Artificial intelligence (AI) is a topic that seems to generate excitement whenever presented in conversation. The phrase often triggers fantasies of “the future,” where robots pose as servants to their human superiors. But is it possible humans will better serve as assistants in a very near future? And could this fate create competition between current and future generations in the workplace?
Not only is it possible, but according some it might be inevitable. AI will continue to adapt and the best way to adapt is to learn to work alongside it, rather than attempting to defeat it (Maney, 2017). While human potential has mostly been established, the maximum capabilities of AI is still left to imagination. This is certainly one of the multiple causes of the phenomenon known as AI anxiety, the fear of the stability and capabilities of AI (Johnson & Verdicchio, 2017). Specifically, much of this anxiety tends to be situated in the field of employment, as lower level employees worry they might be at risk of being replaced by AI alternatives. The threat of being replaced by technology that can perform a human’s job more efficiently has many workers questioning their value to organizations.
But, not only is AI posing a threat in the aspect of efficiency in the office, but in some cases, it is an employment barrier before applicants even get the opportunity to interview. An AI chatbot by the name of Mia is being used to facilitate the hiring process. Mia is capable of answering an applicant’s questions, updating applicants on the hiring process, and verifying that applicants are qualified for the opening in the first place (Roy, 2017). And while AI may be causing applicants emotional distress, it is actually the lack of emotion that presents another advantage to machine in the battle versus man. This is one of the reasons why healthcare is integrating more AI into everyday tasks—AI is better equipped to perform tasks like care for the elderly as there is no limit in its patience and there is no possibility of intentional mistreatment of patience (Reeves, 2016).
But while some are feeling distressed at the threat of AI competition in the workplace, others are not as bothered. Those with specialized or technical skills fear being replaced by AI at a lower rate as their skills are complementary to AI technologies. Therefore, they are perceived to be more valuable by their employers (Morikawa, 2017). And as a result, they see more potential in a technologically advanced workspace, and their role in it.
Many employers share this optimistic outlook of the potential of AI in the workplace. Simply put, AI allows for services to be more easily accessible at a cheaper price (Maney, 2017). Organizations tend to be even more optimistic on AI potential when looking to incorporate big data and if they are equipped with the financial means to have representation in the global market (Morikawa, 2017). However, while this initiative appears to bring convenience and financial opportunity now, it could welcome some drawbacks eventually. In fact, replacing humans in the workplace can ultimately lead to billions in lost wages and hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue. Furthermore, this change will offer new employment opportunity, but only to those select few with specialized skillsets (King, Hammond, & Harrington, 2017).
For the workers who are not equipped with technical know-how, the levels of AI anxiety tend to be higher. But, while there may be legitimate reasons to be anxious about AI, research has found some may experience an over-exaggeration of AI’s autonomy, overlooking the control humans have in the function of it (Johnson & Verdicchio, 2017). This is referred to as sociotechnical blindness in many situations. In most cases AI is not fully autonomous, therefore not able to function without human input. Furthermore, while AI might pose a threat to employment in the future, there is currently an obstacle of functioning in the workplace with the most generationally diverse workforce seen thus far.
Today’s workforce now consists of four different generations, making it the most diverse to date (Kapoor & Solomon, 2011). This variable has challenged worker’s abilities to work with others with completely different values and views of the world. Adjustments must be made to create an environment that is comfortable for the coexisting generations. Some programs that organizations have adopted include mentorship programs, diversity training, and communication seminars to encourage harmony in the workplace (Kapoor & Solomon, 2011). Neglect from company leaders to aid generational rapport will have consequences. This is especially the case in situations where workers are perceived to be easily replaced; intergenerational hostility can ensue as a result. This is due to the fact that workers with less technical abilities have lower job security. A specific example of this would be the nursing field where more experienced workers can be reluctant to mentor newer employees in fear they will end up being replaced by them (Anderson & Morgan, 2017). For these reasons management must be active in creating an environment where these generations can effectively coexist.
The threat of AI only increases the tension between the differing age groups in the office space. AI does provide potential in the workplace, but it also brings the threat of job replacement to those with low job security. The fear of job replacement itself can lead to dysfunction in the workplace, and the fact that we are in the age of the most diverse workforce in history further complicates the situation. The best way to adapt to these challenges are for workers to learn specialized skills and for management to be proactive in equally incorporating all generations in the office space. Regardless, only time will tell what the future holds in relation to this powerful technology.
Implications for the PR Practice
The public relations practice is one that relies on establishing a relationship between brand and stakeholders by building upon personable interaction. Artificial intelligence delivers messages without that personal connection, which can lead to lower perceptions of transparency and authenticity from the public.
If an organization can properly use artificial intelligence in a manner that would incorporate a more personal touch, then the potential for establishing a stronger connection with stakeholders is great. However, organizations should have transparent discussions with their employees before implementing artificial intelligence.
Aaron Scott is a master’s student at the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media. His research interests include media effects, corporate activism, and advertising. Scott will graduate in August 2019 with an M.A. in Mass Communication.
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