With Artificial Intelligence (AI) expected to become increasingly central to business organisations over the next year, the landscape of the workplace is changing.
According to a recent report by IT company Spiceworks, almost half of large companies is expected to implement AI chatbots or intelligent assistants by 2019, meaning many employees may have to learn new skills to adapt to AI colleagues.
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However, although the exact impact of AI on jobs is not yet known, 78% of UK office workers are confident their jobs will survive automation.
This is according to new research by Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software company UiPath, which explored the attitudes of 1,000 office employees to workplace AI, and has found that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The research shows that workers are on the whole optimistic regarding the economic potential of workplace AI, with less than a quarter of UK employees believing that automation will have a bad effect on the UK economy.
Although the fact that employees are confident they will not be replaced by robots suggests that scaremongering surrounding automation has not deterred most people, the research also suggests that an education gap regarding its benefits still exists.
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The research uncovered that 49% of workers do not see how their administrative duties can be undertaken by a software robot, even though more than six-in-ten spend in excess of 30% of their time on repetitive, routine tasks that could be automated.
This suggests that although many are aware of the value automation can bring, their understanding of how it can be applied has some way to go. It is therefore imperative that organisations prepare their employees for workplace AI.
Kulpreet Singh, Managing Director EMEA, UiPath believes that workplace AI may be able to do even more to relieve employees of repetitive tasks than they may realise:
“RPA is one of the most far-reaching revolutions in the UK workplace. Office employees may be in for a pleasant surprise as the burden of boring and routine tasks moves to being performed by software robots instead. They will need to adjust to having a greater amount of time for more valuable work.”
“It’s encouraging to see that when office staff understand how RPA can free them from drudgery, they already see more profitable uses for their time.”
It also looks likely that an increase in automation will be especially beneficial to some groups. The research found that women and younger workers do the lion’s share of administrative and repetitive tasks, with 64% of female workers spend more than 30% of their time on administrative tasks, while half of those aged 18-24 devote more than half their time on repetitive jobs.
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These groups could be freed up to do other more complex tasks beyond the capabilities of workplace AI, such as those that involve critical thinking or interpersonal skills. 37% of those asked said they would devote more time to new strategic projects once they are freed from repetitive work by RPA, while 36% will seek to develop new skills. Not only does this have positive implications for productivity within organisations, it could also have a knock-on effect on employee satisfaction.
President of TechUK Jacqueline de Rojas CBE believes that workers must change their response to artificial intelligence to fully reap its benefits:
“The fourth industrial revolution will create relentless waves of change as we embrace machine learning and robotics. This is not going away and the only thing we can change is our response. Our job will be to figure out how we respond to these changes and to pivot our skills in an ‘evergreen’ way throughout our careers.”