital society and digital transformation marks the change in the social paradigm that will lead us to a new social order, in which information and communication technologies mediate for a better performance of people in all areas, including work. The digital transformation rests mainly on disciplines of recent growth, such as technologies cloudsthe internet of things, telecommunications and artificial intelligence (AI).
Much is said about whether the latter will end up taking people’s jobs, and many are the fears that all this dizzying technological progress that we have been witnessing in recent years entails.
However, we are far, very far away from artificial intelligence being able to fully replace human beings in their activities. Yes, it is true that it will occupy a larger place in the space of technological assistance. In other words, we will have more systems based on artificial intelligence that will accompany us in our daily tasks – work or not – and will facilitate the development of many activities.
We will have intelligent tools that can do some of them for us, because they are repetitive or because they are heavy and have a low cognitive level. Others will simply be simplified because an intelligent system will assist us to carry them out collaboratively. The greater the cognitive complexity of the task, the more difficult it will be for artificial intelligence to assume it alone, and this is where the protection of our work space lies.
Let’s take an example: GPS
GPS is today a well-known and widely used tool in any movement by land, sea and air. We practically don’t even remember what it was like to go around the world without those devices – pocket-sized or attached to the vehicle – that we consult before starting a journey and that make us authentic co-pilots, taking us – without getting lost – to places we’ve never been. , and neither do they.
These are artificial intelligence systems that solve one of the oldest problems in the area: planning. They are capable of setting up the necessary route to go from where we are to where we want, respecting the planes of the terrain, without asking us to cross between the buildings, or to go through a street in the opposite direction. And they do it based on position sensors and satellite communication.
Have you ever stopped to think about what having GPS has represented for the road freight transport sector? Or for bus rental companies with driver? Think for a moment how many drivers have stopped getting lost on the road, wasting time and money for their companies. On the other hand, a GPS does not drive and, no matter how sophisticated it is, it does not make it possible to do without the driver, nor does it reduce the company’s fleet of drivers.
This is an example of how intelligent systems are inserted as complements to work activity, help to increase the quality of service or performance, and can bring about a transformation of professions.
In this case, the impact is that the driver is less stressed, he no longer gets lost, the shipments arrive at the scheduled time, global deliveries can be better planned because there is less uncertainty and, in the end, all this results in a better quality of service and greater labor well-being of the worker. And, even more, it improves the perception of the client and the positioning of the company.
Advantages of automation
Other artificial intelligence systems are completely autonomous and perform tasks on their own, like robotic vacuum cleaners do when they set out to sweep a house. Or the intelligent forklifts, which are placing goods in the storage plants. If the roombas sweep well, it may not be necessary for one person to do this task, and this may have some impact on domestic employment. But it is much more likely that you will have to learn to operate the vacuum cleaner intelligent and that, while the robot vacuums, it dedicates itself to doing some other task.
Artificial intelligence brings enormous potential to automate some low-level cognitive tasks, and can completely replace people in several of them (such as sweeping or placing shelves). But the professions carry more tasks that, with great probability, will not be covered by the machines, however intelligent they are.
What will happen is that the task that the machine assumes (or the part of the task that it assumes) will free up time that can be devoted to other fronts. We can cite some, associated with different levels of responsibility in the labor hierarchy. The transformation will affect all categories and will allow, among other things:
Spend more time and perform better on the more complicated parts of the job.
Have more time to interact with colleagues and gain team cohesion.
Invest more energy in treating the customer to better understand their needs and appreciations and, thus, obtain better knowledge for product improvement.
Increase customer loyalty based on better service.
Open the spaces for reflection necessary to analyze the situation in perspective and make better decisions and define better strategies.
In short, what should happen is that the time freed up by the use of intelligent machines can revert to an improvement in the quality of work or service, and that people can concentrate on tasks that are beyond the reach of machines. , such as developing an empathic relationship with colleagues and clients, or taking better care of the team, which must necessarily result in an improvement in the results of the work.
From another perspective, there are endless systems based on artificial intelligence that consume huge amounts of data to obtain user profiles, learn about people’s tastes, needs, and habits. These can also be used in the work environment so that you can, for example:
Avoid an accident on a construction site because artificial vision sensors anticipate a person-machine collision.
The return of a product because it is no longer offered to a certain customer profile.
Reduce the impact of a sick leave on a team because we anticipate a heart problem in one of the members.
It is true that there are many ethical considerations about how and when personal data should be used in AI-based applications, and especially in the work environment, but there are also mechanisms to take advantage of these capabilities without violating the ethical principles promulgated by the European Commission, which propose the development of a non-invasive and people-centered AI. In any case, this type of application makes it possible to increase safety and well-being at work, which once again results in an overall improvement in organizations.
On the other hand, the latest advances in natural language or voice processing are also a great opportunity to facilitate many tasks or increase the capabilities of some people. Let’s think, for example, of:
Voice assistants that read manuals in low-light repair locations.
Information seekers that allow us to solve, without leaving the table, problems that we would not solve alone (these are already widely integrated into the work reality of many people).
Automatic translation tools that allow you to deal with foreign clients.
The general improvement in an organization by being able to reduce the management of incidents or emergencies with predictive maintenance systems.
Smarter systems, less human specialization
The digital transformation is carried out with strong injections of artificial intelligence in organizations and their processes, it transforms the way of working and provides important aids to facilitate tasks, freeing people from activities of a lower cognitive level, which, in turn, frees them from time and stress.
In the coming years we will witness a major transformation of organizations: some tasks will disappear and others more linked to technology will appear, although this change will not always be linked to job loss. What we must ensure, while this paradigm shift is taking place, is that those people with the greatest risk of digital exclusion are not left behind because they do not know how to use technology in their workplace.
Although it is everyone’s responsibility, it is interesting to note that, at the same time, a change is taking place in the interaction of intelligent systems with people and less and less specialization is required to be able to use them. Today many people use a GPS, a roombaan automatic translation system or a voice assistant without having great technical knowledge.
It is to be expected that the interfaces will continue to be simplified, a key factor for an inclusive improvement of the world of work.
This article was originally published in number 121 of Fundación Telefónica’s Telos magazine.