Commentary

Can AI Solve The Jobs Problem?

How well do you remember 2017 and 2018?  Those were the good old days, when Bill Gates was speaking at random global philanthropic events, noting that funding should be provided to the scientific and medical communities for some potential situation when a global pandemic could shut down economies and we would need a plan to respond. Remember that?  Oh, how I wish we had paid closer attention to that idea. 

Around that same time, the news was dominated by stories of AI, or artificial intelligence.  I was working in that space with a company we launched to create an in-meeting, note-taking, virtual assistant. It went well and we sold the company, but I was knee deep in telling the story of how AI could be used to augment people’s productivity rather than usurp their roles.

I was telling a positive story of AI, but the news was predominantly about how AI would replace humans in low-level jobs and remove opportunities while increasing profit margins for big enterprise businesses.  Once again, that idea seems rather quaint.

The truth is that we did suffer a global pandemic.  Many people were forced out of work, and jobless claims were skyrocketing. But now that the economy is beginning to really restart, the jobs are coming back -- and there are very few people to fill them.  What happened?

There’s no easy solution.  People are not coming back to their jobs because of many reasons.  In some cases, people simply moved away because they could not afford to live where they had worked before.  In other cases, the wages being paid were still low, and people don’t want to take those jobs.  The government did indeed subsidize much of the U.S. the last 18 months, and that can be a disincentive for people to go back to work. 

So that brings me back to this point:  Is this is the perfect situation for a revival of investments in AI?

AI enables mundane, more rote types of roles to be filled in autonomous fashions.  We do see it happening already.  Restaurants and grocery are utilizing contact-less payment to reduce staff.  Delivery services are looking to drones. 

AI can be created and crafted to take the jobs that people are not standing in line to apply for.  AI can be used to fill the gaps in the work force that are not likely to be filled anytime soon.

So, I ask the question: Is your company investing in AI as a solution?  Are you looking at AI for more menial tasks such as data entry and analysis, or are you looking at it as a tool for optimization and efficiency?  Can it replace the roles you have open, or can it at least allow you to reallocate your people to roles that are more valuable and a better use of their time and effort?  Can it fill the roles that people simply no longer want, at the price you are willing to pay?

AI is a solution, but it is not the entire solution.  AI can be an arrow in the proverbial quiver for you to solve your challenges around scale, and it is certainly worth the time to take a look.  Maybe we will set ourselves up for a more skilled workforce down the line, and that is certainly something that allows people to feel more rewarded in their roles.

AI was seemingly on hold, but this feels like the time to unstick that conversation.  What do you think?

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