How AI Can Enhance the WorkplaceBy Cas Biekmann | Mon, 05/18/2020 - 18:07
Working with other people to complete certain tasks should in theory make the process faster and lead to better results. In reality, working in teams presents its challenges, sometimes to the point that productivity is drastically decreased. In times of pandemic, where offices are either closed or re-opening under strict conditions, these challenges can further complicate efficiency. Luckily, technological developments in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) provide solutions.
One way that AI can improve both efficiency and decision-making is by harnessing the collective intelligence of a team, reported BBC Worklife. Even though many managers would agree that too many cooks can easily spoil a broth, few would deny that varied insights enhance a company’s strategy. One player attempting to hack the issue is the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design at Nesta, a charity from the UK promoting and funding research into innovative ideas. The center says that one of the most obvious applications of AI would, in this case, be to enhance connections within chaotic networks of employees. After all, collective intelligence in a group is largely influenced by how well-coordinated its members are, said Anita Woolley, expert in organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University.
AI can, for instance, foster communication between individuals. It can remind them of tasks that need to be done, without another team member losing time to coordinate this, which has the further complication of adding interpersonal pressure. Furthermore, it could collect information for the team to rely on and provide avenues that turn collective decision-making into a more efficient process.
Woolley warns that generating such systems is a challenge: “It is easier to be harmful or to create things that annoy people than it is to create things that are honestly helpful,” she said. A study from her team tried out three different tools: one giving real-time feedback on the work of team members, another that aimed to divide tasks and finally a chatbot helping the team to discuss skills and experiences in an open manner. Providing real-time feedback on one’s performance turned out to demotivate the team members. The second team generated too much distraction with unnecessary planning. The final tool, however, was successful in the end because it allowed for the right people to be assigned to their strong suits. Woolley noted that humanity’s distrust of AI impacted the results somewhat, but did see that if the system stayed subtle, good results could be achieved. As soon as the AI system became too ‘active,’ team members started looking for ways to disable it.
AI could also be efficient at helping people interpret data better, reported Nesta. It can help them overcome ingrained biases and highlight unusual solutions. Even if these do not work, they open up the arena for freer thinking. The report also stressed that the implementation of such systems would need to be done carefully to avoid teams losing motivation.
But AI does not always have to be aimed at teamwork. A current, already successful type of AI being implemented by many companies is that of chatbots. Frequently, these interact with clients. Only if no solution to a presented issue is found, a human employee comes in to fix it. This takes stress off the company’s shoulders, as the chatbot learns over time to improve its performance through machine learning.
Another example is reported by the Wall Street Journal in Texas, where Cybersecurity firm Rapid7 Inc. had installed cameras to see where employees moved in the office. Now, the same cameras are used to enforce social distancing, an essential measure to ensure workers’ safety during the pandemic. The journal mentions worries by experts regarding privacy invasions. Nonetheless, if measures regarding information collection are managed cautiously, it could generate real benefits.