Will AI make work more human?

Artificial intelligence is developing at a rapid rate, raising serious philosophical and practical questions. Clare Dillon, a tech evangelist formerly of Microsoft, ponders should we fear AI?

Two IT technicians in conversation
Just a walk around the CIPD annual conference and exhibition hall in Manchester and a look through the list of latest Relocate Awards winners is all it takes to see the extent to which technology is taking over in the world of HR and global mobility.AI applications are already supporting globally mobile employees with instantaneous replies to routine assignment questions, while HR and mobility experts are being liberated from the mundane and less financially valuable aspects of their roles. Both shifts reflect the general move from product to service happening across businesses as digitisation makes an increasing impact on the world of work.

Technology for good?

On the question of how fast and far technology is advancing in the workplace, and the significant implications of that around issues like job displacement, Clare Dillon, a freelance consultant and former member of Microsoft Ireland’s leadership team and Developer Experience and Evangelism (DX) Group head, has a positive outlook.Given the huge global challenges of demographic shifts, healthcare, food poverty and global warming, Clare Dillon believes we have no option but to harness AI.“I may be an optimist at heart, but I really do believe the innovation happening around AI is something to be upbeat about,” Ms Dillon explains, speaking to Relocate Global before the interactive debate at the CIPD annual conference and exhibition on “Should we fear artificial intelligence and automation?”“When you look at the various spheres of technological innovation at the moment, and in particular in AI, you see the problems it could solve. I think we can’t afford technology not to help us with some of these problems.”Technology offers us productivity gains and insights through data analysis we haven’t had before, “so maybe AI can help us by looking at problems in a different way and providing an answer that may be surprising,” contends Ms Dillon.  “AI is something that can maybe help us. I don’t think we can do it on our own.”
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Using AI to support assignee wellbeing

With one of this year’s Relocate Award winners for technical innovation won by MoveAssist for its chatbot, MAIA, global mobility’s first intelligent chatbot, what mobility challenges can AI solve and what might we see in future entries to this category?Recalling concerns raised at the CIPD conference in Dublin that took place a few weeks before the interview with Relocate Global, Clare Dillon sees more accurate candidate profiling and job descriptions, as well as employee coaching, areas with huge great scope for development.“Technology and AI has great application in the rise of areas like coaching, and wellness and wellbeing at work,” says Clare. “I recently came across a company called Ginger.io. It is doing a lot around AI and sensors, with an application where you can predict based on behaviours things like bipolar episodes.“It is platform-based and provides a way to get coaching and mental health support on demand. That has the potential to be a wonderful addition to some of the services companies may provide their employees.”Research and experience suggests remote employees – whether based in-country or overseas – are more vulnerable to feeling isolated or develop health concerns. Technology can also be part of the problem, with the pressure to be “always on” smartphones have brought with them.

Redefining spaces with the Internet of Things

Clare Dillon believes that emergent AI has the capacity both to offer preventative support, and change the way we think about the spaces we occupy, for example, with developments like Microsoft’s HoloLens smartglasses – a holographic computer that helps people engage with digital content and interact with holograms.“Technology has made advancements in these areas that might help remote workers feel much more connected to people,” explains Clare Dillon. “The promise of that was there from video conferencing a long way back.“Now, with some of the demonstrations we’ve seen at HoloLens, when you think about how you can collaborate around 3D objects and feel like you are in the same room, that is absolutely amazing. I think these types of technologies will help people redefine their sense of space and how they collaborate.“Already we are starting to see people adopting AI solutions very easily that might augment their work. You just have to look at Google Maps and how we all cottoned on to that pretty quickly. So, I think there will be services for HR professionals and all office workers that will help and augment their working lives.”Described this way, the future looks bright for better connected, happier and more productive globally mobile employees. However, as in the first wave of the internet, this positive vision needs equal access to the Internet of Things and AI, as well as upskilling.

Upskilling for the future world of work

A recent survey by Mercer suggests HR itself is some way behind adopting technology. This finding is echoed in a survey by recruiters Alexander Mann Solutions, which found only 23% of HR believe they and future professionals are being prepared for world with AI.The latest BGRS research into the global mobility aspect concurs. Two-thirds of respondents to this study say in the last three years the amount of data, analytics and benchmarks requested by top management regarding mobility has increased. However, 57% of respondents indicate they don’t have sufficient access to data that allows them to gain the insight they need. “Some of these technological and AI developments are all obviously dependent on infrastructure, which can be patchy. But these changes are directional. They really point to possibilities of how we can be more closely connected and spend our time doing more valuable work,” believes Clare Dillon.

Redefining lifelong learning?

For the benefits of AI to happen, and for AI to develop in this positive way, requires a culture change around lifelong learning.“It frustrates me sometimes the discussion around AI is focused solely on the technology and not enough outreach into the verticals about the implications,” explains Clare Dillon. “We need to discuss what a world moving towards automation and AI looks like – and what it should look like.“There is a definite change in what we need in terms of the personal accountability of individuals to stay informed in this respect. I don’t think you can actually make companies solely accountable for this."The impact and development of AI will largely be down to people’s roles and what they do. But I do think it’s down to people to think about how they are going to build the skills necessary in the new world as they evolve.“You see a lot of individuals in organisations who relinquish the responsibility for their learning to whoever they work for. Then for organisations to feel that offering a couple of e-learning sessions a month means they are doing ok. I’m not sure that’s enough for where we are moving to," Clare believes.

Individuals taking the lead

“It is going to require individuals to take it upon themselves to learn,” says Clare. “And I don’t mean things like coding. Although I’m a big proponent of increasing the number of people who code, it’s not like everyone needs to."It’s more that people need to be more aware of what is happening with technology, and are aware of both the opportunities and challenges technology like AI presents.”For this to happen effectively, organisations do need to give people space to do that. “Organisations need to think about how they make space for people to do that learning, and make sure everyone understands this is something that is allowed and encouraged rather than just giving lip service to it."These big discussions are happening all around us now. It is about asking questions, joining forums, reading articles and coming to conferences like this CIPD event.”

Making work more human

As a technology evangelist and consultant, Clare Dillon’s most important message is we all need to be aware that AI is going to make a big impact on the way we work. This is not just in terms of how we use it, but also around the potential for job displacement.“People need to be cognizant of that and they need to get informed. They need to look at the skills and consciously build the skills that are going to be required, like creativity, leadership and empathy.“Working with each other and great collaboration is still going to be incredibly important. Often times we focus on just the tech when we focus on preparing for AI.“But it’s these other skills that differentiate us from AI, so they are the things we need to focus on to be the differentiating skills of the future.”
Relocate Magazine Winter 2017 front cover
Read more about developments in global mobility HR in the Winter issue of our magazine
For related news and features, visit our sections on HR and International AssignmentsLook out for the launch of 2018's Relocate Awards, entries open in January. Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory

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