Generative AI took the world by storm just over a year ago, capturing news headlines and changing the conversation in business. Once Microsoft started the “AI race” by incorporating ChatGPT in Bing, companies began rushing to announce their own AI products and features—many of which are still not generally available. This all happened before most people could wrap their heads around how this new technology would affect the workplace.
One of the biggest fears—and, in my opinion, misconceptions—about AI is that it will take people’s jobs. The reality is that the fundamental benefit of GAI lies in its ability to enhance our work rather than substitute for human workers. I want to look at the impact of GAI on daily workflows alongside the real concerns that workers and employers have about the technology. I’ll dive into how some prominent companies are addressing those concerns and setting themselves and their workforces up for success. Along the way, let’s have some real talk about whether AI is gunning for your job.
AI Is Not Going To Take Your Job
There have been countless news headlines proclaiming that AI will replace lawyers and doctors, eliminate a particular sector of the workforce or . . . well, take your pick of other clickbait reactionary statements. While I do allow room for the inevitable reality that AI will eliminate a small portion of jobs—in call centers, for example—AI’s impact on the vast majority of jobs that remain will be far more significant. (It’s worth noting that AI will also create many jobs, but we can save that discussion for another time.)
In a recent analyst briefing, Cisco CIO Fletcher Previn summed it up nicely. “AI is coming for the parts of your job that were mundane, and automation was already coming for those parts of your job anyway,” he said. “As we deliver AI capabilities or augment products with AI features, it’s through the lens of ‘How does this make people more productive and more efficient and ultimately happier in their jobs?’”
Copilots And Chatbots: The Gateway To AI
If the question is how AI will make people more productive and ultimately happier in their jobs, the answer for the everyday office worker is GAI in the form of chatbots and copilots. GAI has the potential to transform multiple aspects of daily workflows. Copilots and chatbots—also known as virtual assistants—have already become commonplace in most people’s lives in some way. This is right in line with broader trends: a recent AWS study, for example, shows that 93% of employers expect to use GAI in the next five years.
Usage numbers for popular GAI tools show that workers and consumers alike are somewhere on the spectrum from AI-curious to AI-savvy. Microsoft Copilot has interacted in more than five billion chats and images to date. ChatGPT has amassed over 100 million users and 1.8 billion web visitors monthly. Since its launch in late August 2023, ChatGPT for Enterprise has attracted upwards of 260 business customers with more than 150,000 unique users, according to Bloomberg. Even in a setting such as banking, where users could be expected to be slower to adopt a new technology, Wells Fargo’s virtual assistant app, Fargo, has already handled 20 million interactions since its launch in March.
Let Chatbots Do The Searching For You
There are plenty of tasks available for these copilots to help with. At the top of the list is finding relevant information. IBM estimates that corporate employees spend an average of three hours daily searching for information. In an enterprise setting, copilots and chatbots employ sophisticated capabilities for querying data, which ought to reduce the time required to find the information you need to get your job done. Tools such as Box AI have tremendous potential in daily workflows for extracting knowledge from stored content. Other products incorporate information discovery into larger workflows. For example, Adobe’s GenStudio addresses content management challenges in an overarching solution that uses GAI for locating, distributing and organizing creative content in the content supply chain. Using one of these AI-driven solutions in a large organization can save brands millions of dollars in unnecessary content creation and re-work alone.
The bottom line is that in any of these cases, AI is helping people get to information faster, contextualize it better and automate low-satisfaction, repetitive tasks. That’s a long way from taking your job. In fact, at this point AI isn’t even doing people’s jobs for them. It’s simply helping people get through certain tasks faster so they can spend time on more strategic and meaningful work.
Microsoft Expands Its Copilot Footprint
The audience for these tools will only continue to grow. Last week, for example, Microsoft made Copilot for Microsoft 365 available for individuals and small businesses, removing the previous 300-seat purchase minimum for commercial plans. This is an interesting move since it is a result of feedback the company received from its enterprise Microsoft 365 customers, many of whom expressed their desire to access Copilot for personal use. What started as an assistant for productivity at work has quickly become something people deem useful in any setting.
This shouldn’t surprise us, considering the growing popularity over the past few years of voice-activated digital assistants for the home—Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and so on. It is reasonable to think that AI-enabled copilots may soon come to play roles across many facets of our work and lives as they are integrated into existing and new applications and devices. It’s not hard to imagine a day when your refrigerator has a copilot that will suggest meals based on the contents of the fridge. A copilot in your car might make navigation suggestions or dinner reservations based on an automated summary of a call made during your commute.
Microsoft has also just introduced Copilot Pro, a premium subscription that offers more advanced features for power users and creators. This version of Copilot includes a unified AI experience across devices, access to Copilot in Microsoft 365 apps, priority access to the latest AI models such as GPT-4 Turbo and the use of Image Creator from Designer (formerly Bing Image Creator). Users can also create custom Copilot GPTs tailored to a specific topic with just a few prompts.
The Key To Copilot
To make Copilot even more ubiquitous, starting in February, many new PCs that run on the Windows 11 operating system will have a dedicated Copilot key. This will join the Windows key as a core part of the PC keyboard; when pressed, the new key will invoke Copilot in the Windows experience. While I think the Copilot key will make it simple for a user to engage Copilot in the short term, Microsoft’s ultimate goal for Copilot is to seamlessly integrate it so that it becomes a natural and almost unseen part of users’ daily workflows.
Getting AI-Ready: Reskilling And Upskilling The Workforce
An Oliver Wyman Forum report released at the World Economic Forum last week revealed that 96% of employees believe that generative AI can positively impact their jobs. Half of those people say they already incorporate generative AI into their work weekly. The report also shows that 80% of white-collar employees desire improved or additional AI training, yet only 64% report receiving it. Their bosses broadly agree: a Microsoft Work Trend Index showed that 82% of leaders believe employees will need new skills to be prepared for the growth of AI.
In a similar vein, a recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value indicated that C-suite executives’ primary talent concern is the development of new skills for existing employees. In the retail sector, as one example, leaders anticipate that 41% of their workforce will require reskilling due to AI and automation in the next three years. And nearly half of the retail executives surveyed prefer to invest in reskilling current employees rather than hiring externally to replace them.
Rather than fearing replacement, workers who embrace AI skills can enjoy a cascade of career benefits. Beyond the abstract notion of career growth, the tangible allure lies in the financial rewards. AWS’s study shows that 84% of employers project a substantial increase in pay for employees who are adept in AI. The study suggests that the pay surge for AI-skilled workers might amount to 35% or more. Some departments, such as IT, sales and marketing, could see bumps as much as 48%.
To prepare for this new reality, Amazon has launched the “AI Ready” initiative to provide free AI skills training to two million people globally by 2025. This initiative responds to the strong demand for AI talent revealed in the recent AWS study. The study showed that employers need to prioritize hiring AI-skilled talent, yet three out of four employers struggle to meet their AI talent needs. The AI Ready initiative seeks to bridge this talent gap by making AI skills training more accessible through courses for students, professionals and other individuals from novice to advanced levels.
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has put 4,000 employees through Stanford’s Human-Centered AI program to help support the bank’s numerous GAI projects, many of which are aimed at making back-office tasks more efficient. It makes sense to me that the bank would provide training to the people who will both use and benefit from these projects. This advanced education approach is a thoughtful way to retain knowledge and talent within the company.
Even without a company-wide effort such as Wells Fargo’s, access to AI skills training is becoming more accessible through learning management systems. Ceridian’s Dayforce HCM platform, for example, integrates a learning management system to simplify AI (and other) upskilling. This approach gives employees easy access to AI-focused learning channels and personalized paths. The centralized data system allows for tracking progress, aligning learning efforts with organizational goals and adapting to workforce changes. As companies seek to bring more AI skills into their existing workforces, an LMS should help them identify opportunities and gaps.
Challenges In AI Adoption And Impact Measurement
Companies may still be tentative about using and deploying AI models because of concerns about hallucinations, data security and adherence to regulatory, privacy and governance requirements. According to the IBM CEO study, the most significant barriers to GAI adoption in companies are concerns around data lineage or provenance (61%), data security (57%) and regulation and compliance (53%).
According to Cisco’s AI Readiness Index, organizations face numerous challenges in governance, especially when implementing new AI policies, protocols and evolving legislation in data and AI domains. According to the Index, 87% of organizations have a process in place to measure AI’s impact, but only 41% have defined metrics for doing so. Only three out of 10 companies surveyed possess comprehensive AI policies and protocols. Additionally, just four out of 10 have established systematic processes for correcting AI bias and ensuring fairness.
The challenges associated with AI highlight the importance of maintaining human involvement. “AI is fallible and lacks the emotional context, human understanding and common sense to fully supplant humans,” according to Gary Steele, president and CEO of Splunk. “It is essential that AI assist human decision-making, not dictate it.”
My Analyst Take
Copilots and chatbots are no longer futuristic concepts, but rather integral tools that have tangible benefits for businesses and employees. Contrary to the widespread fears that GAI will replace jobs, for the most part copilots and chatbots will become essential in streamlining data interactions and boosting productivity.
Without question, AI may lead to the displacement of specific jobs—but it will also create new job opportunities. The key lies in how enterprises and individuals respond to this shift. Recognizing AI as an advanced tool—able to augment but not replace most jobs if fully utilized—underscores the importance of addressing skill gaps. There is already a significant demand for machine learning, data science and cybersecurity roles, along with the “soft skills” needed to navigate compliance and ethical concerns around AI. Workers who embrace AI to augment their jobs, like the companies that train their people to use AI effectively, will be better equipped to navigate the evolving landscape.
In most cases, companies have yet to quantify the value of AI in terms of time savings or improved communications. Anecdotally, chatbot and copilot users say the tools save time and make them feel more productive—which, hopefully, leads to happier employees. But because of the lack of clear ROI to date, I think companies will carefully examine their investments in AI in 2024. Vendors offering AI solutions will need to make sure they address real business challenges—and have the numbers to back up their claims.
While the long-term productivity benefits for AI could take years to realize, I look forward to what will surface this year for post-deployment ROI. As with any other growth-driving technology in history, a lag in seeing results is expected as we wait for the processes of investment, implementation and adoption to shake out. Regardless, I expect that for certain use cases we will begin to see gains in 2024 that are properly supported with field data. And as workers fine-tune their skills to become more AI-ready, I look forward to seeing the emergence of a sector of the workforce that’s truly ready for the future of the AI-driven workplace.