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Once the subject of science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) — sometimes called machine intelligence —  is now a reality for many companies and consumers.  Arguably, not since the advent of the internet has a technology held such promise as a driver of innovation and new ways of doing business.  AI has the potential to impact virtually every industry and is capturing the imagination of executives around the world as they try to understand and optimize it.  Further, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc., the global artificial intelligence market is expected to reach US $390.9 billion by 2025. Clearly, AI is here to stay, but it’s not without controversy.

Numerous studies point to AI as a significant source of future job loss, especially where it contributes to automating low-skill or repetitive activities.  In fact, according to  Oxford Economics: up to 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide will be lost to robots by 2030.  As well, certain demographics are at greater risk of being replaced by machines. A study by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), found that women hold  58% of the jobs most likely to be automated. A good example of this is the increasing number of self-service check-outs emerging at grocery  and drug stores.

Conversely, other studies highlight how AI is creating jobs, or at least eliminating routine tasks from within jobs, freeing humans to focus on matters of greater value and interest. As well, workers do seem to be getting on board with AI once they experience it.  A global study by Oracle and Future Workplace of more than 8,300 employees, managers and HR leaders,  found “the majority (65 percent) of workers are optimistic, excited and grateful about having robot co-workers and nearly a quarter report having a loving and gratifying relationship with AI at work.”

The same study also explored opinions about the various strengths of AI and humans. When asked what robots can do better than their managers, respondents said robots are better at providing unbiased information, maintaining work schedules, problem-solving, and managing a budget.  When asked what managers can do better than robots, the top three tasks were understanding their feelings, coaching them, and creating a work culture.

So, if you are not already on the path to AI, where do you begin? The following steps should help you get started:

1. Learn as much as you can about AI.

If your organization has an AI strategy how does your department fit in? What could you be doing to optimize AI within your field of work? Do you and your team members have all the available AI productivity tools, training and sources of information you need?

2. Recognize that harnessing AI requires a new mindset and new processes, even a new organizational structure.

It is about much more than new technology or new software. If the talent you need to enable the transition is not available inhouse, bring it in from outside. As well, AI is not an endeavour that the Chief Technology Officer and team handle in isolation; every employee can play a role in unleashing the potential of AI — from the CEO on down.

3. Strengthen your soft skills.

Humans and robots have different strengths. Soft skills are always important, but because hard skills seem easier for AI to master, at least for now, ensure skills such as communication, empathy, team-building, leadership, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and creativity are as strong as they can be. Our human qualities complement AI and combined they deliver a more powerful approach to business overall.

Where is your organization on the AI spectrum? Unlike the Internet, where the later arrivals learned from the missteps of the trailblazers and the dot.com crash, it’s generally accepted that the sooner you get into AI the better. Take steps to ensure you do not get left behind, as a business or as an individual.  As Mark Cuban, the American entrepreneur and TV personality puts it: “Artificial Intelligence, deep learning, machine learning —whatever you’re doing, if you don’t understand it — learn it. Because otherwise, you’re going to be a dinosaur within 3 years.”

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