When Slack burst onto the workplace scene, employees rejoiced. Finally, there was a way to chat with one another without having to send a dreaded email or worse, get up and actually go chat with your coworker face-to-face. Thanks to Slack and a handful of other messaging platforms, businesses could easily communicate across teams using a single interface where you could also send files, GIFs and more.
What comes with these workplace messaging platforms are artificial intelligence technologies, more casually referred to as chatbots. Think of the Slackbot or iPhone’s Siri or Amazon’s Echo; employees can chat with these pieces of software and oftentimes they are used to assist companies with everyday tasks. Siri and Echo can relay the time, weather, and even order an Uber for someone on the go with a simple command and Internet connectivity. These chatbots, of all shapes and sizes, utilize a process called deep learning, which mimics neurons in the neocortex and learns to recognize patterns in digital representations of sounds and other data.
Chatbots provide a wealth of convenience, streamlining certain processes that would cost time and energy for human employees. For example, chatbots can help companies train new employees by moving entire training sessions online. These artificial intelligence platforms can also deliver data-driven results in places like call centers, assisting customer service representatives as they solve problems for frustrated customers. Or imagine if your chatbots could replace your human assistants — instead of asking the front desk to book your flights or appointments, your chatbot assistant could do that for you with a simple text command.
But when it comes to workplace culture and productivity, how much are these artificial intelligence platforms helping your company?
Like any new technology roll-out, there are going to be some initial problems with chatbot assistants that could hinder workplace productivity. Chatbots and artificial intelligence programs need to be able to understand the specific request a user asks, even if the request doesn’t come in the form of a question. Turing Tests have exposed a weakness in artificial intelligence, revealing how difficult it will be to build more natural sounding chatbots and how to train computers to interpret the written word. For example, a comprehensive chatbot assistant must be able to discern colloquial language from slang from formal language, as well as separate out multi-step requests that could come in a single sentence.
If you implement a chatbot into your workplace, consider the following scenario. On the one hand, a chatbot could help you accelerate your research for a specific project, or even help you find documents hidden deep within your folders. But what happens to productivity when you need to stop every now and then to clearly spell out an inquiry? Fixing a chatbot’s mistake because it didn’t clearly understand your request could actually set your workers back and waste more of their time. Similarly, using an HR chatbot that is tasked with vetting potential employees can be problematic, as a person’s resume consists of more than just their technical skills and experience. AI software would need to be able to understand an applicant’s soft skills that are listed and be able to make the connection between their work experience and a company’s HR handbook.
The good news for intelligent chatbots is that technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and bots are learning how to process the human language better with each passing day. And there seems to be a growing acceptance surrounding chatbots and the potential benefit they offer to humans.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg built an AI assistant, just like Iron Man’s own assistant Jarvis, to control his home and manage his work projects at the same time. On a slightly less dramatic scale, Zuckerberg and his team are building an AI to answer questions directly on Facebook Messenger which, when applied to Facebook Workplace, could dramatically increase employee productivity. While most bots can only answer simple questions at the current moment, the idea is to one day build a platform that simplifies an employee’s day. In other words, maximize a worker’s productivity by eliminating the need to fulfill mundane tasks that could be completed by a computer.
Despite current hesitations surrounding chatbots, large enterprise software companies are investing their money into developing “smartbots” to process employee tasks and add convenience to the workplace. What many developers anticipate is businesses will use bots to replace slow, outdated websites that makes it difficult for businesses to effectively communicate with their customers. In particular, chatbots and AI platforms provide businesses with an opportunity to link all aspects of their company in a single layer that can be managed by a bot. This means an employee can use text-based commands to tell a chatbot to update aspects of a company’s website instead of having to code it themselves. It’s an opportunity to improve productivity that will run into a few setbacks initially, but could have dramatic implications for how we conduct business in the future.
On the flip side of increased productivity exists an unknown when we ask how chatbots will impact workplace culture. The rise of machines inevitably brings up the question of human capital and whether or not certain jobs will be extinct once artificial intelligence and chatbots are so technically advanced they function like real people. Certainly, there is an economic benefit that comes with using chatbots. Businesses can save money and resources by “hiring” robots to take the place of humans who require a salary, benefits and more. As deep learning becomes more complex and machines are taught to think like the human brain, the case could be made that specific jobs, like the role of an assistant or data analyst, could go extinct. Productivity would increase, as machines could process requests faster than manual labor, but this raises the question of what will happen to the people who find themselves out of a job. With fewer people working in an office and interacting with one another, it’s worth wondering what the future of company culture will look like.
At the end of the day, how a business chooses to implement new technologies will determine whether or not a chatbot improves or hinders workplace productivity. Without a doubt, businesses can benefit from a little extra help and employees can focus on the things that are most important when chatbots take over the more mundane tasks. Proper training and an improved deep learning software can streamline your office productivity. As for how bots will influence your culture? That remains to be seen.
Source: Venture Beat