Amid the pandemic chaos, the increased use of AI has kept many organizations afloat: so, are the threats of AI unfounded?

The synergy of human and AI continues to gain momentum. During the current pandemic, there has been a surge in AI adoption across labor-intensive industries.

We now find ourselves dealing with tools we do not fully comprehend or digital ‘co-workers’ we have yet to fully utilize for our benefit.

As we take stock of the leaps and strides we have made in the past year to get here, we ask ourselves: How should the world learn further to embrace AI and its potential? 

AI as a cause of double-disruption?

The growing reliance on smart technology has helped us through the trials of the pandemic. Video conferencing and online collaboration tools have made the distributed workforce adaptable. In the healthcare industry, the use of AI has greatly improved protection of frontline workers and their patients. From the rising adoption of telehealth or telemedicine, to the deployment of autonomous vehicles to transport COVID-19 test samples, AI has no doubt helped frontline healthcare workers, administrative staff and the public at large.

Yet, there remains some anxiety regarding machines and AI taking over jobs lost due to the pandemic. Even before 2020, some have already felt the shift in the way things work due to automation. Some would also view AI as a cause of ‘double-disruption’ with the pandemic pushing organizations to fast-track the deployment of new AI technologies to slash costs, enhance productivity and be less reliant on humans.

However, being fearful of AI and automation is simply not the way forward. These technologies should be thought of as creative collaborators, capable of enhancing jobs and providing more opportunities than challenges.

In a contact center, for example, AI can help human agents categorize customer data into nuggets of comprehensible, digestible insights—remotely and in real-time. These AI-enabled agents can receive tips and suggested next steps to improve their engagements with customers, as compared to agents who must manually sift through innumerable historical data of customer interactions across multiple channels on the spot.

Seeing the true value of AI

This brings us to the true opportunity facilitated by AI that many of us may have missed. According to the World Economic Forum, robots and machines will carry out more tasks than humans by 2025—but will also create 58 million net new jobs across multiple industries.

With many years or months of sporadic mobility and travel restrictions likely to recur as waves of infections ebb and tide, people should capitalize on this rare chance to build new skillsets or upskill old ones. In addition, with major shifts in the quality, location, format and permanency of new job roles, we can anticipate a rise in flexible work arrangements and workplaces.

Many global organizations have overcome new challenges this past year by rethinking the requirement for a physical office or space altogether. Just as AI has revolutionized future roles and responsibilities, new technologies are also helping businesses function beyond the four walls of an office.

Think of salespeople in the retail industry, or contact centers, which almost always operate via a centralized space. Without an office, how could contact center agents manage the influx of customer queries or calls during lockdowns from their individual homes?

This is where AI once again comes in, driving stronger collaboration and synergy internally within and across business departments, and externally with customers and stakeholders involved.

Driving AI with a humane bent

For all the talk about AI and digital transformation driving the global economy, it can be easy to forget that the focus has always been heavy on the human element.

Technology is used to augment skills of workers to prepare them for the challenges ahead, rather than to replace their roles. AI is being widely implemented to increase productivity, not disrupt it; it is to streamline processes, not complicate it; AI should act as a ‘partner’ or ‘co-worker’ to the human employee, not take their place completely.

The pandemic has brought to light the importance of balancing mental and physical well-being. While organizations have implemented full-scale work-from-home arrangements beyond the pandemic, the change in mindset requires a harder push. Business leaders need to view workplaces as more than just physical spaces. They are strategic tools for professional and personal growth. With an apparent shift towards a more balanced approach to working, flexibility and adaptability now become key aspects in today’s work environment.

Are we ready to coexist with AI? Definitely. We have been successfully demonstrating time and again that such a relationship is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary.

While the dynamics of our collective workforce have permanently changed, we must embrace the notion that they have changed for the better. This new concept of human-AI synergy has not just allowed for business continuity, but has helped us grow into a more communicative, collaborative, and most importantly, a more considerate society as a whole.