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How AI is Changing the Workplace and Office Culture

January 27, 2020

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Robots, AI, machine learning, deep learning, self-writing or self-modifying software has been gaining a lot of attention lately in the media. Unfortunately, a lot of this attention is negative. Added to all this, Hollywood filmmakers with their apocalyptic movies involving AI and robots are not helping matters. The truth is that AI is just another tool and how you choose to use the tool is all that matters. As far as business professionals and administrative assistants are concerned AI can be very helpful in running day-to-day tasks, especially administrative duties. Therefore, it is imperative for assistants to set aside any biases or fears and embrace this inevitable future.

New technology has always been introduced accompanied by fear. Fear of something is usually because of a lack of knowledge. The attitude towards AI is no different. However, the fear towards AI is somewhat justified, for its extreme game-changing potential. Whether it is for simple administrative duties or advanced weapons systems, AI is naturally going to get more suspicion, just because of its massive potential. AI comes in many shapes and forms and deciding on which one to go with is one of the “tricks” you will need to master. However, before we go too far into the weeds, the first thing that needs to be done is to understand, what is AI or Artificial Intelligence, and what is the big deal?

Why Assistants Shouldn’t be Afraid of AI

John McCarthy, the inventor of AI, describes it as the science of creating an intelligent machine. Intelligence in this context means the ability to perform tasks humans are capable of doing. AI is able to think, perform cognitive functions, solve problems and of course, learn. As far as anything resembling machines with AI capability in people’s day to day lives is concerned, some examples would be equipment you can talk to in order to perform certain tasks, such as finding an address or turning the air-conditioning on or off. As time goes by and AI technology improves, AI will be able to do many of the mundane tasks you take for granted.

This is fundamentally the reason behind the fears of many people, including assistants tasked with administrative duties. However, office culture is changing and with it, the tasks are also changing. Administrative duties that are done today are not the same as it was a hundred years ago. As expectations change, so do the roles of each member of any administrative team including assistants. You can already see this change in many businesses as assistants are saddled with more responsibilities. The natural consequence of AI technology is that most assistants will move on from previous basic responsibilities and be freed up to take on more significant roles and manage other projects. This is going to advance the profession.

Apart from freeing up assistants from more mundane administrative duties, they will also have the opportunity to learn new skills. In fact, in the next few years, the only thing that is going to change for executive assistants are the skills required to do the job, not the disappearance of the job. In other words, AI is going to change the landscape, but in the way most people think. The biggest division society faces today is the one concerning education. There are those who have not gone beyond high school and there those with a college education. In a not too distant future, the skills required in order to be marketable for an assistant will change, but not the job itself. Having said that, the following are some steps an assistant can take to stay relevant in the workforce of the future.

Stay Current

Think about it, even in the past, you had to stay current regarding social and technological trends. This does not change. When the typewriter came along, people didn't stop writing. If you have an IT department in your company, talk to them and ask them how to stay current with technology. The leading players in the AI game are Apple and Google. Keep up with what they are doing in this field. Also, social media has become an integral part of doing business, nowadays. Find and join a forum of like-minded groups and keep in touch. This is an excellent way to find out about new technologies and how to use them for administrative duties. Implementing new technology is a vital part of running a business.

AI May Have High IQ but Low EQ

A big part of doing administrative duties is dealing with a lot of people on an hour-to-hour basis. This requires people skills such as reading other people's emotions and moods and responding to them appropriately. As Google’s Hal Varian puts it “Most jobs are much more complex than people realize”. He goes on to say that automation eliminates “dull, tedious and repetitive tasks not the task itself”. AI is currently nowhere near capable of eliminating tasks, at least not in a large, meaningful way. Voice recognition technology is capable of recognizing fluctuations in a person’s voice, but it is still very much in its infancy. Ultimately, True AI capable of taking over most tasks is very difficult because researchers still don’t fully understand how the human brain functions. Therefore, mimicking it is going to take a long time. The days when robots will be walking around the office and doing most administrative duties is still many decades away.

Don’t Discard it, Embrace It

Some of the byproducts of AI are machine learning and deep learning. In a world where there is so much data for you to deal with, it will not be humanly possible for you to sift through it and make informed decisions. This is where machine learning and deep learning comes into help with administrative duties. Let machine learning and deep learning go through all the data by taking into account all the variables and come back with the info you need. You live in a world of chatbots and self-driving cars. Its time to think of AI as a two-pronged tool, wherein it will take care of some of the old tasks and open up new opportunities.

American Society of Administrative Professionals

Producer of

APCEA Summit  EA Ignite