A Stands for Augmentation

Often artificial intelligence (AI) and the human workforce are portrayed as conflicting forces.

Many accuse AI to be a corporate ploy to replace humankind in the workplace. Meanwhile, others see companies losing its human touch by relying on AI to control decisions.

The truth is, as often is the case, somewhere in between. Rob Newell, vice president, Solution Engineering, Asia Pacific at Salesforce sees AI more of a tool to augment the current workforce – not to replace them.

“We really want to produce a workplace where AI is adding to the capabilities of those people utilizing it. I think that is part of the challenge for businesses: trying to understand how to combine human and technology to make it meaningful and powerful for the end customer,” he said.

Newell noted that many business leaders tend to get caught up with the technological promise of AI. They are often afraid that they may be left behind.

“But we need businesses to take a step back to see how they can add value to their employees and empower them to have different conversations with their customers. I think this is an important element [of AI],” said Newell.

Improving Employee Value

Part of the reasons why companies are looking closely at AI is to get their human employees to do critical thinking and creative tasks, instead of being bogged down by mundane tasks.

“Critical thinking and creative skills are two areas companies are looking for in the workplace. So, we need to really think about upskilling existing workers and giving them assistance,” said Newell.

As AI takes over more laborious, process-oriented tasks, existing roles will definitely change. “Mundane tasks that can be automated will be automated. And we are going to value creative and critical thinking more. That means the future of work is going to change,” he said.  

Newell also does not think AI will solve all problems.

“AI is not a panacea, it is something that makes us more intelligent. But I still feel there is a need for personal growth and personal development. And every organization has their model and how to push their talent forward. AI is a tool to make you better in what you do,” he added.

Question of Trust

A big challenge for companies deploying AI is trust. Will employees trust the AI insights, or do they end up rechecking and adding more work to their workload?

“It depends on where we are on the maturity curve. Even if AI can do something today, the reality is that you still need to have a human to provide enough information and context, and the individual providing this is still going to be accountable for it,” said Newell.

However, Newell dismissed suggestions that employees are distrustful about AI.  

“I do feel like people are beginning to trust AI more,” he said.

Part of Newell’s optimism lies in the various customer-facing deployments of AI, like “chatbots.” He noted that many efforts are designed to make employees “more relevant to the customer.” “Trust is trending in the right direction.”

However, Newell urged companies and governments to continue the conversation about trust. One area he suggested is informing customers how their customer data is captured.

“Trust will be the battleground for AI in business. And trust with the customers will be the most important element,” said Newell.

Ethics in AI

One new area that Salesforce itself is looking at closely is ethics. Newell sees this as related to risk management. It is the reason why the company hired its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer Paula Goldman, signaling a new job scope for companies.

“We need to be thinking about how we can remove things like sexual orientation, race and age out of AI learning, so that there is more equality [in AI],” said Newell.

“This is because AI is such a powerful technology and it is going to shape the future,” he added.