Office workers are in a love-hate relationship with new technologies in today’s digital transformation—whether they realize it or not. That’s the main takeaway from Adobe’s Think Tank Berlin, which met June 27th to discuss the future of work in the new digital environment, including the impact of technology on the modern workplace—and its workers.
To be honest—there are parts of the digital transformation I love more than others, as well. So, it’s not surprising many workers are ambivalent on the ways tech is rearing its head in the office environment. As part of the panel discussion, Adobe shared its study including feedback from workers from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, and how they view the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) for their industry. The results reflect what is likely a truth for many of us: workers want more AI—but only if it minds its rightful place outside the human workforce. Here are a few takeaways from the conference.
Employees Agree: AI Makes Jobs Easier
When it comes to the value of AI in the workplace, there is no disputing it: more than 85 percent of workers feel technology is making them more productive. It takes over menial tasks like organizing and analyzing vast amounts of data, sending reminders and emails, responding to meeting requests, and other administrative tasks. Who wouldn’t want that?
Employees Give AI the Stiff Arm
Although upwards of 70 percent of employees do want to use AI at work, they also agree: they want it to remain focused on menial and time-sucking tasks, rather than new, meaningful, and creative ones. I think this is where the “hate”—or perhaps more accurately, fear—comes in. In limiting the role AI can play in the workplace, employees are trying to protect themselves from a job takeover—one of the many arguments against an increased use of AI. In other words, we love the benefits of AI—but only if it doesn’t impact us negatively. That makes even more sense when you note less than one-third of workers feel they are equipped to succeed in a tech-rich future. It’s not that they hate AI—it’s that they hate the idea of AI taking their jobs away from them.
In an interesting twist, two-thirds of U.S. workers feel their job requires human skills technology can never replace. Either Americans are in denial—or they have big egos—but it seems to me that keeping technology away from “human work” is at the forefront of most employees’ minds. Said futurist Brian David Johnson at an Adobe Future of Work Think Tank event in San Jose last February, “If a machine takes your job, your job must have sucked!” I’m sure we’d all rather think AI will only steal the most mundane jobs among us—but that may not always be the case.
Culture Still Plays a Huge Role in Tech Adoption
We talk a lot about the important role culture plays in any organization undertaking digital transformation—but we don’t often discuss the global cultures that will also play into tech adoption on a wider scale. In certain countries, such as Germany and the United States, where work is often tied to personal identity, the thought of allowing AI to overtake our careers might seem unfathomable. At the very least, it could lead to a nationwide identity crisis. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of Germans said they’d keep working, even if they won the lottery—this is not a group of people who will easily acquiesce to technology pulling careers from their clutching hands.
I’ve discussed the ethics of AI before, but it’s clear the issue of AI taking over human work is becoming a hot topic for many employees—at least in the Western world. The potential ramifications of AI and other new technologies in business are heavy, and they are certainly weighing on the minds of today’s employees. In my view, it’s a good time for companies to start creating clear tech strategies and communicating with full transparency how they believe technology can help their businesses grow and develop. Technology doesn’t have to be a scary thing—but anything will seem scary when its overall intentions are not clearly known.
In addition, as technologists begin to develop more emotionally intelligent AI, they might be wise to consider including ways AI can read fear and concern on the part of its users. That way, AI can respond in ways that are less threatening, cooperative, and kind. After all, until workers themselves become more comfortable adopting the technology, we will never be able to move past mundane and menial tasks to the powerful tasks for which AI could be truly designed.
Additional Resources on This Topic:
The Future of Work: More than a Machine
The Ethical Side of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence and Automation: Predictions for the Future
The Case for Emotionally Intelligent AI
This article is sponsored by Adobe Document Cloud. Views are my own.
Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. From Big Data to IoT to Cloud Computing, Newman makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology projects, which leads to his ideas regularly being cited in CIO.Com, CIO Review and hundreds of other sites across the world. A 5x Best Selling Author including his most recent “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy,” Daniel is also a Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post Contributor. MBA and Graduate Adjunct Professor, Daniel Newman is a Chicago Native and his speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.