AI is synonymous with job automation in the minds of American workers | Spanlish

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Monday, November 13, 2017

AI is synonymous with job automation in the minds of American workers


Artificial intelligence may well pose an existential threat to humanity. But that’s not what worries the public. What worries them is jobs.

According to a new study conducted by my team at SYZYGY, 70 percent of the American public fear that AI will have a negative impact on employment in the US. On average, Americans in work today believe that 30 percent of their work could be replaced by AI-enabled automation technology within five years. And overall, when asked about what they fear most from AI, job automation is the number one ranked fear.

Fears of job automation are not new and have been ludicrously overblown in the past. Can you think of a job that was entirely automated – apart from elevator operator? But today’s fears are now turbo-charged with the AI media-hype. The narrative is simple.  Advances in AI mean it’s not only America’s shrinking manufacturing sector at risk from a robot takeover, but the rise of AI software algorithms means that white-collar work is under threat as well.

Take, for example, the 2.2 million Americans who work in call centers today. The Economist predicts AI technology will soon automate these jobs because any job that follows a script or process is at risk for algorithmic automation. The influential ‘Frey and Osborne study’ on the future of work for 702 US occupations concludes 47 percent of total US employment is at risk of becoming automated over the next two decades. Already, 6 percent of American workers have lost a job or hours due to automation according to the influential Pew Research Center. Forrester predicts that will eliminate 6 percent of all US jobs within the next three years, and while AI will create new jobs, the net loss by 2025 will be 7 percent.

The future will decide whether or not these predictions are true. But what is true now is that people associate the complex subject of AI with the easy-to-grasp idea that this technology means job automation. This association makes a complicated concept meaningful to people: AI effectively means job automation to the American public. Whether this automation means automating the jobs we do at home or the job we do at work, AI is about automating jobs.  This has important implications for businesses marketing AI technology to organizations or to the public.

How to sell AI technology

If AI means automation in the minds of many Americans, AI vendors can either sell AI as automation technology or seek to reframe AI as something else. IBM, for example, has chosen to tech-wash AI and re-brand it as ‘Augmented Intelligence,‘ augmenting rather than replacing humans in tasks that require intelligence. Robotics vendors have done likewise, rebranding robots as ‘cobots’ (collaborative robots) that work alongside, rather than replace, humans.

This PR push for AI is all very nice, but from a marketing perspective, selling AI to American workers as anything other than automation technology is a tough task since it requires changing perceptions and modifying market understanding. And marketing is notoriously bad at that – marketing typically can’t tell you what to think, but it can tell you what to think about. So, it’s far easier for marketing to work with existing perceptions, building on the idea that AI means automation to people, and bring to life the advantages of automation.

These automation advantages could include saving costs and reducing risks for employers through workforce automation. For employees, automation could mean freedom from repetitive, mundane, or dangerous tasks. Interestingly, AI-powered automation may even buy happiness. Recent research shows that when people pay for time-saving services, they are happier.  It turns out that money does buy us happiness, but only when we use it to buy us time. The insight may be the biggest benefit AI has to offer.

In summary, what recent research indicates is that in order to sell AI effectively to organizations or to the public, vendors should lay off the technobabble and the tech-wash, and promote the honest benefits of AI as automation technology.  We are each born with 3 billion heartbeats, and AI automation technology will allow us to spend them on the things that really matter to us.

Dr Paul Marsden is a consumer psychologist working with SYZYGY, a WPP digital agency group.



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