Couldn’t attend Transform 2022? Check out all the top sessions in our on-demand library now! Look here.
What is the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in an economy that has been whipped by layoffs on the one hand and layoffs and employee freezes on the other?
When I think of this one-two punch, I think of Batman. Hear me out.
AI-driven automation has been seen as a potential job killer for years. The thinking: Robots and drones would replace the hands-on work of builders and doers. We get a glimpse of this with self-driving cars and automated factories.
But it’s possible that AI has the opposite effect, boosting the demand for skilled workers in new jobs. In this scenario, routine administrative work could indeed give way to algorithmic processes, but new opportunities are created for employees in data-intensive companies.
So, what is it? Does AI take jobs or create jobs?
Back to Batman. Batman is a perennial favorite in popular culture and is sometimes viewed warily by those who may not fully understand him. He is both the Dark Knight and a force for good.
AI has its own duality, the dark side of which is its stereotypical reputation as a job killer. But because AI can boost new-style jobs while boosting efficiency, the business world, like Gotham City, will be a better place.
I am convinced that AI will be a net positive for today’s workforce, as well as for companies trying to strike the right balance in a global economy that rewards operational efficiency, but those unable to attract talent and to keep, punish.
AI-driven processes and applications push both levers. They can increase business productivity while creating high-quality jobs. They don’t have to be a conflict of interest, and they don’t have to be.
The productivity boost — as much as 40%, according to Accenture and Frontier Economy — comes in the form of automation. At the same time, what AI does really well is to provide the foundation for a data-driven business environment. This is where job creation or what we might call ‘job metamorphosis’ happens, as even entry-level workers play a bigger role in the data value chain. Instead of work that depends on monotonous routines, or is arduous or even dangerous, AI can give people the freedom to focus on tasks that affect their human ingenuity.
These data-driven, AI-enabled jobs are the ones that will attract and retain a modern workforce, and there are many ways to do it. I worked for a company with a large number of employees whose duties included creating routine weekly marketing reports by manually collecting incoming data from the company’s many regions and business units. It was repetitive work on an assembly line, without much career path.
The company replaced that workbench approach with an AI-driven, self-service model that gave business units more flexibility to do their own data crunching. That freed up the report team to pursue more innovative analysis and intellectually compelling projects. In doing so, the company was able to reduce costs by reducing its reliance on external agencies that it had relied on for the deep insights that the internal reporting team now had time for.
A force for good
Understandably, people may not be 100% comfortable with the impact AI could have on jobs. We’ve heard the dystopian prophecies – disappearing jobs, AI bias, even our inability to “trust” AI.
To take the Dark Knight analogy one step further, if CEOs had had a Batphone on their desks during the Great Resignation, many would have called for help. In May there were still 11.3 million unfilled jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In particular, it was the COVID pandemic, not AI, that caused the job crisis. But AI is now seen by many business leaders as a possible solution to all those unfillable jobs. When talent is hard to find, efficiency in the workplace becomes a necessity. And that’s where AI excels.
The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020 shows both sides of this long-term trend. It predicts that by 2025, 85 million jobs will be lost due to automation. At the same time, 97 million “jobs of tomorrow” will be created, resulting in a net profit of 12 million jobs.
Let’s smooth career paths on the data continuum
The types of jobs that involve knowledge of data are expanding rapidly. We see evidence of this every day in various sectors, including automotive, financial services and manufacturing. Even farms use sensors and data intelligence to grow corn and soybeans.
At the heart of the activity are data practitioners: data scientists, data engineers, data architects, and business analysts. But even employees who may not have four-year college degrees are increasingly becoming part of the data continuum. For example, in a retail sale where all employees have access to and are encouraged to participate, a sales associate in a sports store may see a growing interest in a new style of running shoe, providing input to the enterprise-wide system.
The career path for these employees can be enriched and made more valuable, benefiting employers and employees alike, when data touchpoints are part of job responsibilities.
As more companies move in this direction, it’s important to understand that the goal isn’t just to collect and process more data. Many organizations already have more data than they can manage, and it just keeps growing. By sifting through mountains of data, AI can empower people to act on business-wide insights.
The key to success is creating actionable data, and CEOs don’t need a cape to do that. It starts with a data-driven, AI-enabled culture that spans the entire workforce.
Florian Douetteau is co-founder and CEO of Dataiku.
Welcome to the VentureBeat Community!
DataDecisionMakers is where experts, including the technical people who do data work, can share data-related insights and innovation.
If you want to read about the very latest ideas and up-to-date information, best practices and the future of data and data technology, join us at DataDecisionMakers.
You might even consider contributing an article yourself!
Read more from DataDecisionMakers