How is AI technology going to affect the workplace in the near future?
First things first – there's no such thing as "the effect of AI on jobs in general." Each industry and sector is going to be affected in a completely different way. In particular, less specialized workers are those who will be more negatively impacted by this change, as they are most likely to be left behind and substituted by machines. This does not necessarily mean that all less-educated people will be left jobless, though. Most employees working in industries where the potential for automation is higher will simply need to acquire new competencies and change their skill sets in the future.
However, automation will free up much more space for "humane" working, for example by freeing up creativity and critical thinking in the workplace as the more mundane tasks are automated by machines. AI-based assistants will handle a lot of the repetitive and streamlined tasks, allowing workers to enjoy much more free time to concentrate on different and more creative functions. Employees will become much less specialized and much more flexible as the old "single skill set" gradually becomes obsolete. Most employees will have a higher average education (similarly to what happened after the Industrial Revolution), but more importantly, everyone will be required to possess some degree of data literacy.
We are already experiencing this in corporate settings and other workplaces where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is simplifying data retrieval, processing, and many other mundane and repetitive tasks. AI is significantly improving RPA by making it “intelligent” through the addition of ML-powered features such as deep learning, natural language processing (NLP) and optical character recognition (OCR). However, humans’ critical thinking is a critical component of many jobs that cannot be replaced.
Data is becoming the driving force behind most business decisions, especially when AI will be able to consume all this data that should therefore be harvested and harnessed in the appropriate way. AI will collect immense amounts of data from the IoT and all connected devices on its own, but humans will still have the duty of making sense of this data, and, more importantly, establishing a safe and inclusive environment that safeguards everyone's privacy and cultural differences. In fact, right now even the best, most intelligent AI is still in its development phase, and will require a lot of human help to become "mature." A lot of new jobs will be created for AI trainers and explainers who will have to assist machines while they perform their duties as… assistants. A human assisting a machine assisting humans: it may seem redundant but it's a long-term investment. In a nutshell, “intelligent automation” requires cooperative environments where employees and AI work together to achieve a given goal much more efficiently.
Machines may also make workplaces more hectic, or more relaxing (depending on the point of view). People have shorter attention spans, are always in hurry, and do not want to wait, especially when the workload is especially frenetic. This is going to be reflected in the workplace as well. AI will make all response and reaction times shorter (think of a customer service job, for example), which is something that all the new generations expect and require. As machines simplify even the most complex process (something they’re really good at), humans can be more efficient and, therefore, quicker at providing responses. Whether this will make workplaces more frenetic or not will probably depend on social and cultural differences.