27th May 2021
We’ve all heard of artificial intelligence - but what actually is it?
AI refers to a branch of computer science that mimics human-like intelligence (sans consciousness and emotions) capable of performing a wide variety of tasks and processing vast quantities of data in an extraordinarily short space of time.
Slowly, we’ve warmed to the idea of using AI in day-to-day life, from Apple’s Siri to Amazon’s Alexa, but we’re yet to see AI fully integrated into the modern workplace. With good reason, too. When we think of AI beyond our smartphones, there remains a defiant moral panic surrounding the technology.
As with the emergence of any technology that has the potential to totally transform society (think the discovery of electricity), there’s a gripping fear that AI will replace human labour, and possibly lead to a robot revolution (maybe).
Moral panic is not new: with every technological advance, there has been a healthy dose of collective hysteria surrounding it. From the rise of the colour television to the telephone to the smartphone, every innovation has come with its share of global criticism. AI - albeit the most advanced technology yet - is no different.
Ultimately, technology itself remains neutral, and to make any claim that it is inherently good or bad fails to recognise how nuanced usage can be between people. As AI continues to develop and businesses start to invest in technology incorporating AI, there are several key areas that will see an enormous benefit.
"Deep Blue", the computer, famously defeated chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, back in 1997, sparking panic amongst people, heralding what many thought was the beginning of machines ruling humankind. However, decades later, Kasparov has called for a different mindset towards AI that we should all embrace: aka, Kasparov’s Law.
He introduces the idea of a ‘supermind’ - that is, the concept of the human mind and AI technology working together to form a collective intelligence that surpasses either intelligence alone. Indeed, it’s now thought that human minds and AI are actually complementary in nature, and, working alongside each other, can achieve things we’ve never dreamed of.
Humans are, by nature, unpredictable and varied. Machines are not. Much of what makes a society great is the serendipitous creativity that only humans can randomly create. Unlike AI, we are not inherently logical; rather, we're often able to find patterns with only one preceding example, and our emotions heavily skew how we perceive our reality and make connections in the world.
Rather than replace people, AI can be applied to the workplace to help predict, prevent, and avoid accidents. Machine learning can collect and process data far more efficiently than any human counterparts.
- AI Does The Dirty Work
Some businesses have already begun using AI to perform all the dangerous, risky tasks that come with hands-on work tasks and result in high near-miss rates or incident rates - costing businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
For example, in some construction sites, builders and site managers have used AI-powered drones to collect data and valuable information about building sites, assisting with surveying the area and taking images from the sky to document any particularly dangerous parts of the building.
This kind of data is simultaneously stored and used for progress reports and updates, helping construction managers better plan an accurate schedule and factor in unforeseen events that might hinder progress.
Far from replacing human labour, AI frees up time for the workforce, helping construction workers to avoid risky jobs and tasks and spend more time on other, useful tasks. Certainly, many tasks’ inherent risk comes from the human factor, where human error or fatigue can result in dangerous incidents occurring. Using AI to do the harder, more dangerous tasks keeps people safer.
- AI Assists With Mental Health
We’re in the midst of a second pandemic: a mental health crisis. Thanks to the challenges presented by the pandemic, our mental health is suffering and rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise. The uncertainty of the future, coupled with mandated social isolation creates an increasingly difficult landscape to navigate.
AI can help with this, acting as supplementary support for therapists. There are multiple avenues that AI technology can assist.
For example, AI can help with greater data collection and provide timely alerts to individuals, doctors, and therapists via smartphones. For example, if someone is at risk of substance abuse, the AI can send alerts to the person so that they can help avoid it.
AI language analysis algorithms are another new development that will likely have a pivotal role in shaping the future of how we diagnose and treat mental health. Using machine learning to analyse how we use language to identify the warning signs of greater issues (i.e. particular phrases, search terms etc.) - far more quickly and efficiently than a therapist might be able to pick up on.
AI therapy chatbots that help answer questions and can provide useful advice to patients are another way in which AI can support therapy, by providing 24/7 support for the days in between face-to-face appointments.
- AI Makes Work More Human
Ironically, AI makes work more human. In fact, AI automates mundane tasks so that we free up more time to focus on the human side of business - creative endeavours, meetings and discussions with our colleagues and more.
AI can be used as a personal assistant, scheduling calendars, meetings and interviews and helping people’s busy schedules line up. By reducing the small daily stressors we can face with organising a busy day, AI can make room for us to focus on what’s really important.
Some AI technologies are being used to transcribe phone calls for sales teams, helping record important information and reducing any potential human error. We’re not always good with remembering small details, which are often vital following phone calls - using AI to transcribe these conversations is the first step in recording data.
Far from taking over, AI is actually transforming the workplace simply by making it more human. We need to lean into AI and continue to see where we can implement the new technology, using the valuable opportunities that AI presents.
Rather than concerning ourselves with the outdated idea that AI will replace humans, we should listen to Kasparov and imagine how superminds - the combined power of the human mind and AI working together - can shape our future.