The words "artificial intelligence" suggest a future where robots rule. But the reality is, artificial intelligence (AI) is already part of everyday life, including the workplace.
In the business world, AI is driving decision-making. For example, recruiters use AI to get high-performing candidates in the door — and keep them from walking out. That, of course, is good for productivity.
From transforming the hiring process to boosting employee engagement, AI is changing the workplace. Still, it is important to keep in mind that AI will not replace humans anytime soon.
What Is AI?
Eugene Goostman is a smart-mouthed teenager who is well-known in the AI world. But he is not a brainy teen making breakthrough discoveries. He is not even a real teen. Goostman is a "chatbot" who made headlines in 2014 for passing the Turing Test, an early measure of AI.
The Turing Test is a measure of whether a computer can convince others it is a human. The test involves human judges having a text conversation with unseen participants.
A TedEd talk on the subject explains that the chatbot would be considered intelligent if its conversation could not be easily distinguished from a human's. In the case of Goostman, a third of the judges were convinced they were texting with a human. It could be that the teenage "attitude" rang true.
Experts dispute whether Goostman actually passed the AI test. Still, people routinely interact with chatbots that sound more human every day.
The terms AI and automation are often confused. Who better to ask for clarification than a chatbot? Quora.com defines automation as "basically making a hardware or software that is capable of doing things automatically." It says AI is "all about trying to make machines or software mimic human behavior and intelligence." Automation can but does not need to be based on AI.
How Can AI Boost Productivity?
Research links employee engagement with productivity. Yet a recent Gallup poll found that only 13 percent of employees are engaged. As Gallup points out, engaging employees is the "greatest untapped opportunity" to improve productivity.
This is where AI can make a difference. Culture Amp, for example, is an employee feedback platform that makes it easy to pinpoint "hotspots." Rather than waiting for annual reviews, managers can identify areas that require attention, and take action.
One action that is guaranteed to increase productivity is to ensure employees have what they need. This is often as simple as answering quick questions that come up again and again. Rather than interrupt co-workers, employees can turn to a helpful chatbot for the information they need.
Spoke, for example, is AI-powered help-desk software for employees. It responds to everyday questions -- whether that is how to connect to the VPN or where to find coffee. Spoke learns from each request to continually improve its performance. Workplace interruptions are minimized, leaving everyone with more time to do work that matters.
A common employee complaint is the never-ending stream of email. Work email can take up more time than anyone wants, adding up to a lot of lost productivity. Google's "Smart Reply" is an example of how AI can help solve the problem. Smart Reply is based on a "neural network" which models the human brain. It identifies emails that can be answered quickly and suggests brief responses.
Take the case of an email giving a proposal the green light. Smart Reply might suggest "That's great news." "Thanks for the update." "Hooray!" Choose one, and tap send. Or edit the text. Suddenly, there is more time to focus on higher-level work.
Of course, AI is impacting business in many other ways, and employees may wonder if their jobs will be replaced. But the goal of AI in many cases is to eliminate repetitive tasks so employees can engage in more meaningful work. Marketing is one example. There is more data than ever, and AI can analyze it in a fraction of the time it would take a human. This means more time for marketing managers to create a better customer experience.
As companies increasingly embrace AI technologies, business managers will need to keep pace. Earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) has long been viewed as preparing graduates for upper-level management positions. Today, an MBA can also equip managers with the skills and knowledge they need to leverage advances in new technologies, including AI.
Boise State University's online MBA program prepares students with a solid business foundation while also covering current topics.
Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.
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