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Working with AI

What’s it like to work on a team where not all your colleagues are human? And what’s the future of work in organizations where algorithms handle many of the tasks that used to keep human workers busy? We explore these questions in the current edition of Workflow™.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 72% of Americans are worried about a future in which intelligent machines do much of the work that’s currently done by humans. This anxiety is rooted in the perception that automation threatens jobs, a fear that dates back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

In reality, knowledge workers aren’t suffering from a lack of stuff to do. The opposite is true: organizations worldwide are drowning in repetitive busywork. According to last year’s State of Work Survey from ServiceNow, 86% of executives believe that by 2020 they will need more automation just to get their work done.

One of the more compelling arguments for AI in the workplace is that by taking over mundane services such as routing customer queries or onboarding new employees, machine intelligence frees up people to do more creative, strategic and personally meaningful work. In an exclusive interview, bestselling business author Daniel Pink tells Workflow that the rise of AI will motivate employees by allowing them to focus on work that provides them with a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Pink predicts that the job skills in greatest demand will be those that augment machine intelligence rather than compete with it. We see this already in chess. Although AI chess programs routinely defeat grandmasters, no program yet devised has been able to defeat a grandmaster who is assisted by another AI. In medicine, similarly, AI is not replacing doctors. Instead, doctors use AI to assist their diagnoses by mining gigantic volumes of medical research for relevant case data.

Paradoxically, machine intelligence can also enhance collaboration among people. Although humans are social creatures, we aren’t always that good at teamwork. In a recent study of crossfunctional teams inside corporations, Stanford University researcher Behnam Tabrizi found that 75% of teams failed at core objectives such as staying on schedule and meeting customer expectations. Luckily, there are apps for that. In “Want a high‑performing team? Add AI,” Jeffrey Davis presents a wealth of reporting to make the case that intelligent software can keep teams on track and foster better communication.

Matt Denton argues that organizations shouldn’t think of automated service management as a tool to cut costs or trim headcount. As the leader of ServiceNow’s business value practice, Denton works daily with companies that use service management to transform their businesses, not just run them. In the process, these organizations create great experiences for employees and customers, which translates directly into business value.

Indeed, the State of Work Survey shows that higher levels of service automation correlate strongly with business success. Companies with more than 20% revenue growth are 61% automated on average. Companies with flat or negative growth are only 35% automated. And 79% of executives in our survey believe that automation can lead to job creation.

While we don’t yet know whether people will learn to stop worrying and love AI, the evidence suggests that machine intelligence is already delivering tangible benefits to companies, employees and customers. I hope you find Workflow enjoyable and instructive. Please reach out and tell me how we’re doing: richard.murphy@servicenow.com.

Richard McGill Murphy is the editor in chief of Workflow. A journalist and social anthropologist by background, he runs a research and publishing program at ServiceNow that studies how emerging technologies are shaping the future of work.

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