HELP! The Robots are Coming!

Special thanks to Christina Rogers for writing this week's blog.

While we have not yet gotten to the world portrayed in the Will Smith film I, Robot, artificial intelligence (AI) is here (and likely for good).

We have all seen examples of AI growing around us, from Amazon’s Alexa to the smartphone in your pocket that seems to be getting just a little too “smart.” But can AI be used in the workplace? Yes…if utilized correctly.

For example, this fall the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) will be facing a battle with the Transportation Workers Union of America when it rolls out new low-speed driverless shuttles which threatens to displace many workers. The Union has initiated a “People Before Robots” campaign and have threatened to strike if state leaders actually bring these driverless shuttles onto the streets of Columbus.

In the battle between robots and humans you don’t have to pick a side. Here’s how:

  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Don’t make rash decisions!

Engage in an open dialogue with your employees about the possibility of using AI in the workplace. Be sure to be transparent in explaining what way it will be utilized and the potential impact. Most importantly, be open to suggestions from your employees. No one knows your operation better than those individuals working hard for you day in and day out.  Like COTA, if your employees are unionized, you may have a duty to bargain with the union before you make any changes.

  • If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix it

Although the potential uses for AI technology are limitless and exciting, AI can’t do everything and isn’t right for every business. Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean you should use it. You should look deeply into your organization to determine whether AI would actually be useful. In some areas you might find that it’s just not economical to trade people for technology, especially in areas of customer service.

  • Invest in Intelligence

Like the Great and Powerful Oz, encourage your employees to become the man or woman behind the machine. AI technology needs individuals to create the programs it will run on, to operate the controls, and to fix it when it inevitably breaks down. Train your workers to do just that. Experienced workers can add value by sharing their vast knowledge and skills. Also, consider supporting their education in the areas of computer science, AI, and analytics.

The world isn’t perfect, not all employees are going to love the idea of working with the “enemy.” Some may even leave, and that’s okay. Invest in the employees that stay and recruit new talent more familiar and comfortable with AI technology.

Finally, be prepared! It’s 2018 and Will Smith’s not- so-fictional world set in 2035 is right around the corner. Talk to your Labor & Employment Attorneys to start planning how you can integrate AI into the workplace.

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