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Last year, I shared my thoughts on generative AI at work as both a friend and foe to the workforce. Here’s how AI has evolved and what surprises it holds.

Generative AI is a topic of intense discussion, speculation, and experimentation in the modern workplace. A year ago, I shared my thoughts on generative AI at work, portraying it as both friend and foe to the workforce. One short year later, it’s fascinating to reflect on how AI has evolved and what surprises it holds for us. Here, I’d like to share some of the biggest surprises about AI adoption, the encouraging aspects of generative AI, caveats to monitor, and my advice for business and HR leaders grappling with how to define a place for generative AI at your workplace.

Surprise! Rapid Adoption of Generative AI at Work

One of the most surprising developments over the past year is the dizzying speed of adoption and utility of AI across a broad spectrum of jobs. In addition to consumer use cases, employees have quickly recognized AI as a powerful tool to enhance their personal productivity, with applications ranging from data analysis and software development to creative content generation. (As one example, the image for this blog was generated by ChatGPT, following my prompt). This rapid integration represents a profound shift in workplace dynamics, making AI a widely accepted ally for a range of daily tasks.

However, with this swift adoption comes a set of challenges. Business and HR leaders remain concerned about the ethical implications and impact of AI at work, especially when the use of AI outpaces companies’ policies and guidance for use. Tech giants like Google and Microsoft are aggressively embedding AI into their products and corporate policies and laws often lag regarding the appropriate use of the tech tools and capabilities.

This discrepancy highlights the dual nature of AI – its potential as a friend to augment human capabilities and improve productivity versus the underlying risks that require careful management. The “friend or foe” dichotomy stands. Still, I lean toward AI being a good friend at work – if managed properly.

Key Benefits of Generative AI

Proponents tout a long list of benefits of using generative AI. Here are just a few that stand out to me:

  • Accessibility. The widespread accessibility of AI is a major encouraging factor. AI is no longer confined to high-tech industries. Instead, it is readily available across sectors and spanning traditional white-collar and blue-collar job classifications. So, employees at all levels can leverage the technology to enhance their performance.
  • Productivity improvements. Integrating AI into office tools can markedly improve productivity, freeing employees at all levels in the organization to do higher-level work. Generative AI is speeding writing, data management, scheduling, project management, and many other tasks.
  • Job opportunities. Additionally, because this generation of AI is relatively new, many new job opportunities are becoming available, often filled by self-trained individuals. This trend is particularly heartening as it underscores the inclusivity and rapid skill development potential for AI-related work.

Caveats to Monitor and Mitigate

However, there are significant caveats.

  • Reliability. AI technologies are evolving at a breakneck pace, and they aren’t always producing “correct” results. There are many examples of inconsistencies and inaccuracies, so employees must critically evaluate AI outputs before incorporating them into a final asset.
  • Security and Privacy. As with many technologies, AI security and privacy concerns are different for consumer and corporate use cases. Individuals may be happy to have an Apple “assistant” peruse their phone and provide suggestions based on one’s photos, calendars, and emails. However, companies have a much higher duty to protect the data of their employees, customers, and partners. While applications such as Microsoft’s CoPilot may be presented as beneficial at work, many companies – especially those in government and highly regulated industries – will need to decide how/whether information on employees’ PCs may be shared with third parties such as Microsoft.
  • Quality. Even when an AI output is technically correct, using the information verbatim often does not hold up to the quality standards of an HR, communications, or customer service team. When communications “look” or “sound” like they came from AI rather than from the team, others are likely to notice. The result may be a distrust of the information or disdain of a team that is perceived not to care  about the audience in the same way they once did.
  • Environmental Impact. The training and operation of large AI models require substantial computational power, which translates to a considerable carbon footprint due to data centers’ energy consumption. As companies increasingly adopt AI technologies, it’s important to weigh the environmental consequences associated with these advancements.

Advice for Business and HR Leaders

For business and HR leaders, the integration of AI into the workplace hinges on two critical factors: comprehensive training and robust policies.

1. Training: It is imperative to implement AI training programs across all levels of the organization. Employees, managers, and leaders all need to learn how to effectively use AI tools. They also need to understand the potential drawbacks or risks of using the technologies. A well-trained workforce is better equipped to harness AI’s potential while mitigating the risks.

2. Policies: Equally important are clear and enforceable policies regarding AI use. These policies should address data privacy, ethical considerations, and the appropriate contexts for AI application. For example, it’s crucial to have stringent guidelines to protect sensitive information. Business leaders must scrutinize the data-sharing mechanisms of AI tools and ensure they align with organizational privacy standards.

Final Thoughts

Generative AI is not a phenomenon to be avoided or feared. It is here as a transformative force that will reshape job roles and market dynamics. Business leaders and HR managers must stay abreast of AI advancements, understand their implications, and start integrating these tools into their workflows. By doing so, you can turn potential disruptions into opportunities for innovation and growth.

As we navigate this AI-driven evolution, the key takeaway is clear: embrace AI with a strategic and informed approach. Equip your teams with the knowledge and tools they need, and craft policies that safeguard your organization’s integrity. Then, you can leverage AI to foster a more adaptive, productive, and future-thinking workplace.

Image generated by ChatGPT

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