What will be the effects of artificial intelligence on the workplace? Our survey respondents expect AI will have a large impact on the skills employees will need on the job. At the same time, they remain cautiously optimistic about AI’s overall effect on the workforce.
An overwhelming percentage of respondents (82%) believe AI will help their organization improve productivity. Despite those expectations, managers’ opinions about the prospect of labor reductions from AI-related productivity improvements are decidedly mixed. In fact, they are almost exactly evenly split: 47% agreed with the statement “Our organization’s workforce will be reduced” because of AI in the next five years.
Some employees worry that the age of artificial intelligence will mean reductions in the workforce. Rudolph says Daimler takes those concerns seriously and that organizations should take a proactive approach. “We are in a very lucky position,” he says, in that “our company is operating in a global growth industry. Therefore, we are in a much better position to handle any changes on the employment side.”
Rudolph notes that, in his strategic role thinking about the company’s use of AI, he gets asked, “How many people will we have to replace? How many will we have to lay off?” And he understands that his answer needs to be “not a diplomatic one but a very serious one: No one, at this point, can be entirely sure how AI is influencing the overall workforce. New products are being and will be developed, demanding new skills and probably also creating new job opportunities. We need to look at the processes one by one and understand that artificial intelligence will surely change the way we work but not necessarily lead to workforce reduction.”
Rudolph’s level of uncertainty about the future of any given job at Daimler mirrors the survey results overall. The uncertainty around workforce reductions results from the clash of two perspectives. On one hand, past experience with automating technologies might reassure workers that, at least at some point, the result will be not fewer but rather more job opportunities. On the other hand, given that machines are already doing knowledge work, workers might reasonably doubt that many higher-level tasks will be left for humans to do. (In China, such skepticism is not uncommon.)
Linda Jojo, chief digital officer at United Airlines, summarizes the tension perfectly: “History shows that there’s always a fear of new technologies, whether it was the word processor or the computer replacing the typewriter, through to tablets versus laptops,” she says. “The result people feared doesn’t tend to happen. It’s usually that people just do different and higher-valued tasks and jobs, supported by the technology, or jobs that no one even envisioned because the technology then enabled them. I believe that will happen over time. But right now, that unknown makes it a difficult concept.”