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Artificial Intelligence Gaining Ground in the Workplace

image for shironosov / Getty Images
shironosov / Getty Images
  • According to the AI at Work study by Oracle and Future Workplace, 50% of respondents said they use AI in some form at work, up from 32% last year.
  • 64% said they trusted AI more than their manager, while 50% said they've already gone to a "robot" for advice instead of their boss.
  • Despite their acceptance of AI in the workplace, 76% of workers and 81% of HR leaders said they find it "challenging to keep up" with technology.

At its core, technology exists to make our lives easier. Thanks to artificial intelligence, our tools have gotten smarter, and we're more productive as a result. According to a study released earlier today, workers around the world not only recognize AI's importance in the modern workplace – they embrace it.

Conducted over the summer in partnership between Oracle and Future Workspace, the second annual AI at Work study asked 8,370 employees, managers and HR leaders from 10 countries about AI and its place in their work. Researchers found that AI is rapidly changing not only how we conduct business, but the very relationship between people and the tech they use every day.

"Over the past two years, we've found that workers have become more optimistic as they've adopted AI in the workplace, and HR is leading the way," said Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace. "The 2019 study shows that AI is redefining not only the relationship between worker and manager, but also the role of a manager in an AI-driven workplace."

Furthermore, Schawbel said managers will become even more focused on personnel matters as their AI counterparts are more regularly used to tackle the technical and routine sides of management. That division of labor between man and machine may come sooner rather than later, given how workers feel about their "robotic" managers.

For decades, the concept of artificial intelligence has been met with some level of skepticism in popular media. While the thought of robots is just as likely to conjure up images of the Cyberdyne Systems Series 800 Terminator as it does Wall-E, workers have rapidly grown accustomed to AI in their jobs.

According to the study, 50% of workers said they currently use some form of AI at work, marking an 18% increase from the 2018 figure of 32%. Integration of AI is particularly prominent among Chinese (77%) and Indian (78%) workers, with 56% and 60% of those countries' respective workers most excited about the tech. Meanwhile, workers in France (32%) and Japan (29%) have seen significantly less integration, and workers there are excited by AI at a rate of 25% and 8% respectively.

Despite any prior fears of AI and robots making jobs obsolete, 65% of workers said the addition of AI at work makes them feel "optimistic, excited and grateful." Approximately 25% reported having a "loving and gratifying relationship" with their AI "co-workers." Researchers also learned that 32% of men had an optimistic view of AI at work, compared with 23% of women. [Read related article: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Business]

With adoption of AI and the growing excitement around it, researchers found that the trend extended to the idea of one day answering to a computer or robot instead of a human boss. This change in opinion could have a major impact on what HR teams and managers look like in the future.

According to the study, 64% of workers said they would "trust a robot more than their manager." That may be difficult for today's management staff to swallow, but it turns out that shift has already begun, as 50% said they've turned to a robot for advice rather than seek it from a human boss.

Researchers found that men (56%) turned to AI over their managers more frequently than women (44%) did. They also learned that 82% of people believe robots can perform tasks better than their managers. Specifically, respondents said AI could handle unbiased information, maintain work schedules, solve problems and manage a budget better than its human counterparts. Conversely, human managers were found to be able to understand a worker's feelings, coach workers and create a work culture better than their circuit-based contemporaries can.

"The latest advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are rapidly reaching mainstream, resulting in a massive shift in the way people across the world interact with technology and their teams," said Emily He, senior vice president of Oracle's human capital management cloud business group. "As this study shows, the relationship between humans and machines is being redefined at work, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully managing this change."

Data also shows that workers in India (89%) and China (88%) trust robots more than their managers, with workers in Singapore (83%), Brazil (78%), Japan (76%), the United Arab Emirates (74%), and Australia and New Zealand (58%) following close behind. The United States (57%), United Kingdom (54%) and France (56%) were the bottom of the pack in this category. [Read related article: How to Choose a Job That Won't Be Replaced by Robots]

While the study found plenty to be excited about if you're a proponent of AI tech in the workplace, researchers also found some hurdles that organizations need to focus on if they want to implement the tech.

According to the study, 76% of workers and 81% of HR leaders said they had a hard time keeping up with how fast the technology changes. As a result, workers said they wanted a simpler experience with AI at work, with 34% asking for a better user interface, 30% asking for some form of best practice training and another 30% pining for a more personalized experience.

A chief concern among users is the security and privacy problems that can arise from implementing AI at work. That concern is more pronounced among the tech-savvy Gen Z (43%) and millennial (45%) workforce than Gen X workers (29%) and baby boomers (23%), who don't seem to be as worried about security and privacy in this regard.

Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining Business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.