At what point does artificial intelligence feel less like a tool and more like a teammate?
Machines can already drive, hold conversations, and hit back at us sassy retorts (like Siri’s famous “what’s zero divided by zero” reply). With 55% of mature organisations planning to invest in artificial intelligence by 2020, it’s only a matter of time before they become our workplace buddies as well. They’ll be making our workflows more reliable, giving us extra time for us to focus on complex human-centric tasks, and putting organisation on the forefront of innovation, ideally with a pitch-perfect office personality (they’ll probably be programmed to kill it at happy hours).
We’ll learn to work well alongside our robot co-workers, but to get there, both sides are going to have to learn. The robots can pull that off with machine learning while we can carefully introduce them to nuances of the human-dominated workplace. It’s actually not so different from working alongside our human co-workers. But because the way that robots process information is very different from how we do it, there are a few things to keep in mind as you support your robot co-worker:
Improve the external factors that the robots can’t change
Your robot co-worker is going to be hyper-focused and incredibly efficient at crunching numbers and making calculations that informs its decision-making, but that comes with a big caveat. Machines can only do what they’re programmed to do; they’re not going to understand if an external factor is making them perform their function incorrectly. You may have caught that if you’ve ever had an awkward conversation with a chatbot or when Microsoft’s infamous Twitter bot named Tay interacted with the world in 2016 and quickly picked up on hate speech.
Luckily, what makes us effective in the workplace is our ability to improvise. We can make accommodation that support our robot co-worker’s automated functions, like adjusting the messaging of a chatbot to be on-brand and relevant (call in your creative team). Another example is Zendesk’s own Answer Bot that automatically directs customers to help articles. If those articles are old and outdated, they won’t be much help to anyone and the Answer Bot can’t effectively do its job. Help out your robot co-workers by looking at the external factors that will improve their functionality.
Know when to step in
Speaking of the limitations of artificial intelligence, there’s another thing they’re still not-so-great at: picking up on social cues. That can be consequential if they’re left unsupervised (Tay is also a perfect example for this one). Let’s say a chatbot engaged with a customer in a manner that lead to a poor customer experience – the repercussions could be an unintended dehumanisation of the brand or, even worse, customer churn. That’s going to be a bigger issue when chatbots are the defacto front line for customer interactions (Gartner found that around 72% of them will be handled by robots by 2022).
Sometimes there’s no replacement for human ingenuity. Learn to take over for your robot co-worker if a customer is becoming increasingly frustrated or if a process is yielding inaccurate results. Take it as an opportunity to review your organisation’s AI capabilities and how they stack up to your business needs. It could result in a demotion for your robot co-worker, but that’s okay; it’s a better short-term solution and the robot’s feelings won’t be hurt (because it doesn’t have any).
Measure their success by measuring your own
AI-powered machines are only successful when they make others successful, so an evaluation of your own organisation’s efficiency can provide insight into how well the robots are doing. It might yield some uncomfortable truths about your business’s readiness for AI, but those revelations are the ones that can lead to constructive adjustments. The good news is that your emotionless robot co-worker is great at taking any criticism that you want to throw its way; it will still perform its main function without becoming disheartened. Just don’t be too surprised when it learns to get cheeky with you.