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Automation vs. Augmentation

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Automation vs. Augmentation

  • Course: AI for HR
  • Module: Artificial Intelligence Concepts
  • Lesson Type: Video
  • Lesson Duration: 3:53

Lesson Content

A common perception of AI technology is that those behind it are out to “replace people” or do away with jobs. While that may be true in some instances, AI technology is used to enhance people and empower them to do more than they could on their own.

When considering an AI platform, it is worth evaluating whether the goal of that system is to automate a task or to augment a person to perform that task more efficiently. In some cases, the result may be a combination of both where fewer people are needed but those who remain can perform more efficiently than a larger group previously could.

For example, in a customer service center, AI can be very valuable if it is used to augment the human employee’s ability to answer questions, find relevant information, and generally help the customer to quickly complete their desired task. In this arena, speed is the priority for the customer, so they will appreciate whichever path gets them to their goal in the most efficient way possible. Sometimes that means that it is easier and faster for them to work with a person than to navigate their way through an automated process that they may not be able comfortable to handle.

It is also important to remember that we are still in the very early days of AI technology. For a person’s job to be completely automated, the system needs to be able to do everything as well as or better than the human it is replacing. While we see some examples of this in manufacturing and other industries, it just isn’t realistic to expect that the AI can do this in all or even most cases yet. Full or significant automation of our workforce would require a great deal of time and investment that isn’t going to happen for a while.

What AI will do in the short term is to automate tasks, and although the range of tasks that it can accomplish is currently somewhat minimal, that will continue to improve over time. It will become common for organizations to first consider their AI’s abilities, and then determine how the human support staff functions around that core. Since each person’s job is a collection of tasks, AI is going to gradually but consistently reshape the workplace around what it can and cannot do yet. The human workforce will be expected to work around these updates and improvements so the average person should anticipate the need to be flexible as their job description changes over time.

The pace of these changes will be uncomfortable to many because the technology will evolve rapidly. As an HR Professional, you are in a unique position to help your employees accept and understand these changes as they will continue to impact the workplace.

In the near future, AI technologies will first automate the most repetitive and predictable tasks that people perform. AI is also very capable of handling large amounts of data for tasks that require analysis.

For example, a judge might currently employ several clerks to assist them with research or preparation for a trial. In the near future, that same expert may no longer need assistants for the research or preparation tasks because an AI might be able to perform those functions more efficiently. In this case, some of the work was automated and the result was that one person was augmented by the AI to be much more capable than they could be without it. This improvement to the workflow coupled with the “always-on” dynamic of the smartphone or computer to keep the AI-assistant with you all the time means that you will always have on-demand access to whatever tasks or functions that the AI is helping with. For the judge, that might mean access in the courtroom, in real-time, to any research, data, or any other information they could need.

With this sort of development in mind, it’s understandable that AI will be perceived by the public based on the effect it has had on their lives. For some people, it could be a job killer, and for others it could open new doors and new possibilities for them to achieve their goals. For you and your organization it is important to start thinking of how work is done in terms of tasks rather than jobs. That way you can think critically about the roles that you perform, and evaluate whether or not you could benefit from the automation or augmentation that an AI could provide.

Michael Wilson


Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson works with small businesses to build and protect their brands online. He is an IT Generalist whose primary services include: Web Design & Development, Cybersecurity Consulting & Training,...

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