12 shots at staying ahead of AI in the workplace

AI in the workplace

Oliver Stohlmann’s Corporate Survival Hacks series draws on his experiences of working in local, regional, and global life sciences communications to offer some little tips for enjoying a big business career. In this update, he shares expectations on how artificial intelligence (AI) may impact our workplaces and what we may do to leverage this trend for the benefit of both people and business.

Regardless of where you are on the corporate ladder, whether you know it or not, your life is going to change; dramatically, fast.

Indications of what artificial intelligence (AI) is already able to do and how its broader application will change our work environment are mind-boggling. What we’ll experience in the next five to ten years is a massive explosion of AI usage in nearly all areas of life. 

The beginning of the beginning?

A few examples? Generating flawless text or images is no longer an issue of skill or knowledge. Most AI-generated results are so impressive that a number of people and professions are already impacted by this.

As a teacher or university lecturer, it hardly makes sense today to have students draft their own essays or academic papers. According to Nature, it has become impossible even for scientists to differentiate with certainty between AI-created and original abstracts.

At a recent marketing seminar I was involved in, not one of 36 business students was able to provide a superior and better structured answer than ChatGPT to the question, “Please explain SWOT analysis”. Try for yourself.

Authentic voice and imagery

In the US, the start-up DoNotPay was about to run a pilot in February in which AI would represent a client in a speeding case court hearing. The chatbot would run on a smartphone, listening to what was being said in court, before whispering instructions into the defendant’s earpiece on how to best answer the judge’s questions. The experiment got stopped at the last minute by state bar associations concerned about the ‘robot lawyer’ practicing law without a license. However, if these objections can be resolved, this may be the way forward in many comparable settings. It’s not a matter of AI capability.

If you cannot – or do not wish to – attend meetings in person, VALL-E is able to read any text in your voice and tonality, or anyone else’s. All you need to do is submit a three-second original voice sample. Soon the human ear will not be able to differentiate between the authentic sound of a person’s voice and AI imitations of it. 

DALL-E2 is an AI system that can create realistic images and artwork in line with your exact specifications, from your description in natural language. The need for graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, and even classic painters will fade.

Shifting from the what to the how

In the future, the best speakers will be those able to authentically repeat what those little ear pods tell them – with exceptional charisma, intonation, natural gestures, and facial expressions. Neither content nor expertise will be a bottleneck. An AI-enabled speaker will be able to talk about absolutely any subject on any level of expertise. And yes, they’ll be able to answer any question, too, even the provocative ones.

The best business consultants, trainers, and leadership coaches will be those with outstanding social, didactic, and motivational skills. Professional education will continue to matter, but it will focus much more on supporting executives on how to run their business, team, and customer relations; not on transferring knowledge. Being an expert knowledgeable on the what will not suffice. Most consultants, trainers, and coaches will be replaced by social learning environments. Facilitators may guide customised knowledge acquisition, while coaches and consultants will largely focus on optimising executives’ acumen, personality, and other ‘soft’ components of effective leadership.

More ‘human’ in Human Resources

The best people managers will be those who naturally adopt and apply the latest intelligence on people management that their employer’s AI-powered HR function equips them with. ‘Human touch’ will not be lacking. It’ll be delivered in a personalised way allowing the manager to tailor their approach to different team members of diverse engagement drivers and needs. Data collection and evaluation will run fully automated in the background, providing the manager with individual strength assessments, goal recommendations, performance tracking, corrective interventions, and development recommendations customised to each team member – while calibrating across large organisations in real time.

The best HR representatives will be those who lend these automated processes and decisions a trustworthy, fair, and human face. Decisions will be facilitated and employee conversations prepared flawlessly by AI systems running in the background. The number of ‘real people’ employed in ‘human’ resources will shrink. Those left, however, will primarily focus on interfacing with internal clients and employees. The quality of these interactions, and that of preparing materials and compelling scripts to enable powerful conversations, will materially increase. 

Language creation and translation

The best writers will be… Whoops, I started this sentence wrong: there’ll be no need for writers. Or very few, outstanding ones at best. Already today, AI-generated texts are of a quality, clarity, and artistic beauty that beats 80% of human professional writers. Try it out: ask ChatGPT to “draft an introduction for the website of company ‘Human Hips’ that designs and replaces human hip implants.” See what happens. 

I just made up that company name. If it existed, they may use the resulting draft for their website straight. Yes, it could be improved by a great writer, more details added reflecting the specialty offerings of that enterprise. However, AI is on track to producing superior texts compared to most human writers, based on minimal input and cost, and faster than anyone else could.

The best translators will be… Sorry, got this wrong again: translators will disappear. AI already supplies great, and will deliver perfect, translations into any and all global languages in split seconds, for any length and complexity of written or spoken word. Roles that translate texts or simultaneously translate the spoken word will be a concept of the past.

Seizing the AI revolution

The best employees – those who retain well-paid jobs and climb the career ladder – will be those able to competently navigate the avalanche of AI-led and augmented applications. They can select the relevant ones to add business value and adapt key features to meet specific business and customer needs. They’re able to utilise AI to achieve outcomes faster and more efficiently, at lower cost and better quality than what’s imaginable today.

The best executives will be algorithm-based. Of course, it’s a scary prospect to remove thinking humans with deep background and long experience from the positions of power. However, just imagine how much better, faster, fairer, and more ethical fact-based decision-making could become once typical human ‘flaws’ are removed from the equation. These may include one’s individual values and beliefs, ideologies, biases, personal relationships, and interdependencies, including corruption and other temptations; plus cultural and institutional norms, value-systems, expectations, and the pressures typically resulting from those. Scary, but likely in the future.

The best politicians will be… You get my drift!

But there’s an upside - many, actually

I would be mistaken if I didn’t at least briefly point out the phenomenally positive, life-enhancing, and sometimes life-saving opportunities AI brings to society, too.

Apart from GPS systems navigating us to destinations safely, faster, and more reliably, our cars are already equipped with lots of other AI-based safety features that serve to prevent accidents before they happen. An armada of sensors connected and communicating with ‘smart’ control centres is constantly watching not only over the cars we use, but buses, trains, ships, planes, trucks, agricultural machinery, etc., to keep operations, passengers, and freight safe. They also make sure that buildings, roads, rail tracks, bridges, tunnels, airports, harbours, stations, wind turbines, and all other infrastructure is constantly monitored and gets maintained preventatively before fatigue, vibrations, climate, or other forces can lead to damage or disaster. 

As much as I don’t like the idea of ‘machines taking over’, they most certainly make safer drivers than I am. My future driverless car won’t get distracted, nor will it become tired, and it will be able to detect nearing obstacles, stopping traffic, or the deer about to cross the road earlier than I could. In the same way, pilots have been using autopilots for years that cannot only keep planes stable in the air, but also take off and land them safely in the harshest weather conditions.

Human health: an AI beneficiary

In medicine, AI-augmented surgery can already operate more precisely than ‘the human hand’ could, with trained physicians informing and supervising the process and intervening as needed. Implants are being precision-measured, designed to your individual specifications, and a unique product tailormade to provide an optimal, long-lasting fit. That’s not to mention the fast, minimally invasive precision-surgery that spares patients pain and time, while reducing hospital capacity and cost. 

Innovative medical therapies will be designed, developed, and clinically trialled much faster driven by AI-led processes, and made available to the right patients, who benefit from treatment and who will have been pre-determined with the aid of biomarkers or other tests conducted by means of – you guessed it – AI at rocket speed and precision.

These are just examples. The fast-increasing use of AI will radically change the way we work and live. But it will also usher in a world of opportunities that we and future generations will greatly benefit from.

Buckle up!

However, in case you find the above scenarios unsettling: most do not even touch on the true potential of artificial intelligence. What we’ve been talking about, so far, is mostly the seamless automation of individual steps and processes so that results can be achieved faster, more efficiently, and more accurately than any human brain could.

Fasten your seatbelts for when true self-learning algorithms with the capacity and capability to continuously learn from errors and instantly apply their ‘insights’ to improve approaches in real-time are ready for mass application.

For instance, DeepMind’s AlphaGo system, who – apologies: that – famously defeated the world’s Go champion Le Se-dol in 2016. Three years later, the South Korean attributed his retirement from the complex board game to the rise of AI, saying that it was “an entity that cannot be defeated”. 

Well, for a bit of hope, read this recent update on how the story continued with a comprehensive defeat of a top-ranked AI system in the same game. However, you may also notice even that ‘human victory’ over AI was owed to yet more artificial intelligence support…

Whichever way you look at the rise of AI, its diverse applications, future possibilities, or the potential need for regulation: it’s going to be a fast ride.

  • Experiment with AI-text and image creation – have fun
  • Learn to proof, adapt, and effectively leverage AI-generated language 
  • Keep design-pros for complex tasks – for simple artwork, try out AI
  • Work on ‘natural’ speaking skills – charisma, intonation, gestures
  • Hone ‘soft’ leadership skills that engage people
  • Focus on effective interactions, conversations, building trust
  • Don’t obsess about content creation – it will be handed to you
  • Utilise AI to cater to individuals’ diverse needs, drivers, potentials
  • Learn to navigate and understand AI-based solutions
  • Develop a critical mindset to spot and evaluate value-adding AI applications
  • Work to adapt AI-features to meet business and customer needs
  • Demonstrate fact-based, ethical, fair decision-making so as not to fall behind AI

About the author

Oliver StohlmannOliver Stohlmann is a communications leader with more than 20 years’ experience of working at local, regional, and global levels for several of the world’s premier life sciences corporations. Most recently, he was Johnson & Johnson’s global head of external innovation communication. He currently works for Exscientia plc and as an independent leadership coach, trainer, team-developer, and communications consultant.