When I first heard the term, Artificial Intelligence (AI), it reminded me of the 1968 iconic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. Yes, I realize many of my coworkers were likely not even born yet and might see that film as dated and old-school; but for me at eight, it was a glance into our future. As an adult, I can imagine how my father regretted his decision to take me to that movie after being bombarded with questions like, “Why is that computer talking?” Yet, here we stand, asking for guidance from voice-powered personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google, or Cortana.
Many companies are exploring AI technology today. Being in the learning and development field, I ask myself, “What effect will AI have on learning and performance improvement strategies and on the professionals that are accountable for Talent Development?”
What is AI?
At its most basic level, AI is technology that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages. This technology enables computers to perceive, learn, and navigate complex environments. AI can track everything an individual does in a system by gauging how well that individual completes tasks. Based on sophisticated programming built with algorithms, AI captures performance data and makes recommendations to individuals, creating a constant and personalized feedback loop to drive improvement. Logically, it also has the ability to generate robust data analytics.
What are Some Examples of Popular AI Today?
Amazon; Netflix; Pandora; those voice assistants we noted earlier; self-play computer games like chess, solitaire, and poker; and online Help or Customer Service guides in the form of chatbots are just a few examples of commonly used AI. Other prevalent forms in business include sales and marketing forecasting tools that can capture, sort, and analyze data in a multitude of ways and in a fraction of the time required by traditional methods. Other AI that may have a broader impact on our lives and work includes facial recognition for enhanced security and self-correcting/self-driving cars intended to make commuting more efficient and safer. All capture and analyze data based on user interactions and tailor the information, next action, or guidance they provide accordingly.
The Advantages of AI in the Workplace
Smart technology and systems can streamline workflows by automating work that can and should be automated to reduce risk of human error. They can also save time and money. By embracing AI, organizations open the workplace to optimizing work that requires a human-brain, touch, and interpersonal skills. Yes, people are still an organization’s greatest asset! AI is designed to help us flourish, not replace us. It helps improve our ability to work smarter and focus our talents where they are most critical.
What Does AI Mean for Workplace Learning and Performance Improvement?
While AI is on the strategy for many organizations, most are only in the process of exploration. Many might have it on their radar for the near future, but are in the very early stages at best of applying AI.
One of the key roles Talent Development can play with the adoption of AI is preparing the organization’s culture. As with any change that impacts jobs and workflows, cultural readiness and acceptance are essential.
According to a survey by Deloitte and Touche conducted in 2017, 1,500 senior executives found that only 17 percent were familiar with both the concept of AI and its applications at their companies. Their analysis of the “readiness gap” shows that while 72 percent of the respondents see this area as important, only 31 percent feel ready to address it.
Although some companies may be hesitant to embrace AI, seeing the benefits of how organizations are implementing this technology firsthand may generate more momentum in this space. Looking at companies who have gone to market in the retail and learning environments, it becomes easier to visualize how this can translate to a variety of business models. Since AI has the capability to streamline processes, generate performance data, and make recommendations, it becomes more evident that the pluses outweigh the minuses. Making the decision to take the next step forward, organizations may further explore these possibilities by conducting brainstorming sessions with team members to determine what parts of the business can be automated to achieve optimization. As new strategies are vetted and applied to the automation of business processes, organizations can more clearly see the path forward and understand that when humans and technology work side-by-side, it becomes easier to improve workflow processes, which translates to better business outcomes.
A lot to take in? It is. Those of us in Talent Development should make sure the role of AI in performance improvement and learning is clear. Research and understand the AI technology at play and be included in those conversations so the impact to the workforce is clarified and a communication and onboarding strategy can be established.
When you are ready to act, test or pilot the waters. Consider AI tools for coaching, practice, and self-correction of repetitive skills, training reinforcement, task reminders, and other services. AI-based performance support can bolster work when it is setup, explained, and the value to the employee is apparent and welcomed.